Providing for the Common Defense

If you’re an American, you probably recognize the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution.

We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

To provide for the common defense is an artful, 18th-century phrase that some have tried to modernize to mean to “defend our country from other countries.” Yet national defense can also involve nonstate entities. In the 1980s America declared a near state of war against Manuel Noriega, whose titular leadership of an international drug cartel had infested the government of Panama and whose murderous activities directly affected U.S. interests. The U.S. military invaded Panama and captured Noriega in December 1989.

Another example is America’s war on terrorism. Prior to 9/11, terrorist cells enjoyed the full license to train for and prepare attacks against the United States in places like Afghanistan and Libya. Today providing for the common defense must include military actions against hybrid entities like these.

When the movie Argo won Best Picture at the Academy Awards in February, it was heralded as a film that extolled the bravery and skill of American CIA operatives in rescuing a handful of U.S. Embassy personnel in Tehran, Iran, after the fall of the shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. Though the shah served American interests, he was a brutal dictator.

He was replaced by the even more brutal and decidedly anti-American Ayatollah Khomeini, who ushered in a radical Islamic government. The shah had run a secular government. According to a February 24, 2013, article in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, 1,500 Israelis and many Americans lived in Iran under the shah in relative tranquility. Not so after Khomeini and his thugs moved into power.

Argo dramatically portrays the Islamic radicals storming the American embassy in Tehran when Jimmy Carter was president. It then focuses on the six embassy staffers who had made their way to the Canadian embassy where they were temporarily, but heroically, protected until their rescue. However, 52 other American diplomatic employees remained in the harsh custody of Islamic extremists for 444 days from November 1979 until January 1981. They were finally released minutes after Ronald Reagan became president.

Jimmy Carter collaborated on Argo and actively promoted it. But the facts show a different angle on the Iranian crisis than does the film.

It is an undisputed tenet of international law that foreign embassies are considered the territory of that nation. The assault on the American Embassy in Tehran was an attack on the United States. Haaretz reported that, at the demise of the shah’s regime, a group of Iranian generals “were begging Washington, heretofore their patron, for logistical assistance in staging a coup.” That could well have bought enough time to secure the American Embassy or to remove American personnel.

However, that help did not come from the Carter administration. Instead, as Haaretz documented, “a feckless response from Jimmy Carter’s White House proved that [the opposition forces against Khomeini] had reached the endgame: The road was paved for an Islamic takeover and, by implication, for summary execution of hundreds of government and military officials,” and, of course, the lengthy hostage crisis. Today a nuclear Iran casts its shadow over the world—a result of the Islamic takeover due, in part, to the failure of American foreign policy on matters of “common defense.”

Unfortunately, history tragically repeats itself. Some of our leaders do not fully understand, or fail to believe, the values set forth in the Preamble to our Constitution. On September 11, 2012, the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya, was attacked by Islamic radicals. U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens had begged the State Department for increased security, but his pleas were ignored. Eventually, he and three other Americans were murdered and 10 others injured.

These instances are not merely matters of constitutional neglect. They reflect how political correctness, timidity, and other similar failures of political will can tragically contradict God’s plan for government.

Government is sent by God “for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good” (1 Pet. 2:14). The apostle Paul gave us similar instruction that government does not wield the sword in vain (Rom. 13:3–4).

These are the principles that informed our founders’ worldview when they drafted the Preamble. The further we move away from these biblical roots, the more certain we are to set our ship of state adrift on deadly seas without the hope of rescue.

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