War in Iraq 2007

Resolution on the War in Iraq 2007
Union for Reform Judaism
Executive Committee
March 12, 2007

I. Introduction

Fourteen months ago, the Union for Reform Judaism adopted its 2005 Resolution on the War in Iraq. In the Resolution, which was brought to the 2005 Biennial Convention by member congregations, we spoke out on the war because the prophetic tradition, so central to Judaism, calls on us to address the great moral issues of our day. And no issue raises more urgent and challenging moral considerations for our nations (even while affecting particular Jewish concerns from the war on terrorism, to stability in the broader Middle East region to Israel's security and well being) than does the war in Iraq.

Since that Resolution was adopted, over a year of escalating violence, death, and civil strife has ensued. The Iraq Study Group (Baker/Hamilton) Report and more recent testimony by military and policy experts in front of the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations has revealed additional concerns about the strategic implications and effectiveness of the war in its declared objective to combat terrorism.1 And the American public has made its dissatisfaction over the war felt through the ballot box.

II. The 2005 Resolution on the War in Iraq

The Union for Reform Judaism's 2005 Resolution on Iraq called on the United States Government to take several actions including "some withdrawal of troops [that] should begin after the completion of the parliamentary elections [December 2005]…with the continuation…as soon as possible, in a way that maintains stability in the nation and empowers Iraqi forces to provide for their national security." The 2005 resolution urged President Bush to provide a "clear exit strategy to the American public." None of these recommendations have been fulfilled. We did not, at that time, call for immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops to be completed by a given time, intending to give the Administration and the military maximum flexibility in devising expeditiously an exit strategy. Since then, there has been no reduction in U.S. troop numbers in Iraq, with the current level at approximately 135,000. To the contrary, on January 10, 2007, President Bush announced the deployment of over 20,000 additional troops to Iraq. Neither has the President provided a plan for withdrawal or an exit strategy that our nation and our troops deserve. This escalation seems difficult to reconcile with our resolution, particularly when that escalation is not set within the context of a clearly specified exit strategy. Further, as the months drag on and the death toll rises, it seems increasingly clear that a specific exit strategy will not be set forth without a specific timetable.

III. Jewish Values Regarding Rules for War

The Jewish tradition offers guidance for us in our deliberations. It offers ethical analysis as to the causes justifying the use of force ("just cause"), the authority to wage war ("right authority"), and the "just means" for fighting war. A number of considerations animate our decisions:

1. The tradition distinguishes between two basic types of war: milchemet mitzvah/milchemet chova (obligatory wars including wars of self-defense) and milchemet reshut (wars of permission such as offensive wars - and, most Jewish authorities would hold, preemptive wars). Wars of permission, which the Iraq war would be categorized as, have stricter requirements in terms of right authority and just means.

2. "Just cause" includes the protection of innocent people, a criterion drawn from the individual obligation to intervene to protect those who are being pursued by evildoers. (Lev. 19:16:"Do not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor;" BT Sanhedrin 74a, Baba Kama 28a, Shulchan Aruch Hoshen Mishpat 425:1) Our URJ executive committee meeting in 2002 (the first Union body to consider the proposed war against Iraq) believed the effort to remove Saddam Hussein met "just cause" criteria. This was one of the most brutal dictators of the 20th century. He held power through the massive oppression of his people, engaging in widespread systematic human rights abuses. He had sought the development of non-conventional weapons and actually used them against his own people. The chilling tapes, released in court in early January 2007, of Saddam's conversations with top advisors in which he callously and explicitly calls on his commanders to use chemical weapons against his own civilians in the most devastating manner possible, affirms this. He attacked neighboring countries without cause. He lobbed missiles at Israeli population centers in the first Gulf War, when Israel was not a combatant and paid money to the families of Palestinian terrorists.

Nonetheless, just because a government has a right to do something does not make what it does right - or wise. Further, meeting one just war norm does not justify the violation of others.

3. The halachah suggests that a preemptive war against those intending to do you harm, if there is evidence of imminent threats, is justifiable. (BT, Sotah 44b, Eruvin 45a) The clear evidence of the 9/11 Commission that Saddam was not close to developing or obtaining nuclear or biological weapons, that his chemical weapon capacity was almost entirely eliminated, and that he did not cooperate with Al Qaeda in attacks on the U.S., mitigates any arguments of imminence.

