On February 24, 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt signed an agreement with Cuba to lease the area surrounding Guantánamo Bay to the U.S. On February 23, 2016, standing before a portrait of Mr. Roosevelt, President Obama announced plans to close the military prison there.
I watched the president’s speech and the debate that ensued. Both sides center on national security. Mr. Obama claims that the prison hardens international resentment against the U.S. and makes Americans less safe. Opponents dispute this claim and counter that the president’s plan does not account for the most dangerous current detainees or future terrorists. (For more on the Guantánamo Bay debate, see Nick Pitts’s How does Guantanamo undermine our values?.)
Do you worry about national security? If so, you’re not alone. According to a recent Pew Research Center poll, only eighteen percent of Americans think we are winning the war on terrorism. That’s the lowest percentage, by far, in ten years. The number of Americans who believe terrorists are winning has doubled in the same time span. According to surveys, national security and terrorism now ranks as the top priority for the federal government.
Yesterday I noted that we especially fear random violence because its very nature means that it could happen to us. The shooter who killed six people in Michigan last Saturday could just as easily have targeted your city or mine.
When our fears turn to terrorism, they are intensified by the unending nature of this global threat. An Islamic State spokesman was clear: “We will conquer your Rome, break your crosses, and enslave your women. If we do not reach that time, then our children and grandchildren will reach it, and they will sell your sons as slaves at the slave market.”
We have already been fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq longer than any war in our nation’s history, with no end in sight. To succeed politically, any plan dealing with Guantánamo Bay or any other aspect of the war on terrorism must make us feel safer.
It is human nature to fear our enemies. But across history, God has redeemed fear by using it to turn people to faith. I am convinced that he wants to use our national security fears for the same purpose today.
In Psalm 20, David prays for his people: “May the Lord answer you in the day of trouble! May the name of the God of Jacob protect you!” (v. 1). Here’s why he can claim such protection: “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God” (v. 7).
Is America trusting our chariots and horses, or our God? What about you?
Note: For more on our theme, please see my latest website essay, How to Solve the World’s Problems.