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Baptist Leaders Oppose U.S. Troop ‘Surge’ (updated)

Baptist leaders contacted Thursday by EthicsDaily.com disagreed with President Bush’s plan to send more U.S. troops to Iraq.

Baptist leaders contacted Thursday by EthicsDaily.com disagreed with President Bush’s plan to send more <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />U.S. troops to Iraq.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
 
“The situation in Iraq is unacceptable to the American people–and it is unacceptable to me,” the president said in a 20-minute speech on Wednesday. “Our troops in Iraq have fought bravely. They have done everything we have asked them to do. Where mistakes have been made, the responsibility rests with me.”
 
Bush committed 21,500 additional American troops to Iraq. The plan would increase the U.S. troop presence from the current 132,000 to 153,500 and cost $5.6 billion. Congress has already spent more than $350 billion in the war, and more than 3,000 Americans have lost their lives.
 
The president faces stiff opposition from Democrats in Congress and a few Republicans. Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kansas, a presidential hopeful in 2008, said he does not believe more troops is the answer. Others considering running for the GOP nomination, like Arizona Sen. John McCain and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, support the “surge.”
 
A full 70 percent of Americans in a new AP-Ipsos poll opposed sending more troops, and about as many said they don’t think an increase will help stabilize the situation in Iraq.
 
Baptist leaders contacted by EthicsDaily.com agreed.
 
“President Bush has been wrong too often to be trusted now with yet another plan for victory in Iraq,” said Robert Parham, executive director of the BaptistCenter for Ethics. “He no longer has the confidence of the American people, most of whom oppose sending more troops to Iraq. He lacks the support of most Democrats and a growing number of Republican leaders. Yet he burrows blindly ahead in the darkness with little sense of where he is going and no appreciate that the nation is not following him.”
 
Roy Medley, general secretary of American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A., said a just and sustainable peace in the Middle East cannot be addressed by military force alone. He urged Bush to “use every diplomatic means possible to bring peace, including dialogue with Syria and Iran, as he has been urged to do by U.S. religious leaders and a wide range of present and past government officials.”
 
“Sending 20,000 additional troops is like putting a band-aid on a wound that requires a tourniquet,” said Bruce Prescott of Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists. “American military force cannot resolve the political and religious differences that divide Iraqis. Prolonging this misguided war is doing nothing more than creating deeper divisions within our own country.”
 
Alistair Brown of BMS World Mission said most Baptists in Great Britain have been against the war from the start, and a majority of the population wants the UK to move toward a strategic troop withdrawal. The U.S. move takes the military presence in the opposite direction.  
 
“Not many things are fixed by hitting them harder,” Brown said. “And many Brits feel that President Bush’s planned troop surge for Iraq is an attempt to bring peace by hitting the military problem harder.”
 
Gary Nelson, general secretary of Canadian Baptist Ministries, said in a meeting with youth directors from all the conventions and unions in that nation most of their reaction is “disappointment–wishing and wondering why bridges of peace cannot be built rather than continued violence.”
 
“Greater numbers of troops means greater chaos,” Nelson said. “It is time to take Jesus’ words seriously ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.'”
 
Brown said increasing troop levels will be perceived in Iraq as an increased invasion by the Christian West, creating danger for Christians around the world. “We stay strong in prayer,” he said, “longing for a lasting peace soon and a chance to build a new, stable Iraq.”
 
“The biblical witness tells us that when a blind man leads he stumbles into a ditch,” said Parham. “That’s why those with sight lead those who are blind. And now is the time, for the sighted Christian community to provide clarity about a way forward. We must offer the moral message that violence only begets more violence. Sending more troops will beget more violence. More violence is not an acceptable moral path. An acceptable path is more talking with our real and perceived adversaries, seeking the common ground of less violence.”
 
Parham said the president’s surge plan falls short of meeting historic Christian rules of a just war.
 
“First, a surge does not provide a reasonable hope for success,” he said. “It only prolongs the failed war. Winning the war is a myth. Second, a surge does not ensure non-combatant civilian immunity from war. It only escalates in a civil war the number of deaths and disfigurements. Third, a surge increases the war’s costs, which already outweigh the original goals for the war.” 
 
Medley said Iraq and terrorism cannot be dealt with in isolation from the Israeli/Palestinian problem. “We again urge our government to use its influence to bring the necessary parties to the table to address how both Israelis and Palestinians can live in recognized and secure nations,” he said.
 
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.