Monday, March 31, 2003
On Sunday, Mickey Kaus pondered the urgent question, "What was Rummy thinking?" (Click, then scroll down.) Why would the secretary of defense insist on sending so few troops into Iraq? It doesn't make sense, unless . . .
Of course! If "regime change" in Iraq were the only goal, there'd be no reason not to provide plenty of soldiers to do the job, with an ample margin of safety. But regime change in Iraq isn't the only goal. Rather, neocons in the Bush administration see the Iraq campaign as the opening move in a series of potential power plays that might involve at least credibly threatening military action against Syria, North Korea, Iran, and maybe even Saudi Arabia.
Sunday, March 30, 2003
CalPundit examines the radical complaint about liberals — "every good idea liberalism has ever had has come from people who were extremists in their time" — and explains the difference between radicalism and extremism. Highly recommended!
"We must face the consequences of the actions we advocate. For me, that means all the dangers of war. But for others, opposed to this course, it means — let us be clear — that the Iraqi people, whose only true hope of liberation lies in the removal of Saddam, for them, the darkness will close back over them again; and he will be free to take his revenge upon those he must know wish him gone." (Tony Blair, cited in the Village Voice by Nat Hentoff in explaining why he joins other liberals who aren't protesting a war for regime change in Iraq.)
An unusually insightful letter to the editor in today's Globe (sadly, not on-line), in response to the Rev. Peter Gomes's op-ed last week blessing continued antiwar protests. Ronald W. Pies of Lexington writes:
The Rev. Peter Gomes rightly asserts that responsible protest against the war is justifiable, but he sets too low a bar for the moral responsibilities of protesters. It is not enough to be in favor of peace and justice — uncontroversial issues for all of us ("For those who oppose war, what now?" op ed, March 23).
Protesters must also consider the possible adverse and unintended consequences of their actions. I suggest the following moral checklist for war protesters:
- Is my protest peaceful, respectful, and free of gratuitous insults to those I oppose?
- Does my protest acknowledge the evils my opponents seek to redress, such as the brutal regime of Saddam Hussein?
- In voicing support for our troops, have I asked members of our armed forces and their families whether they feel supported by my message that their sons and daughters are fighting an illegitimate war?
- To what extent might my protest give comfort to our adversary, or be misused by him as propaganda? And might the effect of this be to prolong, rather than end, the conflict?
- To what extent does the size and nature of my protest tie up law enforcement resources at a time when our nation is on high alert against the threat of domestic terrorism?
Yes, Rev. Gomes, responsible protest is a treasured right, but with rights come heavy moral responsibilities.
It was gratifying to read that yesterday's large antiwar rally in Boston resulted in no arrests, no vandalism, and this encounter:
Near the die-in at Arlington and Boylston streets, about 100 young men, some of them veterans, screamed ''Traitor!'' and ''Get Saddam!'' at the protesters. But the two sides found some common ground: When the pro-government group started singing the National Anthem, several hundred antiwar demonstrators joined in.
Definitely a move in the right direction.
"Puritans took from Hebrew scripture the concept of 'God's people,' an entity saved as a whole, so long as it could be called back from sinning as a whole. Yet the radical protestantism of the Puritans said that salvation was a private matter worked out by each soul with the Spirit." An article in a scholarly journal about religion in early New England? No! It's Garry Wills, in the Times Magazine, explaining the roots of the religious movement that adores President Bush.
Best thing about the article: Its description of the "halfway covenant" — and why Jonathan Edwards hated it. But is this what Edwards had in mind? "What makes religion so salient in time of war is that it acts the way revivals did for Edwards — a spark leaps from pole to pole. Individuals merge in the joint peril and joint effort of facing an imminent menace."
