May 5, 2004, New York City -- The National Council of Churches USA is watching with growing sadness and indignation the devolution of the crisis in Iraq into increasing chaos. This chaos is marked by a mounting death toll of United States soldiers, Iraqi civilians, and others; the continuing civil unrest throughout Iraq; uncertainty as to Iraqi leadership after the transition on June 30; little and only begrudging change in posture on the part of the United States with regard to the international community’s role in Iraq; and now the devastating report of the humiliation and torture of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. military personnel.
The United States ostensibly went to war in Iraq as a part of its “war on terror.” No matter what one thinks of the “war on terror” as the guiding principle of U.S. foreign policy, its primary goal of eradicating terrorism as an imminent threat against people of goodwill throughout the world requires the cooperation of most, if not all, countries in the world.
How can Americans expect such cooperation when our actions can only be met with revulsion? Indeed, our actions have resulted, not only in the squandering of the universal goodwill enjoyed by the U.S. in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, but also in the alienation of many around the world who once saw American democracy as something to be emulated. How else to assess the damage done by the unilateral invasion of Iraq, the deprival of due process for more than 600 people imprisoned at Guantanamo, the closing down of an Iraqi newspaper, the appalling mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners?
The common cause that all countries should share in the “war against terror” is overtaken by resentment against the United States for what is seen as a betrayal of its own ideals. Unfortunately, the photographic emblem of this war will not be the tearing down of Saddam Hussein’s statue by Americans and Iraqis in joint celebration; it will be the pyramid of naked Iraqi prisoners being taunted by U.S. soldiers in a moment of moral bankruptcy.
Especially in a world filled with conflict, our faith calls us, as witnesses to Christ who is our peace, to fellowship and community with all people and nations. The path to such community is not an easy one. It requires much dialogue, respect for others, and the belief in the dignity of all human beings. Such community also requires shared commitments and rules of legitimate behavior, as expressed in international law and agreed upon by the community of nations.
It is time the United States take actions that befit its place among the community of nations. It is time we Americans stand up and demand it of ourselves.