By Rudy Barnes, Jr.
The greatest commandment makes loving our neighbors as ourselves a moral imperative of our faith, and that requires the duty to protect life and liberty in a dangerous world with the use of force. Moses and Muhammad had no trouble doing that, but Jesus complicated the issue when he taught: …do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek turn to him the other also. (Matthew 5:39) And Jesus went on to say: You have heard it was said, Love your neighbor and hate your enemies. But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…. (Matthew 5:43,44).
Many pacifists have taken those sayings literally as a prohibition against any use of lethal force, but most Christians consider the sayings as hyperbole that was typical of Jesus. Otherwise it would be impossible to protect life and liberty in a dangerous world. The real challenge for the faithful is not whether lethal force can be used, but when and how it is used, and that raises issues of tough love and the duty to protect.
The duty to protect life and liberty is based on love for others—not hate for those who threaten them—and it requires the use of lethal force by those police and military forces who are charged with the duty to protect. When and how lethal force is used is governed by rules of engagement that are grounded in self-defense and the defense of others; and while there have been too many instances of the use of excessive force, the prohibition of lethal force is not an option if we expect to maintain the law and order that is needed to protect freedom and justice.
The duty of the military to protect U.S. national security interests requires understanding the threat, the operational environment and U.S. military capabilities. Containment rather than military intervention is the best U.S. strategy to combat Islamist terrorism in Islamic cultures, but elsewhere domestic intelligence and law enforcement operations must identify, apprehend and prosecute terrorists. These complementary approaches are needed to protect lives and vital U.S. security interests from Islamist terrorism, and they require that the capabilities of U.S. security forces are properly matched with their strategic missions.
President Obama has continually asserted that there are no U.S. combat forces in Iraq or Syria, but he has acknowledged that U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF) have conducted direct action strikes and raids against ISIS in the past and will continue to do so in the future. These are combat operations conducted by elite warriors of SOF and represent U.S. “boots on the ground.” Such direct action SOF operations should not be confused with indirect SOF advisory and training missions, but statements by President Obama and Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter have confused those two fundamentally different military capabilities and their missions.
The elite SOF warriors of the Army’s Delta Force and Navy’s Seals conduct direct action strikes and raids, such as the take-down of Osama bin Laden and the recent liberation of Kurdish prisoners in Iraq. By way of contrast, SOF advisors and trainers rely on indirect action to achieve mission success. They are diplomat-warriors whose legitimacy and effectiveness depend upon keeping a low profile and motivating their Muslim counterparts to do most of the fighting; and they work as closely with State Department officials as with the military chain of command.
The legitimacy of the extended advisory and training missions of SOF diplomat-warriors requires public support both at home and in the operational area, and that public support is jeopardized by conflicting standards of legitimacy. SOF personnel are expected to respect local laws and moral standards and also report violations of fundamental human rights under the Leahy law. Such violations are inevitable where apostasy and blasphemy laws deny the freedoms of religion and speech, and women and non-Muslims are denied equal protection of the law. This can create a mission impossible for SOF diplomat-warriors in Islamic cultures.
The fundamental freedoms of religion and speech are anathema to radical Islamism, which is the life-blood of Islamist terrorism. Those freedoms are necessary for Muslims to challenge the legitimacy of radical Islamism, and U.S. combat operations only increase the legitimacy of radical Islamism among Muslims. Understanding how libertarian human rights can undermine the legitimacy of Islamist terrorism is critical to achieving U.S. strategic objectives; and SOF diplomat-warriors can support their Muslim counterparts in their battle for legitimacy.
Jews, Christians and Muslims all share the moral imperative to love God and to love their neighbors as themselves. In a dangerous world that requires tough love and the duty to protect life and liberty. In Islamic cultures Muslims should have the freedoms of religion and speech to challenge the legitimacy of the radical Islamism that sustains Islamist terrorism. Promoting those fundamental freedoms should be a strategic objective of SOF diplomat-warriors who advise and train Muslims on the front lines of the battle for legitimacy.
Notes and References to Resources:
Previous blogs on related topics are: Faith and Freedom, December 15, 2014; Religion, Violence and Military Legitimacy, December 29, 2014; The Greatest Commandment, January 11, 2015; Jesus Meets Muhammad: Is There a Common Word of Faith for Jews, Christians and Muslims Today? January 25, 2015; Religion and Human Rights, posted February 22, 2015; A Fundamental Problem with Religion, May 3, 2015; Religion, Human Rights and National Security, May 10, 2015; De Oppresso Liber: Where Religion and Politics Intersect, May 24, 2015; Christians Meet Muslims Today, posted June 21, 2015; Freedom and Fundamentalism, August 2, 2015; How Religious Fundamentalism and Secularism Shape Politics and Human Rights, August 16, 2015; Legitimacy as a Context and Paradigm to Resolve Religious Conflict, August 23, 2015; and A Strategy to Defeat Radical Islam: Containment, not Confrontation, November 1, 2015.
On turning the other cheek (Matthew 5:39), see Submission, retribution and giving to all who ask in the J&M Book at page 102.
Michael Walzer has postulated that life and liberty are human rights that justify the duty to protect in war. See Michael Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars, Basic Books, 1977, pp xvi, 133-137,
cited in end note 20 to chapter 4 of Barnes, Military Legitimacy: Might and Right in the New Millennium (Frank Cass, 1996), at page 99, which is posted at page 83 at http://www.jesusmeetsmuhammad.com/#!page3/cee5. The unique nature of SOF diplomat-warriors is compared with conventional combat warriors at pages 89-92 in chapter 5 of Military Legitimacy: Might and Right in the New Millennium, at http://www.jesusmeetsmuhammad.com/#!page3/cee5 and at http://media.wix.com/ugd/a8edf7_f0f4d486bb9b440ea5cfdddfed46517b.pdf.
U.S. Special Forces advisors have ignored human rights violations in Afghanistan involving the sexual abuse of boys. See http://mobile.nytimes.com/2015/09/21/world/asia/us-soldiers-told-to-ignore-afghan-allies-abuse-of-boys.html?_r=0. On the need for U.S. Special Operations trainers and advisors to promote compliance with fundamental human rights and the different skill sets required of SOF warriors who conduct direct action combat operations and the SOF diplomat-warriors who conduct advisory and training operations, see Barnes, Back to the Future: Human Rights and Legitimacy in the Training and Advisory Mission, Special Warfare, January-March 2013, posted at http://media.wix.com/ugd/a8edf7_3ceb977e13df46129e7fe22b9dae6789.pdf.
On the strategic dilemma facing President Obama in sending additional SOF forces to Iraq and Syria, see http://www.wsj.com/articles/u-s-to-send-special-forces-to-syria-1446216062 and https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/after-promising-to-end-two-wars-obama-may-leave-three-behind/2015/10/31/01f3f70a-7fe3-11e5-beba-927fd8634498_story.html?wpmm=1&wpisrc=nl_headlines. On the dangers of incrementalism to a coherent strategy, see https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-dangers-of-incrementalism/2015/11/05/22aad1de-83f9-11e5-9afb-0c971f713d0c_story.html?wpmm=1&wpisrc=nl_opinions.