Do we need to blame Evangelicalism for the pervasive tendency to invoke God's blessing when troops go to battle? Well, perhaps in American history we do. In his book Puritan Boston and Quaker Philadelphia, E. Digby Baltzell observes:
Rarely have modern Catholics viewed war, as the Calvinists and Puritans did, as a moral crusade against evil. (They once did, of course, in the Crusades.) Catholics, like most Episcopalians, have been reluctant fighters. Thus, in our own Civil War . . . the Northern Episcopalians, in the Catholic tradition, were reluctant participants; the descendendants of the Puritans, crusading idealists against evil; and the Quakers, perfectionists above the conflict.
For more on Baltzell — and how Unitarians have awkwardly inherited the Puritan zeal against injustice and the Quaker reluctance to fight — click here.
Saturday, March 29, 2003
A Unitarian Universalist student minister describes his night in jail on Thursday in the following press release. (A considerably shorter version, but with feedback, appears at Portland's Indymedia site).
Brent Was, Intern Minister at First Unitarian Church of Portland was the first person arrested under Mayor Katz' and Chief Kroeker's new "get tough on protestors" policy enacted yesterday.
Yesterday, March 27, 2003 at about 4:30 I was arrested on the corner of Belmont and 32nd avenue in South East Portland. A small (30-50) person peaceful walk in support of a peaceful resolution to the current Gulf crisis was underway. I met the others, and walked with them for one block. At that point, a Portland police officer stopped me and said "Hey you, come here. Show me some ID."
I replied "Why?"
He answered "You hesitated too long in that last intersection."
I then said "I am not required to show you my identification."
To which he replied "You have a choice, show me your id or I will arrest you."
Conscious of my rights as a citizen, I said quietly "Well, I guess you have to arrest me." He did.
I was charged with interfering with a peace officer. Demanding identification papers from a peaceful citizen on the street is not a lawful order, therefore on principle, I declined to comply. I was not charged with any other offense.
I refused to surrender my identification papers because as an American citizen, a Marine Corps veteran and a member of the clergy, I was offended at the request that sounded to me too much like Soviet era police tactics. Are we all required to carry ID papers on us at al times? Or are only people who disagree with current government policy required to submit to?
I was specifically targeted by the police for harassment and arrest. I have been very visible at local protests, acting non-violently in my pulpit gown. Interviews I gave with Oregon Public Broadcasting and a local TV news station were broadcast, and the majority of the broadcast interview detailed my witness of police violence in recent demonstrations. I also called Mayor Katz' office on Wednesday to express my dismay about police violence. All of these public expressions against the war and against police brutality occurred within 36 hours of my arrest. I walked with the peaceful procession for FIVE MINUTES before being arrested, and was the only person arrested. Once in county jail, a fellow inmate, charged with DUI was released on personal recognizance. When the Sheriff's office was asked if I, as a law-abiding citizen and minister to the largest church in downtown Portland could be released on personal recognizance, the answer was no, no protestors are allowed that privilege. I was held on $2500 bail. All of these signs point to my being singled out for the political and religious beliefs I have been vocally and peacefully expressing. I am guessing the police think I am some kind of leader of these protests. Unless you call being a leader someone who is standing up for what they believe in the face of injustice, I am not a leader here. I am a minister. I am a peaceful man who does not desire strife in the streets here or anywhere else.
Why are the mayor and the chief of police denying citizens their rights to free and peaceful assembly and expression? I can only guess that they are fearful of increased violence, or a level of disruption akin to the WTO protests in Seattle. Besides a terrible, lone act of violence directed against a police officer on Thursday that I read about in the paper, every act of violence I have witnessed so far has been committed by the police. I know that our public servants are often called upon to do difficult and unpleasant jobs. When I served as a Tank officer in the United States Marine Corps from 1993-1997, I was called upon to do things that I found odious to my ethical and moral being. I contemplated long and hard on this dilemma, and followed my heart. I could no longer fulfill the duty of a Marine Corps officer; I could no longer do harm to my fellow human beings, so I did the sane and morally correct thing. I resigned my commission after four years of honorable service, including service as a midshipman on a submarine during the First Gulf War. If you are dissatisfied hurting your fellow citizens in the name of keeping the peace, please, you are morally obliged to disobey immoral orders. I call on all people in Portland, be you a protestor, a peace officer or anyone else, do no harm. Violence is never the answer to any problem.
