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By Mark Tooley @markdtooley

Recently liberal Baptist ethicist David Gushee of Mercer University, a prominent thinker on the Evangelical Left, tweeted about a “brutalized Syria: 70,000 dead, 1.4 million refugees, UN powerless, US and UK unwilling to intervene, and the killing goes on.” Later he tweeted: “I am not opposed to all US engagements to address global security and humanitarian problems. More could be done here.”

Gushee strongly implies that he favors some level of U.S. military intervention in Syria’s brutal civil war. What else could he mean by “intervene?” Yet he is a longtime critic of U.S. interventionist policies. He in the past has lamented how “our regular military interventions around the world create a steady supply of new enemies.” In 2009 he asked President Obama:

Do you agree that America has been living on myths and needs to get back in touch with reality when it comes to our role in the world and the efficacy of war? Do you agree that our military is overstretched and exhausted and needs a more limited and manageable role? Do you agree that we need to get back to genuine national defense and away from trying to project an imperial role in the world in the name of freedom and democracy? Do you agree that the national-security bureaucracy, besides being ineffective, has grown too big and unwieldy and needs to be pruned dramatically? President Obama, you seek to be a transformational leader. Are you willing to be transformational enough to return us to a more modest foreign policy and a more restrained exercise of military power? Will you end this militarized American imperialism before it destroys us?

More recently Gushee has complained that U.S. foreign and military policy has been “potentially lethal to the planet, as well as bankrupting, unwise, and neo-imperialistic.” His concerns about U.S. imperial over stretch seem somewhat at odds with his implied suggestion of intervention into the murkiness of Syria’s conflict. But at least Gushee grudgingly accepts the Just War tradition, despite pacifism’s supposed appeal, as the price of admission to realistic geopolitical conversation. Others on the Evangelical Left denounce all force, at least by the U.S,, as idolatry. And they routinely condemn U.S. “empire” without offering plausible alternatives. “American Exceptionalism” for this crowd is quite wicked, maybe even blasphemous.

In counterpoint, Richard Haass of the Council on Foreign Relations in yesterday’s Washington Post describes how this century, like the last, likely will be dominated by American power, which he suggests is not regrettable: “The alternative to a U.S.-led 21st century is not an era dominated by China or anyone else, but rather a chaotic time in which regional and global problems overwhelm the world’s collective will and ability to meet them.” He concludes: “Americans would not be safe or prosperous in such a world. One Dark Ages was one too many; the last thing we need is another.”

It should be added that it’s not just Americans who would be imperiled by a new Dark Ages but most of the world. The Religious Left often wants the benefits of American power, soft and sometimes hard, for its humanitarian ambitions while still bemoaning that power. Current world order, including aspirations for some measure of greater justice and peace, rests on American leadership and power, economic, political and military. A Christian political witness that pretends otherwise is ineffective and foolish.