4. While an obligatory war can be declared by the King alone, a milchemet reshut (permissible war) must be approved by the Sanhedrin --- the legislative cum judicial branch of the Jewish government. This model of cooperative decision-making, balanced between the various branches of government, led the URJ in 2002 to support congressional efforts to require the President to come back to the Congress for approval before actually deploying troops. It argues as well for vigorous and effective Congressional oversight of the way the war has been prosecuted (called for in our 2005 resolution), something that has been woefully lacking. Further, in our contemporary world, there is a strong argument that "right authority" for international intervention requires legitimate international authority - something the U.S. recognized in bringing its case to the U.N. But the lack of support from the U.N. Security Council and NATO denied that right authority.

5. The halachah is clear about the need to pursue vigorously peaceful options before the use of force could be justified (Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Melachim 6:1). This was a requirement that the 2002 URJ Executive committee decision called for and one that the 9/11 Commission found we had failed to achieve.

6. One of the distinctive aspects of Jewish rules of warfare is found in the "just means" category: the concept of bal tashchit, derived from the biblical mandate not to destroy fruit-bearing trees. In the Talmudic and Maimonidian expansion of bal tashchit to involve most things necessary for normal life, we are taught that war should be fought in a manner so as to allow normal civilian life to resume after the war. (This, in contrast to Rome's salting of Carthage or U.S. massive defoliation programs in Vietnam.) Jewish tradition argues that war, while justifiable, should always be regarded as an aberration. Fighting wars in a way that allows for the return to peace and normal life must always be the goal. The failure of the U.S. government to secure the civilian infrastructure in the aftermath of the successful invasion and the failure in the following three years to rebuild effectively ignores these values and is cited as a major factor in our limited success by the Baker-Hamilton Report.

7. Central to Jewish just means doctrine is the need to protect innocent civilians (MT Melachim 6:11). The alarming devastation wrought has been damaging for the civilian population.

8. Captives in warfare are entitled to protections of their safety and dignity. (See, e.g. Deut. 21:10-14 regarding female captives). It is difficult to reconcile this mandate with the widespread abuses, particularly the use of torture, that have taken place in Iraq and other U.S. facilities. Jewish tradition calls for humane treatment, even of one's adversaries. The Bible teaches, "When you encounter an enemy's ox or donkey, you must take it back to him" (Exodus 23:4). I.e. the religious test here is, strikingly, not how one would treat a friend, but how one relates to one's enemy. "Classical Rabbinic texts also are rigorous in prohibiting acts of humiliation. In Jewish tort law, an additional penalty is assessed against one who has physically injured another person when it is found that the victim also suffered humiliation (boshet) while being wounded. Even verbal humiliation is said to be the equivalent of shedding blood. These factors were cited by the Israeli Supreme Court in 1999 in barring torture by Israeli armed forces, even against terrorists."2

9. Embodied in halachic norms is the presumption that if the rabbinic implementation of a halachic rule leads to consequences different from those intended, the implementation of the rule can be changed or suspended. Further, the Jewish tradition on war (as well as Christian and Muslim just war theory) contains the idea that before force is used, there needs to be a reasonable chance that the force will achieve the moral goals it is being used for.

In conclusion, our failure to pursue all reasonable alternatives to war, to mobilize the kind of broad-based international cooperation we had in the first Gulf War, the array of faulty justifications for war offered, the woeful lack of planning for the aftermath of the invasion, the disgraceful failure to protect the civilian infrastructure (bal tashchit), the abuses of prisoners, the alarming devastation wrought on civilians - all these and more raise significant abuses and failures of Jewish just war standards.

IV. Update on the Situation in Iraq

Since we last considered in 2005 our position on this vital issue, the situation in Iraq has become far grimmer and more challenging. The ongoing and escalating loss of life among U.S. and coalition forces and the Iraqi people, and growing instability within Iraqi society, compels us to revisit and apply our policy to these changing circumstances.

Although overall the situation on the ground in Iraq has deteriorated, there have also been important accomplishments. Since the passage of the Resolution, Iraqi National Elections were conducted under the New Constitution in December 2005, a Prime Minister and cabinet were appointed, and control of three Iraqi provinces was transferred to Provincial Iraqi Control in 2006. Saddam Hussein was captured, tried and found guilty of crimes against humanity.