Our nation is involved in an unjust war that is alienating our great nation from the rest of the world. My prayers are with all of those who have and will suffer. My prayers are with the parents of every person that has died and will die in this terrible war no matter where they are in the world; be they a warrior in the field, a family in their home, or a person on the street. My prayers are with our leaders that their wisdom increase and their moral courage meet the rapidly escalating violence at home and abroad.
My arrest was a very scary process, but knowing that so many people have my best interest in mind made it easier to get through. I am very proud of the members of this church, the First Unitarian Church of Portland as many are independently standing up for their rights and following the path their hearts and souls are setting for them. God watches the way of the righteous. Now, I am struggling with feelings of anger and sadness. The peace I desire in my heart and the forgiveness I need to embrace is hard to find at the moment. But sometimes I remember the graceful resistance of Jesus, Thoreau, Gandhi and the countless others who have gone before us seeking that justice that rolls down like waters and peace like an everlasting stream, and I am renewed.
For some context on the Portland protests, here's a report from this morning's Oregonian on protesters' complaints about police treatment and a longer article from the Portland Tribune about protest strategy and police response. "The city has estimated that the enhanced police coverage for war-related demonstrations could cost the Portland Police Bureau an extra $5.7 million in overtime expenses by the end of the 2002-03 fiscal year." And some lawyers hope to clog the court system with protest-related cases to force police to slow down the arrests. Oh, yes: and then there's Portland's radical antiwar movement itself.
The New York Times reports: "This week, the nation's largest antiwar coalitions said they were abandoning their plan to disrupt everyday life." But have they? We'll have to watch the next week's worth of protests in San Francisco and New York City to find out.
Meanwhile, make sure to read Michelle Goldberg's article in Salon about the emerging divisions between the "radical" and "moderate" branches of the antiwar movement (you may have to click through a "one day pass" ad before getting to the story). Here's the moderates on the importance of building a mainstream movement:
Todd Gitlin, a former president of Students for a Democratic Society, '60s historian and Columbia University professor, cautions that actions some activists find cathartic may alienate the unconverted. Speaking of the San Francisco protest, he says, "I can only imagine corks popping in Karl Rove's living room at the spectacle of demonstrators disrupting the lives of people in the least Republican city in America. What a gift to them, or at least an amusement."
That doesn't mean he thinks civil disobedience is a bad idea, but, like Cagan, he believes it has to be targeted at places like Halliburton or Clear Channel Radio, not at the city at large. "That just seems like self-indulgence to me," he says.
After all, like fellow '60s historian Paul Berman, he's long argued that, contrary to popular mythology, the radical elements of the Vietnam era only undermined the left's political power. Gitlin calls it the "inauspicious paradox of the late '60s," explaining, "as the war became less popular, so did the antiwar movement. In fact the antiwar movement was hated. That had huge political implications. It basically dismantled the political advantages that had accrued to the antiwar movement and left the left isolated."
The answer to this paradox, Gitlin argues, isn't for war opponents to stay home and shut up — it's for them to get involved in practical as well as symbolic politics. "The political actions that are most necessary over the next years entail the political defeat of George Bush," he says.
Josh Marshall writes that Bush administration hawks may be deliberating setting up a "nightmare scenario": a rapid series of wars in the Middle East. And Marshall asks the question we're all wondering: How would people react if Clinton were leading this war?
Let's assume Bill Clinton had launched the country on a major war on the other side of the globe. Clinton's top military advisors had told him and his Sec Def that he was sending them to war gravely under-gunned, without all they needed to get the job done and protect the lives of American troops. Then let's assume that Clinton and his Sec Def ignored their advice. He and the Sec Def told the generals they didn't understand how modern wars were fought and sent them out anyway. And then let's assume that the generals and admirals warnings were rapidly confirmed on the battlefield with a bogged down offensive and an escalating number of American casualties. Do you think Clinton and his Sec Def might be in some hot water? Yeah, me too.
