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Is Kuwait the Fifty-First State?

At one point during Dan Rather's garishly announced interview with Saddam Hussein, Hussein switched roles and questioned Rather about the propriety of U.S. intervention in the Gulf: "Is Kuwait the fifty-first state?" Rather sat glassy-eyed momentarily, as he is apt to do in such situations, and then insisted that he was the one who was supposed to ask the questions.

Hussein is obviously no constitutional theorist or ethicist (though he plays one on TV), but his question was right on the mark. The question correctly assumed that the exercise of political authority is limited to the jurisdiction of that authority. Put in broader, Biblical terms, the exercise of authority, whether by oneself, family, church, voluntary associations, or the state, is limited to the social sphere of that authority as defined by Scripture. For example, the church may not usurp the jurisdiction of the state, the family may not usurp the jurisdiction of the church, a business may not usurp the jurisdiction of the individual, and the state, the most notable usurper, ought not usurp the jurisdictions of the self, family, church, or business.

Hence, these Biblical jurisdictions place moral limits on various social authorities. So, if Scripture leads us to oppose one social sphere intervening in another, then we should also oppose our particular political authority intervening by military blockade in the non-political social spheres of other nations. Though our stated goal is to "hurt Hussein," we are doing so by intervening in social spheres, like the family and business, which are not properly "him" anyway, unless we unbiblically assume that the political sphere is the supreme owner of all the other spheres.

But Scripture does not just restrict one sphere from intervening in a different type of sphere, it also prohibits intra-sphere interventions. For example, a particular business may not fire another business's employees; a particular church may not excommunicate members of another church; a particular family may not unilaterally require another family's child to mow their lawn. Similarly, in foreign affairs, one state may not disrupt another state's jurisdiction. It simply has no legitimate authority there. This lack of legitimate authority is especially evident for those of us committed to representative forms of government. For example, we elect presidents and thereby grant them some legitimacy to rule that we don't grant to the heads of other nations. Thus, the leaders of other nations have no such jurisdiction over us since we didn't grant it to them.

In short, then, a political authority who intervenes in non-political or political spheres (inter and intra) of another nation stands in violation of the most elementary Biblical standards.

If we alter some of the circumstances assumed above, we see other standards come into play. For example, if a state or political authority is attacked by a foreign nation then that nation being attacked is obligated to wield the sword in protection of its citizens and their property -- this is one of the few legitimate functions of the civil government. Moreover, the nation being attacked may resort to a whole host of measures, along with defensive warfare, to undermine the enemy from within: espionage, propaganda, and sometimes assassination. The U.S. government, however, is not the model to imitate in any of these areas, but one can envision a Biblical use of such measures in a defensive manner. Defensive warfare is now the only legitimate form of warfare Scripture allows, since offensive warfare a lá the Old Covenant necessitated direct revelation, which is obviously no longer an option.

The above sketch is not a popular view, especially in the midst of "Saddamania" where appeals to bipartisan endorsement (that should scare us) must go unquestioned. Still we should ask -- what Biblical justification can someone offer for such an intervention? Let's at least consider the reasons offered by the Administration.

One of the reasons given for sending U.S. troops to the Gulf is to restore "Kuwait's legitimate government." Are we Biblically obligated to send our own people to die to accomplish this? -- especially given the fact that the government we aim to restore is a hereditary monarchy, which, as Richard Ebeling notes, "is a form of government that some leading Americans found less than desirable about two hundred fifteen years ago." The Kuwaiti monarchy recently closed down its already limited parliament and prohibited criticism of its corruption and abuse of power.

A second reason given for intervening is that we must fight new forms of dictatorships. The media and U.S. government representatives constantly attempt to draw a parallel between Hussein and Hitler. But this is pathetic. First, this is the standard ploy of every nation that wants to drum up support for war. The "Hitlers" may vary from century to century but political rhetoric doesn't change. Second, how are we supposed to believe that Hussein is a threat to all of the Mid-East, Africa, Europe, and the U.S. when he could not even beat Iran in an eight-year war? Third, there is simply no Biblical obligation to rescue every nation from domination by tyrants. To appeal to "loving one's neighbor" mistakenly confuses personal and national ethics.

What about the hostages? Protecting our citizens is a legitimate goal, but the Bush Administration created the hostage problem. Bush rushed troops to Saudi Arabia immediately following the Iraqi attack on Kuwait and gave no warning or time for U.S. citizens to leave. Moreover, other nations have had hundreds of hostages released without needing to send troops to the Gulf.

The most troubling reason given for intervening is that the Persian Gulf is economically important to the United States. The President declared: "Our country now imports half the oil it consumes and could face a major threat to its economic independence." This is tragic. We are ordering soldiers to prepare to sacrifice their lives so that we can maintain low oil prices. As Jacob Hornberger has argued, "To choose the death of our fellow citizens over a relatively small economic discomfort is an abomination."

George Weigel of the Ethics and Public Policy Center argues that the issue is not "cheap oil...but rather order vs. chaos." And consequently, in order to avoid international "chaos" there is "no alternative to American leadership in maintaining a minimum of order in international public life." What are the premises for such an ominous conclusion? How could one fill them out without invoking amorphous concepts of political duty? It's just not possible.

In all, then, we should turn from another instance of our twentieth century devotion to world social-engineering since Kuwait is not the fifty-first state.

DMJ


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