As the background to the decision to remove Sadaam Hussain by force emerges, it becomes clearer that there were no grounds on which Britain or the USA could claim that this was a just war. There were no weapons that posed an external threat, and no plans to develop any.
True, Sadaam was a terrible tyrant, but the world has seen plenty of these. They aren’t often removed if the only threat they pose is to their own people, whether in SE Asia, in Africa, or in Latin America. Indeed, the USA has a shameful record of having supported some of these. Sadaam’s government was supported by the West whilst he waged a war on Iran which involved the use of chemical weapons.
We also know that the Iraqi regime gave no support to Al Quaida, and would have suppressed any act of terrorism. So, to decide to overthrow Sadaam in the aftermath of 9-11 now appears completely illogical.
It now looks as though the decision to go to war was fuelled by the failure of the USA to eradicate the sources of terrorism. The most powerful nation on earth simply wanted an excuse to show what its overpowering weaponry could do, and take the eyes of the American public away from the intelligence failures which had both allowed the 9-11 events, and provided faulty information about the dangers posed by Baghdad.
George Bush needed a victim, a scapegoat for his own failures, and found it in Sadaam Hussain. He convinced Tony Blair, but he failed to convince most of the European Union, failed to convince the United Nations, and failed to convince a million demonstrators in Britain.
It was clear from the way the war was prosecuted that this was a piece of scapegoating, rather than a liberation for the Iraqi people. Much of the infrastructure of the ancient city of Baghdad was needlessly destroyed. The army, who hadn’t been seriously mobilised in any strength, was disbanded. The ensuing power vacuum allowed looting and lawlessness on a grand scale, sowing the seeds of strong opposition to the invaders.
The idea of finding a scapegoat was always a mistake. It was an ancient idea of the Jews that once a year, in an elaborate ritual, the sins of the people could be driven out by loading them on to the back of a hapless animal, which was driven out into the desert. Surely a moment’s rational thought is enough to show that a dumb animal cannot carry the sins of human beings. A goat is quite incapable of making people good. It might, given an impressive enough ritual, have convinced people 3,000 years ago. It might have made them feel good about themselves. But today the idea of making a scapegoat of someone is morally bankrupt.
It was wrong for Christian nations to go to war on this kind of basis. As Christians — and the national leaders concerned own to a personal faith in God – we have shamed ourselves in the eyes of both other Christians, and those who hold other faiths. At the time, when the myth of the weapons of mass destruction seemed credible, a million people in our own country demonstrated against what they saw as an unjust war, and a terrible mistake. Today, we have sown the wind, and reaped the whirlwind. We have set nations against us. We have driven willing volunteers into the hands of the terrorists. Though Tony Blair might claim Iraq is safer today, the world, and the West in particular, are surely less safe.
The lesson that needs to be learned is that nothing good will ever be achieved by making scapegoats. It doesn’t remove sin, or ultimately make people feel good about themselves. As Christians we should know that making scapegoats doesn’t work. Forgiveness of sins is the free gift of God through Jesus Christ.
There is a large body of literature which explores ideas of scapegoating from a Christian perspective. Much of it is indebted to the work of Rene Girard, who developed his understanding in the field of literature, drawing significantly on writing as diverse as Shakespeare’s plays, Greek tragedy and modern novels. For an except from Girard’s book I see Satan fall like lightning, see chapter 12 entitled Scapegoat.