As I write this letter the Afghan city of Kabul has fallen; there are chaotic scenes at Kabul airport, as both US and UK governments desperately fly in to rescue and retrieve their respective citizens and those Afghans who have worked with them. Despite billions of pounds and dollars being spent on building up the Afghan army (and numerous lives lost), the whole thing has collapsed like ‘a pack of cards’ and Western governments have been left reeling at the speed at which the Taliban have conquered the country. The Taliban spokesman, Suhail Shaheen, called the BBC’s Yalda Hakim live on air to “assure the people of Afghanistan, particularly in the city of Kabul, that their properties, their lives are safe – there will be no revenge on anyone”. This was of little comfort to the people on the ground who were clinging to the sides of aircraft in order to escape. Neither did it sit well with simultaneous reports received by the United Nations Security Council of mass killings and mounting human rights violations against women.
Twenty years ago, following the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington, things had been very different. The anti-Taliban forces of Afghanistan’s Northern Alliance with the backing of the US and other Western nations had pushed the Taliban out of Kabul and were gaining the upper hand over Osama Bin Laden and his al-Qaeda movement. With this advance came political and social progress; businesses were allowed to prosper and flourish; girls and young women were able to study by going to school and university; and democratic processes became a part of electing governments. None of these things were perfect, but they were like a breath of fresh air to those who experienced them. Unfortunately, President Trump’s desire to ‘bring troops home’ and have a foreign policy success which would appeal to voters at home, has led him and his successor President Biden to make decisions that are disastrous for Afghanistan and arguably for western nations as well. The Bible encourages Christians to be as ‘wise as serpents and as innocent as doves’ when living amongst wolves (Matthew 10.16). Unfortunately, not a lot of wisdom was shown here, as we were really‘blind as a bat’in this case, only seeing what we wanted to see rather than what was the potential reality. This is a dark day for US/UK foreign policy as our credibility is shot to pieces; we can only hope that we have learnt our lessons.
However, there may still be a glimmer of hope, that God will work in the hearts and lives of all those who have experienced a better way of life and freedom, that one day they will encourage their society to turn their back on all the things which harm, impede, pull down and destroy and reach out for something better. Let’s pray that this may be so.
By the time, you get to read this letter, Donald J Trump will have been sworn in as the 45th President of the United States of America, and life, it seems will never be the same again. Adopting Ronald Reagan’s campaign slogan, Donald Trump will set about ‘making America great again’, but not without some controversy. Will Donald J Trump build a wall between the United States and Mexico? Will he impose import taxes on US companies that create product intended for the US market whilst using foreign workers in foreign plants? Will he continue to stir up controversy with China whilst seeking to improve relations with Russia? Will he continue to denounce the workings of the American Intelligence agencies, and with regard to Russia – is he politically compromised? The list of controversial questions seems to be added to each day with a flurry of response being sent on Twitter.
But can President Trump ‘make America great again’ and is he really that powerful? Well, in a sense the answer is both yes and no! As President, he certainly commands a lot of power, but in theory even he is subject to the higher authority of the American Constitution. It is this document which is so sacred to Americans which is considered to be the ultimate resort. Congress may make laws, but it is the American courts which interpret them according to the Constitution and determine how they should ultimately be applied – a system designed, it is said, to prevent any one person having too much power or being subject to corruption. However, this means that ultimate power can be said to reside with the unelected members of the Supreme Court. To counter their influence American Presidents are able to appoint a number of ‘Justices’ to the Supreme Court according to their political persuasion; Republicans tend to appoint conservatives or ‘originalist’ judges and justices who will always try to interpret the law according to the Constitution as it was originally understood by the ‘founding fathers’. Democrats will say that the Constitution is a ‘living document’ which needs to be interpreted according to the issues of the day and so will appoint Liberal or ‘activist’ judges and justices, and try to promote their own particular agenda on modern day issues of concern (e.g. abortion). This is one of the main reasons why Presidential campaigns become so messy as everyone wants to get their candidate elected so that they might be able to shape and influence society and politics not just within Congress but through the courts. The problem with Donald Trump it seems, is that because of his outlandish statements and apparent policy making ‘on the hoof’ he’s been quite capable of upsettingboth Republicans and Democrats and so his candidacy as President hasn’t always been easy for either side to settle with or predict.
So where does this leave us? Well, the Christian response has always been to pray for those in authority that they will govern wisely and well for the benefit of all people, and do all that they can to support and encourage them in that task.Equally, in a period of so much change and uncertainty, we are encouraged to think about what do we consider to be our ultimate guide and authority? For many Christians that guide would be the Bible, which has been the foundation and backbone of so many of our laws and legal frameworks within British Society for countless generations, but the constant task is of course, not only to understand the context in which the Bible was originally written, but how we canalso best apply it to today’s modern society. We may call ourselves Great Britain, but in my own humble opinion, our national status would be greatly enhanced if we were to spend a little more time quietly, prayerfully, and intelligently reflecting upon some of the biblical and Christian principles which have served us so well in the past.
“Pray for all people … kings and all those in authority, that we may live a tranquil and peaceful life in all godliness and dignity” 1 Timothy 2.2