Notwithstanding limited progress, the level of sectarian violence and casualties, both Iraqi and American, has risen sharply.3 American military fatalities have surpassed 3,000.4 In 2006, 34,452 Iraqi civilians died violently, averaging 94 per day.5 Iraq has clearly descended into civil war-like strife, as the sheer level of violence and increasing level of sectarian attacks indicate.6

In addition to the human cost of the war, the economic price of the war continues to divert much-needed funds away from domestic U.S. concerns. In our 2005 resolution, we took notice of the rising price tag for the war, which will require future generations to pay the cost as a result of concurrent tax cuts coupled with spending of substantial levels of borrowed funds. The monetary cost of the war has been made difficult for the public and members of Congress to assess because funding requests for the war have come largely through supplemental requests and not the normal budget process. A wide array of military and policy experts have pointed out that the financial burden also diminishes the ability of the U.S. military to respond to other threats and acts as a barrier to U.S. cooperation with the international community on other issues. Although difficult to pinpoint the exact cost of the Iraq war, it is estimated that the war is costing the United States approximately $8 billion per month, with economists estimating the projected total cost of the war between $1-2 trillion.7

V. United States Withdrawal and Exit Strategy

The United States has been at war in Iraq for almost four years - longer than our engagement in World War II. There is no indication that our current policies are likely to lead to success; to the contrary, the American presence in Iraq may be fueling the current conflict, contributing to the rising death rate. A declassified intelligence report released in September 2006 stated that "The Iraq conflict has become the 'cause celebre' for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of U.S. involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement."8 Other experts have argued that the continued American presence in Iraq may be deterring the Iraqi government from taking responsibility for the political situation through reconciliation talks and through aggressively prosecuting militias and insurgents. Instead, the United States' announcement of a clear exit strategy, including the release of a timetable for phased redeployment and the immediate beginning of withdrawal of troops, may be more likely to encourage Iraqis to play a stronger role in the stabilization of their country. 9

VI. Iraqi Reconciliation Talks

Not seeing an exclusively military solution to the conflict, policy experts and commissions have called for the United States to seek a more vigorous diplomatic process, internally and externally, that increases stability and security.10 This would include Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Kamal Al-Maliki convening reconciliation talks with the broadest possible range of Iraq's top military, political, and religious leaders. The Baker/Hamilton Report recommended that the Iraqi government oversees these talks themselves and that they end only when agreements have been made on the critical issues. The issues that would need to be addressed for there to be any hope for a diplomatic resolution include the ultimate configuration of Iraq and its governing structure; whether amnesty should be granted for Sunni insurgents who are willing to surrender their weapons; the disarming and demobilizing of Shia militias; review of the Iraqi Constitution to include the views of the Sunni minority who were not actively participants in the drafting process; the admittance of and restrictions on former members of Saddam Hussein's Baathist party in the new government; fair allocation of oil revenue across all of Iraq, including those provinces without oil fields; the role of religion in the new government; and finally, the protection of civil and human rights for all Iraqi citizens.11

VII. Continued Assistance

A widespread bipartisan consensus has developed that the international community, in the region and beyond, has a stake in the success of the Iraqi state, especially in preventing the spread of global terrorism. The United Nations and its member states must be engaged to encourage and aid the strengthening of the Iraqi government and provide economic aid for reconstruction efforts. Regionally, the collapse of Iraq threatens the stability of Iraq's neighbors. They have an essential role to play in preventing that collapse through financial support; reconstruction; securing Iraq's borders by preventing incursions of terrorists and destabilizing actors; reinstating diplomatic relations; and encouraging national political reconciliation.12

Iran and Syria particularly play central roles in the region and can help or hinder the security of and situation within Iraq. Due to the ethnic makeup of both Iran and Syria, these countries should be pressured to engage in dialogue with their counterparts in Iraq to encourage an end to the insurgency and the beginning of stability.

Despite the urgency of withdrawing combat troops, we recognize our obligation to continue aiding the new Iraqi government to ensure the best chances for stability. Proverbs tells us, "If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat. And if she is thirsty, give her water to drink" (25:21). Economic aid can, and should, be provided to assist with the rebuilding of Iraq's infrastructure, create jobs, and support the development of the democratic government in Iraq. Experts cite the importance of a continuing limited presence of logistical staff, engineers, training and support forces, special operations forces, search-and-rescue-units, air support from outside Iraq, and counter-terrorism intelligence as a means to provide needed support to the new Iraqi leadership, this can help insure an American presence aimed at protecting other US interests in the region including Israel's security. 13

VIII. Conclusion

As the situation continues to deteriorate, and the Administration continues to follow an unsuccessful strategy, growing majorities of the American people are demanding a change in United States policy in Iraq. Our resolution seeks to address these concerns. As is true with all of our resolutions, the Union for Reform Judaism speaks only to the policy of the Movement as a whole, and does not speak for each congregation or for every individual affiliated with a Reform congregation. Recognizing that there are good people in our congregations who embrace strongly held differences of opinion on the critical issues addressed in this resolution, the Union leadership invited and considered feedback from members of its congregations in advance of its adoption.

