Summary of the discussion
The newspapers were full of the Chilcot report (which had been published the day before).
Tony Blair was convinced of his (and Britain’s) role to rid the world of oppressive dictators. Milosovic in Kosovo and Sierra Leone confirmed this in his mind. This was to be in contrast to past governments’ inaction, which had permitted genocide in eg Rwanda and Bosnia.
How far this was religiously motivated is unclear (compare Alastair Campbell: “We don’t do God”). What is clear, however, is that the earlier weakening of the role of civil servants in government (compare the “Yes, Minister” series for a widespread stereotype) had reduced the chance of realistic questioning of politicians’ electorally popular slogans.
There was strong demand from many people in Iraq (especially from Kurds) for the removal of Saddam Hussein (how many people died in Iraq before he was removed, compared with deaths since?). And the USA was reacting to the 9/11 destruction of the World Trade Centre, and a sense that the First Gulf War was unfinished business (“what if Saddam acquires WMDs and gives them to someone like Osama bin Laden?”).
Was Bush being pushed by the “hawks” in his own government? Blair expressed his awareness of the difficulties (eg of rebuilding Iraq) in letters to Bush. But he promised to stand with America whatever (contrast Harold Wilson’s refusal to allow British troops to go to Vietnam in the 1960s).
Our Readings for that morning included Psalm 146: “Put not your trust in princes”, and I Samuel chapter 8, where the people demand a king, and Samuel warns them of the consequences. They wanted a king because of their desire for “progress”, which they saw as more power, wealth and prestige.
Perhaps today we have a different reason for wanting “strong leaders”. We have enough to think about, we say, looking after our own homes, families and jobs. We prefer to leave world affairs to “those who know about them”. After all, the Gospel for that morning said: “Do not be weighed down by the cares of this world” (Luke 21:34).
But what does that mean? Does it mean ignoring the wider world in the hope that it stays “over there”- until it suddenly impacts on our lives and we have no idea how to deal with it? Or should it mean being prepared to commit some regular time and energy to “keeping in touch” so that we are not “weighed down” and depressed by unexpected breaking news?
And how should the Church be involved in helping its members to do that? The alternative is to stick rigidly to what you know from your own personal experience and to do nothing beyond that for fear of being misled by information you have not been able to check.