Over at Sojourners, Brian McLaren—the emerging church and religious left’s foremost authority on foreign affairs, grand strategy, and defense policy—has weighed in on Afghanistan. In ” Dear President Obama: An Open Letter on Afghanistan ,” McClaren writes:

I am a loyal supporter of your presidency. I worked hard in the campaign and have never been as proud of my country as I was when we elected you.

I’m writing to ask you to find another way ahead in Afghanistan. I wrote a similar letter to President Bush when he was preparing for war in Iraq.

I believe now, as you and I both did then, that war is not the answer. Violence breeds violence, and as Dr. King said, you can murder a murderer, but you can’t murder murder. As the apostle Paul said, evil must be overcome with good, which means that violence and hate must be overcome with justice and love, not more of the same.

Obviously, you know things the rest of us don’t know. And you have pressures and responsibilities the rest of us don’t have. But we have based our lives on the moral principles that guided leaders like Dr. King, Desmond Tutu, and Nelson Mandela. We share a profound faith in a loving, non-violent God. We share a commitment to live in the way of Jesus the peacemaker. That’s why escalation is not a change we can believe in.


Given McClaren’s commitment to nonviolent pacifism one would expect him not only to oppose escalation but to favor a unilateral military withdrawal as well. If “war is not the answer” then it is not the answer with or without the 40,000 additional troops requested by General McChrystal, General Petraeus, and the JCS. McLaren, in other words, is calling for unilateral military withdrawal from Afghanistan. In the current debate over troop strength in Afghanistan, McLaren’s proposed number is zero!

That’s just what you would expect from a pacifist, of course. But we should pause and take stock for a moment on McLaren’s comment: “I believe now, as you and I both did then, that war is not the answer.” How odd, since Obama repeatedly insisted during the campaign that Afghanistan was a “war of necessity” (and hence the good war) unlike Iraq, which was a “war of choice”, (which was Bush’s bad war). And back in March, Obama seemed to make good on his pledge to fight this “war of necessity” by substantially increasing the number of troops. In other words, throughout the campaign and early in his presidency, Obama gave every indication that he believed that war is the answer. The only debate was over the way in which the war would be waged—not whether it would be waged.

So how do we square Obama’s words and actions (“war is the answer”) with McLaren’s contrary assertion that for Obama “war is not the answer?”

It could be that despite his public stance, (1) Obama secretly believes that “war is not the answer” and privately relayed his true pacifist beliefs and commitment to unilateral military withdrawal from Afghanistan only to his “spiritual advisor,” Brian McLaren. In which case Obama was flat-out lying to the American people about Afghanistan being a war of necessity. Or, (2) Obama never really believed that “war is not the answer,” and the disconnect is because McLaren is (a) confused about Obama’s clearly stated position or (b) lying about it. Or, (3) McLaren is a half-baked moral and theological blowhard who gives lie to the common notion that the infamous “scandal of the evangelical mind” is the exclusive province of the religious right.

I’m leaning toward (3), but could be talked out of it if anyone has a better explanation for this nonsense.

Articles by Keith Pavlischek

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