Remember Iraq: A Cautionary Tale

The last U.S. troops left Iraq on Sunday, ending a nearly 9-year war that had become unpopular and divisive on the homefront in recent years, while costing the United States approximately $800 billion and 4,500 lives. My intent is not to argue whether the war was justified or not or whether it dragged on too long. History will be the judge of that. But lest we become too quick to dismiss the Iraq War as just an ugly chapter in our history and try to forget it, allow me to offer the following cautionary tale:

On January 27, 1973, the Paris Peace Accords were signed, ending U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, setting a 60-day period in which American troops were to be removed, and establishing a cease-fire between North and South Vietnam. Americans celebrated the end of the longest and least popular war to date in the nation’s history.

What happened next has unfortunately been largely forgotten.

Almost immediately following the withdrawal of U.S. troops, North Vietnam began to push the boundaries of the cease-fire. When President Nixon threatened to send troops back if North Vietnam continued, Congress prohibited him from doing so. Over the next several years, the United States cut financial aid to South Vietnam as their northern neighbors continued to threaten their borders. On April 30, 1975, the southern capital of Saigon fell to North Vietnamese troops, and Vietnam was united under a communist government. Cambodia and Laos also fell to communism in short (but bloody) order.

Once in power the communist regimes enacted brutal policies that led to the deaths of millions of innocent people. The worst of it was in Cambodia (or Kampuchea as it was then known) where Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge massacred over 1/4 of the population (as many as 2.5 million in a country of 8 million) during an attempt to ruralize the country by forcing people to leave the cities. Artists, writers, academics, and anyone else suspected of being part of the intelligentsia were executed. Parents who stopped during the forced migration to wait for or look for children who had wandered off were shot dead on the spot (as were the children who had wandered from the group). It eventually got so bad that Vietnam (whose own government wan’t exactly nice and friendly) invaded Kampuchea in 1979 to overthrow Pol Pot and establish a more mild communist government to rule over Cambodia.

And all the while, America turned a blind eye to the tragedy, not wanting to admit that ending the U.S. presence in S.E. Asia might have been a mistake. Even today, many in academia and the media want to separate the effect (millions of brutal and unnecessary deaths) from the cause (a power vacuum created by American withdrawal).

In light of that, I want to say this to American Christians: even though U.S. involvement in Iraq has drawn to a close, and whether you were in favor of the war or not, please do not stop praying for that nation. Just because our government has declared our side of the war to be over doesn’t mean the fighting will stop. In fact, if the Islamist influence and insurgents in the area have any say in the matter, the fighting may be far from over. As an American, I am relieved that no more of my fellow countrymen will lose their lives in Iraq, and I lament the fact that any needed to be lost in the first place. But as a Christian and a student of history, I fear for the Iraqi people now that the American forces are gone.

So that is why I ask my brothers in sisters in Christ to continue to pray for Iraq. Pray for unity of government in a nation where the differences between Sunni, Shiite, and Kurd run much deeper than those between Republican and Democrat. Pray for the government not to be hindered by corruption and for the military and police to be able to defend the nation against internal and external terrorism (particularly from Iran, its neighbor to the east). Pray for elections to remain free and unfixed by those in power with ulterior motives. Pray for our fellow believers, that they “may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (2 Tim. 2:2) and not have their religious freedom turn into persecution. And above all pray for people to come to know Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, who “himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility” (Eph. 2:14) and in whom “there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.” (Col. 3:11)

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