Planks and Eyes

August 26, 2014 – The news out of Iraq over the last couple of weeks has been troubling and heartbreaking. As armed militants have invaded the country, they have meted out violence and destruction on a tragic scale. Last week came the revelation that Iraqi Christians are being forced to convert to Islam under the threat of death.
As troubling as these events are, American responses to them have also been worrisome. The common themes of these responses are incredulity at how uniquely evil the people “over there” are, and a fervent belief that United States military intervention is the cure. But to reach these conclusions, Americans ignore not just history, but their own culpability in these events. Unfortunately, when it comes to diagnosing the problems of the world, Americans are adroit at seeing the effect, but are mostly blind to the cause.
Chuck Baldwin, a pastor and former Constitution Party nominee for president, wrote an article this week in which he laid much of the responsibility for the chaos in Iraq at the feet of American foreign policy. Speaking specifically of the fate of Christians in countries in which the U.S. has intervened, Baldwin asked, “What is happening to the…millions of Christians within those countries after having been ‘liberated’ by Uncle Sam?”
Baldwin’s answer is as disconcerting as it is unsurprising. He cites an Infowars report as saying, “In areas where we spent hundreds of billions of dollars and where thousands of precious American lives were sacrificed, churches are regularly being bombed, Christians are being brutally beheaded, and laws have been passed to make it illegal for a Muslim to convert to Christianity.”
The report goes on to specifically summarize what has happened5064474102_3cd8bab5ac_z in Afghanistan where, after over a decade of U.S. intervention, “things are so bad for Christians in that country at this point that there is not a single church left…” The report claims “there were up to 2 million Christians living in Iraq” before the U.S. invasion. “Now that number is down to less than 450,000, and it is falling fast.” The problem is similar in Syria and Lybia, other countries in which the United States has attempted to militarily effect political change.
In citing these facts, Baldwin draws a clear correlation between U.S. intervention and worsening conditions for Christians. His point is simple and relies on an observation that Frederic Bastiat made about economic interventionism over 150 years ago. Bastiat’s lesson, which is undoubtedly applicable to foreign intervention, was that considering only the immediately apparent effects of a policy leads to bad policy decisions.
In the case of the American politician’s obsession with remaking the Middle East, the supposed advantages of these actions have outweighed any questions about what politically destabilizing that region would mean for them – and for us.
Many Americans, maybe even most, are not even aware of the connection between our actions and current events. They see what happens in these countries as the behavior of an inscrutable people who only understand and respond to shows of force. In coming to these conclusions, however, Americans ignore history, near and distant.
They ignore, for instance, that countries like Iraq were arbitrarily created by Western powers after the breakup of the Ottoman Empire after World War I. They ignore the fact that the United States and the Soviet Union used the Middle East to stage proxy wars during the Cold War, wars that created the very monsters that the U.S. now battles.
The United States has been meddling, overtly and covertly, in the politics of the Middle East for the better part of a century. It doesn’t seem unreasonable to consider whether or not our attempts at planning the affairs of other countries could have turned out as badly as the endeavors of governments to plan economies.
But United States policy hasn’t only indirectly brought suffering and death to innocent people, it has directly inflicted them, almost always in the name of humanitarianism or national security. While Americans decry, justifiably, the current violence against innocents in Iraq, they ignore reports which conservatively show that over 100,000 innocent Iraqis have lost their lives due to the U.S.’s war there, with at least 15,000 more innocent Afghanis killed.
Americans likewise mourn the deaths of children at the hands of militants, but are either ignorant or dismissive of reports that during the 1990s, U.S. economic sanctions against Iraq led to the deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children. These statistics, it must be noted, were not even opposed by then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who simply stated that she thought the cost in innocent human life was “worth it” to achieve the desired result.

None of this, of course, excuses the violent actions of militants. The moral blame for violence falls directly upon those who employ it. But the United States is likewise not excused for engaging in activities that make life more dangerous for people in foreign countries. The assurances of U.S. government that its foreign policy is for their benefit is likely of little comfort to these innocent people who now live in fear and destruction.
Inasmuch as the American people have been supportive of their government’s foreign policy, they are to blame as well. Pointing out how evil those people on the other side of the world are might make us feel better about ourselves, but we can only do that if we ignore how responsible our own government, with our approval, is for the death of innocent people, either directly or through the creation of hazardous conditions.
One wonders if Americans wouldn’t be better served by taking the The Bible’s advice to “first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
For his part, Baldwin wonders “what America’s Christians will say to their fellow-believers in Heaven who were savagely martyred due to the wars of aggression that they, America’s Christians, so enthusiastically supported?” Recent history suggests that their response would be total denial.