Day 31

From Feb. 5 – Mar. 16, 2003, I engaged in a 40-day fast, urging then President George W. Bush to consider alternatives to war with Iraq. Each day, I sent the President a letter — with copies to Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice — using the Daily Office Readings (from the President’s Episcopal tradition) as a foundation for my reflections. For the next 10 days, I plan to re-post the letters from Days 31 to 40 of the fast, interspersing them with photos of Iraqis. Whether one supported or opposed the war, the costs are indisputably high.  -Daryl (March 7, 2013)

Internally displaced Iraqi children at Kids House in Ankawa, Iraq

Internally displaced Iraqi children at Kids House in Ankawa, Iraq

Human cost of Iraq war:
Iraqi civilian casualties: 121,754
Iraqi security casualties: 10,125
U.S. military casualties: 4,488
Uprooted Iraqis: 5.0 million

Financial cost of Iraq war:
$831.9 billion


March 7, 2003

Daily Office Readings
– Psalm 31
– Deuteronomy 7:12-16
– Titus 2:1-15
– Psalm 35
– John 1:35-42

President George W. Bush
The White House
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear President Bush:

Today’s Daily Office readings speak of our strong defense, surrendering to God, and self-control.

In a time of distress, grief, sorrow and misery (Psalm 31:9-10), David describes God as his “rock of refuge”(v.2b) and “strong fortress”(v.2c). “I trust you,” David declares, “I say, ‘You are my God.’ My times are in your hand; deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors. Let your face shine upon your servant; save me in your steadfast love.” (vv.14-16) In Psalm 35, David also implores God to rescue him from the ravages of his enemies. “Wake up! Bestir yourself for my defense, for my cause, my God and my Lord!”(v.23)

The Old Testament and Gospel readings describe aspects of surrendering our lives to God. Moses cites the benefits for those who observe God’s commandments (Deut. 7:12-16): God will maintain covenant loyalty with them (v.12); God will love, bless, multiply and prosper them (vv.13-14); and keep them healthy (v.15). And when John the Baptist identifies Jesus as the Lamb of God, John’s own disciples begin to follow Jesus instead, announcing, “We have found the Messiah”(John 1:41).

62 internally displaced families from Baghdad were living in Qalawa IDP camp when we visited in Feb 2009

62 internally displaced families from Baghdad were living in Qalawa IDP camp when we visited in Feb 2009

In the Epistle reading, Paul offers Titus words to give to various groups in the church, and calls for all to “live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly”(Titus 2:12).

Mr. President, today the chief UN weapons inspector will make another report to the UN Security Council. Mr. Blix is expected to present evidence of increasing Iraqi cooperation with the inspectors as well as significant progress in destroying the Al Samoud missiles. Could have the Iraqis cooperated even more? Likely so. Could have even more missile been destroyed? No doubt. But the key point is that the global community is working together to disarm Iraq.

Last night in your press conference, you spoke of your concern for the security of the American people. You said that you hoped the crisis with Iraq could be resolved peacefully. But you also expressed willingness to go to war with or without the endorsement of the UN Security Council.

This Iraqi woman's son was killed in Baghdad, prompting her to move to the Qalawa Camp (Feb. 2009)

This Iraqi woman’s son was killed in Baghdad, prompting her to move to Qalawa Camp (Feb. 2009)

Because God is ultimately our defense, there is no need to rush to war. Because God is our defense, there is space to work with the global community in disarming Iraq. Does the United States have the military power to act alone? Certainly. But this is a time to exercise self-control. As Sen. Chuck Hagel* said recently in a speech at Kansas State University, “the success of our actions will be determined not by the extent of our power, but by an appreciation of its limits . . . We must avoid the traps of hubris and imperial temptation that comes with great power.”

What if, instead of insisting that other nations back the U.S.-U.K. resolution supporting force against Iraq, your administration took one small step back for the sake of global unity? What if the United States proposed a sort of “addendum” to resolution 1441? This addendum could include clear and fair benchmarks and timetables for Iraqi disarmament — something that was missing from resolution 1441. And to increase the likelihood of greater Iraqi cooperation, this new resolution should also forswear military action as reasonable benchmarks are met, and offer the promise of full and immediate lifting of sanctions when disarmament is complete.

Father and daughter in their tent at Qalawa Camp (Feb. 2009)

Father and daughter in their tent at Qalawa Camp near Sulimaniyah (Feb. 2009)

Finally, I invite you to reconsider one of your statements from last evening. You said: “I want to remind you that it’s his (Saddam Hussein’s) choice to make whether or not we go to war. . . He’s the person that can make the choice of war and peace.” Doesn’t this give Mr. Hussein too much power? It would seem to me that it is our choice – we must take responsibility for whether we choose the way of war or the path of peace.

Giving more time to preserve global unity and to prevent war does require us to trust God. It requires us to exercise self-control. And it requires us to surrender to the way of Jesus who calls us to be peacemakers. None of these things are easy to do.

My prayer for you today is that you will find the strength to do hard things as you fully place your trust in God.

J. Daryl Byler

*NOTE: Former Senator Chuck Hagel was confirmed as U.S. Secretary of Defense, Feb. 26, 2013. Click here to see the full text of the speech he gave at Kansas State University, Feb. 20, 2003.

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