Day 35

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)

Mustafa Raouf, resident of Dalluja village in northern Iraq

Mustafa Raouf, resident of Dalluja village in northern 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 11, 2003

Daily Office Readings
-Psalm 45
-Deuteronomy 9:4-12
-Hebrews 3:1-11
-Psalm 47, 48
-John 2:13-22

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

Dear President Bush:

Today’s Daily Office readings call us to humble self-reflection because of God’s greatness and our own tendency toward stubbornness and rebellion.

Psalm 47 describes God as the great king “over all the earth”(vv.2, 7) and “over all the nations.”(v.8) Other kings are “astounded” by God’s holy mountain and mighty city (Ps. 48:1-5). Psalm 45 is a love song about the rare king who rides “victoriously for the cause of truth and to defend the right.”(v.4) This king loves righteousness and hates evil.”(v.7)

Dalluja Village, northern Iraq. In the 1980's Saddam Hussein developed a systematic campaign to empty out some 4,500 Kurdish villages in the north of Iraq.  Some 200,000 Kurds died in Saddam's "Anfal" campaign and hundreds of thousands more were displaced.

In the 1980’s Iraq’s President Saddam Hussein developed a systematic campaign to empty out some 4,500 Kurdish villages, like the tiny village of Dalluja pictured here.  As many as 200,000 Kurds died in Hussein’s “Anfal” campaign; hundreds of thousands more were displaced. The residents of Dalluja fled to Sulaymaniyah

In the Old Testament reading, Moses warns the people not to think that God is giving them the “Promised Land” because of their goodness. For God’s people have been stubborn (Deut. 9:6), provoked God to wrath (vv.7a, 8), “been rebellious against the Lord since the day (they) came out of Egypt”(v.7b) and acted corruptly (v.12). Rather, God chose to bless them because of God’s promise to Abraham and the even greater wickedness of the surrounding nations (vv.4-5).

In the Gospel reading, the merchants and moneychangers have turned worship of God into a profitable enterprise, taking advantage of the poor who come to bring a sacrifice to God. Jesus drives their sheep and cattle out of the temple, overturns the moneychangers’ tables and demands: “Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!”(John 2:16)

Teacher and principal at two-room school in Dalluja village

Teacher and principal at two-room school in Dalluja village in northern Iraq

The Epistle reading admonishes the church to hold firm to its calling and hope and not to be like its ancestors who “hardened their hearts as in the rebellion”(Heb. 3:8) and put God to the test even though they had seen God’s works for forty years (v.9-10).

Mr. President, this sobering moment in global affairs seems to be a critical time for self-reflection. It is easy to see the sins of the Iraqi leadership which need to be addressed – a history of human rights violations, acting aggressively against their neighbors, and the pursuit of weapons of mass destruction.

The two-room school in the Kurdish village of Dallujah.

The school in Dalluja, rebuilt after residents returned from Sulimaniyah

It is far more difficult, but perhaps more profitable, to reflect on our own shortcomings as a nation. For example, how did we get to the place where the world seems more concerned with resisting U.S. war plans than with disarming Iraq?

In your recent press conference, you said, “I hope we don’t have to go to war,” and “I pray for peace.” Several days later you said, “We are doing everything we can to avoid war with Iraq.” Sadly, I’m not sure that it is self-evident what your administration is publicly doing to avoid war. The massive U.S. troop buildup continues in the Middle East. The United States has seemed to disparage the inspections process almost from the beginning. And the U.S. “diplomatic” efforts seem focused on gaining votes to authorize war.

Muhamed Mustafa and John Filson with bomb casing

Muhamed Mustafa and John Filson inspect Saddam Hussein-era bomb casing

I would be helped, and I suspect that scores of other countries would be helped, if you shared more publicly what you are doing to avoid war with Iraq. For example, what incentives are you offering to Iraq if it fully cooperates with inspections? What initiatives have you taken to hear and incorporate the voices of other UN Security Council members in deciding what next steps to take? What proposals have you made to meet face-to-face with Iraqi officials? It may be that these things are happening and the press simply hasn’t reported them. Would you consider a major speech to outline your efforts to avoid war?

It seems that the window of opportunity to avoid war is closing quickly. My prayer for you today is that you will help create the “political space” for the world to pull back from the brink of war. What a wonderful legacy this would be.

J. Daryl Byler

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