Last week Princeton Seminary hosted the first Interfaith Conference on Drone Warfare, with representatives of various denominations present. Hosted and funded by an anti-nuclear disarmament group, the event predictably was univocal in denouncing U.S. drone campaigns against terror targets. A Unitarian Universalist clergy seem to speak for most there when he complained that the U.S. was “terrorizing civilians with drone strikes.”
Nobody apparently was invited to offer a defense or even a thorough explanation of drone warfare. Predictably the event concluded with a prepackaged demand for ending all drone strikes, with investigations, apologies and reparations for past drones strikes. No serious alternatives evidently were offered to drone warfare against terrorists. The event showcased the frequent lack of seriousness in many religious circles about statecraft and lethal force.
Interestingly, yesterday The Washington Post reported on CIA collaboration with Israel’s Mossad in killing senior Hezbollah operative Imad Mughniyah in 2008 with a carefully crafted explosive device, preceded by years of planning. The car bomb had been specifically developed to prevent harm to nearby persons, as a drone strike or other device might have.
Would the hectoring lecturers at Princeton last week have approved? Unlikely. Almost certainly they would agree with a Notre Dame law professor whom the Post quoted about the car bomb: “It is a killing method used by terrorists and gangsters.” What killing method would this scornful professor have preferred? She wasn’t quoted as saying.
As to the Hezbollah operative, he helped orchestrate mass murder across four decades, dating back to the 1983 suicide bombings of the U.S. Embassy and Marine barracks in Beirut, and the 1990s bombings on the Israel Embassy and a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, killing hundreds of Americans and scores of Argentines, among countless others in his terror career. After torturing to death a CIA officer in Lebanon, he sent a tape of the man’s agony to CIA headquarters to amplify Hezbollah’s message.
The Hezbollah killer had just dined at a Damascus restaurant when CIA spotters transmitted his approach to the bomb laden vehicle to the Mossad, who relayed the actual detonation. Bon appétit indeed. Christian critics would ask whom Jesus would kill with a car bomb. The answer is Jesus during His earthly walk had no vocation for affairs of state, lethal or otherwise. But as Second Person of the Godhead, Jesus ordained governments to kill mass murderers like Imad Mughniyah.
Of course, car bombs aren’t always so precise. A 1985 assassination attempt on another Hezbollah henchman instead killed 60 mostly civilians, including children. By some accounts, the fiasco was conducted by Lebanese Christian Philangists funded by Saudi Arabia and encouraged by the CIA. The Hezbollah cleric escaped to Iran. And his bodyguard was Imad Mughniyah.
In our fallen world, even divinely ordained institutions in pursuit of the common good can err horrifically. Soldiers in pursuit of terrorists mistakenly kill civilians or their own men. Police run over bystanders or shoot the innocent. Doctors and hospitals kill patients through malpractice. Schools full of honorable teachers unknowingly harbor pedophiles. Charities that feed the poor facilitate graft. Churches devoted to the Gospel hire preachers who seduce, steal and lead souls astray. Marriages and families intended to embody love and protection instead foster abuse.
But the failures of divinely appointed human institutions don’t nullify their overall vocation to advance God’s protective purposes. We are to continually strive by divine grace to achieve honest and competent performance by governments, schools, hospitals, charities, churches and every human group intended for good, however proximate. But human exertions even at their best will not always avert evil and tragedy.
Fortunately, the demise of Hezbollah mass murderer Imad Mughniyah seems to have occurred by lawful and competent authority, without direct harm to others, giving justice to his countless victims, and sparing his future targets, for which thanks be to the CIA, Mossad and, supremely, God.