And did Bush administration officials tell us — over and over — that this would be an easy war? Why, yes they did!
Friday, March 28, 2003
On Wednesday I mentioned the theologian and social ethicist James Luther Adams in response to Paul Berman's challenging question: "Who will defend liberal principles in spite of liberal society's every failure?" In 1936, when liberalism faced considerable opposition from within Western culture, Adams wrote: "[W]ithout the support of religious principles and religious enthusiasm liberalism cannot hope to fight a long, hard campaign in any field. Political liberalism has suffered serious defeat whenever it lacked foundations of philosophic thought or the stamina or moral endurance which religion can supply." And he worked tirelessly to identify these foundations.
Here's a selection from "Guiding Principles for a Free Faith" that draws on Alfred North Whitehead's distinction between "general ideas" and "specialized notions." (I've introduced two paragraph breaks to keep things readable on-line.)
Liberalism's "general idea" has been to promote liberation from tyranny, provincialism, and arbitrariness and thus to contribute to the meaningful fulfillment of human existence. This aspect of liberalism we may call its progressive element: it is always critical of the status quo and seeks new paths of fulfillment. A "specialized notion" of liberalism has developed during the last two centuries, namely a doctrine of pre-established harmony coupled with the laissez-faire theory of society. Under the conditions of early capitalism, this doctrine was vindicated in economic progress. But beginning a century ago progressive liberalism became critical of this "specialized notion."
From the point of view of progressive liberalism, the laissez-faire society was producing new structures of arbitrary domination that frustrated both equality and justice. Accordingly, the more general idea of liberalism has come into conflict with a specialized version of it. Progressive liberalism has criticized laissez-faire liberalism as being closely bound up with the narrow interest of the middle class, and also with its dogma of political nonintervention in the economic sphere. Progressive liberals have also protested against the status quo that was defended by laissez-faire liberals. In support of the labor movement, and, subsequently, of the minorities ignored by labor, they demanded a more responsible society — a political intervention on behalf of the disinherited. Here the specific aims took the form of attack on monopolistic use of power and also on the form of attempts to control inflation and depression. So great has been the tension between the general and the specialized forms of liberalism that some people have rightly asserted that the strategies of progressive liberalism are in fact the opposite of laissez-faire liberalism . . .
An aside: This division accounts for the fact that some of the "conservative" political ideas in contemporary America are actually versions of the "specialized notion" of liberalism — like libertarianism! And, since Adams's bias towards progressive politics is apparent here, we should note that there are "specialized notions" of progressive liberalism, too — and that these need some critical revision these days. But back to Adams:
Liberal Christianity is not by definition identical with liberalism considered either as a generalized or a specialized notion. Liberal Christianity is explicitly oriented to the ultimate resources of human existence and meaning discerned in the Old and New Testaments and in Christian experience, and in Anglo-American society, it finds its modern roots primarily in the "Left Wing of the Reformation." At the same time, liberal Christianity has been associated with several kinds of liberalism, both generalized and specialized. Indeed, because of its intentional entanglements in the secular order — in contrast to the orthodoxies that claim to remain aloof — liberal Christianity is never in its actuality easy to distinguish from one or another form of these associated forms of liberalism, except perhaps in terms of its ultimate orientation.
At the same time liberal Christianity has aimed to be critical of these forms of liberalism. The relationships of creative involvement and critical tension are roughly analogous to those that Paul Tillich takes into account in his conception of the "Protestant Principle," a principle that is creative but that also brings into question every actualization of Protestantism. Thus liberal Christianity must protest the confusions in liberalism itself.
Whew! Next week I'll highlight some of the ways Adams tried to distinguish enduring liberal values and their sources from their transient and sometimes dangerous formulations. (Source: James Luther Adams, "Guiding Principles for a Free Faith" in On Being Human Religiously, ed. by Max L. Stackhouse. Second ed., Beacon Press; 5-6.)