There are some who hold strong and thoughtful views contrary to our position on Iraq. Yet, at our 2005 biennial convention, the vote of our leadership from across the nation against the war was overwhelming. Recent polls confirm this perspective at a grassroots level with Gallup recently reporting that 77% of American Jews (including 65% who do not identify themselves as Democrats) believe sending troops into Iraq was a mistake.14

Therefore, the Union for Reform Judaism resolves to:

1. Reaffirm the principles stated in the 2005 Resolution on the War in Iraq and the 2005 Resolution on Support for Jewish Military Chaplains and Jewish Military Personnel and their Families, particularly:

  • Commending and supporting all of our service women and men (and their families) who have answered duty's call and served our nations honorably…and support generous benefits including quality healthcare for them, particularly those who have been wounded and their families;
  • Encouraging the involvement and support of the international community towards a working democratic Iraqi government and rebuilding Iraq's infrastructure;
  • Ensuring the United States government provides sufficient armor, supplies, and security for our troops through the completion of phased withdrawal;
  • Providing diligent congressional oversight of the war and related expenditures;
  • Ensuring that the financial burden of the war falls not just on the poor and on future generations, but be shared equitably;
  • Beginning immediately the process of phased withdrawal of our troops from Iraq in the manner that best enhances stability in Iraq - and, we would add to the 2005 resolution, stability for the region, including Israel.

2. Call on President Bush and Congress to:

  • Set and announce a clear timetable for the phased and expeditious withdrawal of United States troops from Iraq;
  • Include the estimated cost of the war in the annual budget and not through emergency supplemental bills; and

3. Call on congress to effect the goals of this resolution.

4. Oppose an escalation in troop strength; and

5. Call upon the United States and Canadian governments and the international community to:

  • Encourage Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Malaki to resume reconciliation talks with the full range of Iraq's political leaders;
  • Actively support a dialogue between Iraq and all its neighbors, especially in regards to helping to stop civil strife and terrorism and helping finance Iraqi job programs and reconstruction.

1 The Iraq Study Group Report, http://www.usip.org/isg/iraq_study_group_report/report/1206/index.html .

Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski, Former National Security Advisor. Testimony to the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, February 1, 2007. http://foreign.senate.gov/testimony/2007/BrzezinskiTestimony070201.pdf

Statement of Richard N. Haas, President, Council on Foreign Relations, to the U.S. Senate on Foreign Relations. January 17, 2007. http://foreign.senate.gov/testimony/2007/HaassTestimony070117.pdf

2 "Rabbinic Letter on Torture," Rabbis for Human Rights. January 27, 2005. http://www.rhr-na.org/torture/letter012705B.html.

3 Pentagon "Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq: November 2006 Report to Congress. In the period of Aug. 12 through Nov. 10, 2006, weekly attacks increased by 22% and Coalition casualties increased by 32% from the previous reporting period. The Iraq Coalition Casualty Count (http://icasualties.org/oif/) reported December 2006 was the deadliest month for United States troops in over two years.

4 Bill Brubaker, "Soldier Killed by Roadside Bomb in Iraq." The Washington Post, January 3, 2007.

5 "UN Assistance Mission for Iraq Human Rights Report: 1 November - 31 December 2006."

6 Michael O'Hanlon, "Where We Are: The Current Situation in Iraq." Testimony in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, January 10, 2006.

7 David Leonhardt, "What $1.2 Trillion Can Buy." The New York Times, January 17, 2007.

8 Declassified Key Judgments of the National Intelligence Estimate, "Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States," dated April 2006

9 Thom Shanker, "General Opposes Adding to U.S. Forces in Iraq, Emphasizing International Solutions for Region." The New York Times, December 20, 2006.

10 "Trying to Contain the Iraq Disaster," The New York Times. October 24, 2006.

The Iraq Study Group Report, http://www.usip.org/isg/iraq_study_group_report/report/1206/index.html .

Statement of Richard N. Haas, President, Council on Foreign Relations, to the U.S. Senate on Foreign Relations. January 17, 2007. http://foreign.senate.gov/testimony/2007/HaassTestimony070117.pdf .

11 "Trying to Contain the Iraq Disaster," The New York Times. October 24, 2006.

The Iraq Study Group Report, http://www.usip.org/isg/iraq_study_group_report/report/1206/index.html .

12 Ibid

13 The Iraq Study Group Report, http://www.usip.org/isg/iraq_study_group_report/report/1206/index.html .

14 "Among Religious Groups, Jewish Americans Most Strongly Opposed to War." Gallup News Services, February 23, 2007. http://www.galluppoll.com/content/?ci=26677&pg=1 .