A round-up of news stories about how Unitarian Universalist congregations, which overwhelmingly opposed going to war, are responding during the first week of combat:
"The Unitarian church [in Vancouver, Wash.] has hung a poster in the foyer that says, 'Loved ones in military service, our hearts are with you.'" (Oregonian) ... "First Unitarian Church of Wilmington [Del.] recently collected toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap and other toiletries for 178 kits that will be donated to the American Friends Service Committee..." (News Journal) ... "The Rev. Nana Kratochvil, whose Harbor Unitarian Universalist Congregation [in Muskegon, Mich.] has hosted meetings of Citizens for Global Peace and Justice, has taken to wearing a button that asks, 'What Would Jesus Bomb?'" (Chronicle) ... "St. Basil's Episcopal Church and the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tahlequah [Ok.] have joined in an effort to offer the community a place to gather and watch the war coverage on televisions." (Daily Press) ... "Two pastors who recently returned from Baghdad projected the images on a screen in the basement meeting room of the Unitarian Church in Summit [N.J.], trying to illustrate the human consequences of war." (Newsday) ... "With the war on Iraq under way, [Peyton Bendix] and other members of the Countryside Church Unitarian Universalist in Palatine [Ill.] are starving for more insight into the region and its people. So, Bendix and fellow parishioners have organized a three-part series to enhance overall understanding of Islamic countries rather than just focusing on terrorism or the war with Iraq." (Daily Herald) ... "'We shouldn't think of this as an anti-war rally,' [the Rev. Thomas] Perchlik said. 'We are committed to this war and must see it through. This is a peace rally.'" (Star Press)
When antiwar protesters start to get on the nerves of a Mother Jones editor, some leaders of the protest movement would be wise to listen up. Clara Jeffrey reports on the movement to shut down San Francisco:
The protest lasted 18 hours and cost the city at least $450,000 in police overtime and cleanup. Mayor Willie Brown rightly pointed out that the city, facing deep cuts to education and other vital services, can't afford to police the protests that organizers have promised every single day until the war is over. Protesters bearing signs exhorting President Bush to spend money on teachers, not bombs, would do well to remember that.
Or maybe they're trying to get someone else's attention . . .
But what is shutting down the most liberal anti-war city in the country day after day after day—the stated, if not thus far achieved, goal of the protestors—supposed to accomplish, exactly? . . . San Franciscans need to remember that the rest of the nation reflexively dismisses the Bay Area's politics as that of a self-indulgent and self-congratulatory constituency, stuck in the 60s and out of touch with the rest of the nation. To be successful in their goal of leading the nation toward a better world, local activists need to contradict, not confirm, such impressions.
At the head of the demonstration, the organizers had banners bearing a picture and a quote of Dr. King: "The greatest purveyor of violence in the world today [is] my own government." I was reminded of the marchers in Selma, wearing their Sunday best, dignified in the face of brutality. Their nobility was impossible to dismiss; it shattered the stereotypes that previously allowed people to do so.
Do you want to make an impression on George W. Bush, on middle America, that cannot be dismissed? At the next march, leave the Che T-shirts, the kaffiyehs (unless you actually are Palestinian), the combat boots, the dog collar necklaces, and the cans of spray paint at home.
Michael Walzer, editor of Dissent, says that the war in Iraq is unjust, but he won't be marching against it. Why? Because it matters who wins. And Saddam Hussein's war isn't just, either:
He is not defending his country against a conquering army; he is defending his regime, which, given its record of aggression abroad and brutal repression at home, has no moral legitimacy; and he is resisting the disarmament of his regime, which was ordered (though not enforced) by the United Nations. This is a war that he could have avoided simply by meeting the demands of the UN inspectors-or, at the end, by accepting exile for the good of his country. Admittedly, self-defense is the paradigmatic case of just war, but the "self" in question is supposed to be a collective self, not a single person or a tyrannical clique seeking desperately to hold on to power, at whatever cost to ordinary people.
Walzer adds: "My argument with the anti-war demonstrators hangs on the relative justice of two possible endings: an American victory or anything short of that, which Saddam could call a victory for himself." But liberals do have important goals to pursue as vigorously as possible: the just conduct of the war — avoiding civilian casualties wherever possible and providing intensive humanitarian relief — and the just outcome of the war — "a government of, by, and for the Iraqi people."
Update. Why should liberals be focused on the aftermath of the war? Consider Franklin Graham and his army of Christian relief workers, poised and ready to bring humanitarian assistance — and the gospel. Folks, thisis something to stop dead in its tracks. Now.
Thursday, March 27, 2003
The New Republic (in this subscribers-only editorial) comments that Americans are mentally unprepared for the reality of war — and that the media isn't helping. "We are delicate, and queasy, and disappointed that the battlefield brings bad news," TNR observes; the media is doing us a disservice, the magazine says, by withholding pictures of the brutality of war. "Why should Americans be spared this knowledge? What illusion, exactly, is being protected?"
Just wars are also ugly wars. Fancy wars are also ugly wars. All the moral assurances and all the technological assurances in the world will not make this war any lovelier to behold, especially if Saddam Hussein orders the use of chemical weapons against American troops. Will those pictures be suppressed, too? Perhaps the secretary of defense should lose a little of his bravado, so that Americans are not confused into believing that the rightness of this war is somehow connected to the ease with which it may be won.
I for one am at a loss to know where to find more disturbing photos — and I'm not entirely sure how I would assess a desire to go looking for them. It seems to me that the news weeklies have usually been more graphic than the daily newspapers; will the media divide up some responsibility for graphic depictions along similar lines in this war?
"Why do conservatives seem to communicate better than liberals?" asks Chris Mooney in the liberal American Prospect. "One reason for the liberal left's chronic difficulty is a tendency to overintellectualize issues. Liberals bombard the media and the public with figures and statistics that prove their case. But again and again the data glance off without making any impression, and the issues don't go anywhere." Conservatives focus a lot on the frame — the basic storyline — while liberals are preoccupied with the big picture. But it's the story that people find compelling. How can liberals reframe the public debate?
On his own blog, Mooney argues that Michael Moore's Oscar rant — fairly complete transcript in Newsweek and in the socialist In These Times — is a perfect example of how "It hurts us all when ineffectual liberals put out the wrong messages."
Matthew Yglesias adds that frames aren't simply a matter of spin: "Reliance on frames and paradigms and whatnot is not some kind of failure to be sufficiently open-minded, it’s a precondition of any sort of attempt to understand the world... There’s simply no way to make sense of the constant flux of information — scientific data, personal observations, stuff you read, things you hear on TV — unless you assume that the vast majority of the things you believe are true. Otherwise you would need to consider every possible way that a new piece of information could be assimilated into your belief-set and you would discover that this problem is totally intractable." Which is why I wish my friend Bjorn well in his attempt to "practice the news."
Rebecca Blood observes that there's really no such thing in an all-volunteer army: "Maybe we need another name for people with no particular objection to war itself, who refuse to take part in military actions they feel to be immoral."
My first guest columnist! Bjorn, a friend from divinity school who is currently in Turkey with a group of study-abroad students on a year-long trip around the world, sends the following comments about thinking critically about the news:
I like Donald Rumsfeld. Whether you agree with his hawkish policies, his handling of the military, or not, you should respect him, if for no other reason than the following: He does not take any shit from the press. Rather than being bullied by shouting, rather than being lead into making statements that originated from questions, rather than being out-nuanced by the clever questions of reporters, he stands firmly in charge of all press conferences. Wielding his humor, nuance and sharp wit, Rumsfeld elegantly elicits a respect from the press and from viewers alike. Unfortunately, with all the commentary and one-line scroll bar headlines, the press often has the last word in the media war. Let us take a news conference on 25 March 2003 as an example.
The topic is War, of course. Particularly, the press is searching for quotable quotes summing up the 6th day of conflict in Iraq. Cutting to a particular few minutes to make my case, I do not forgive, or forget, the other hours of mis-coverage by the media. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is standing in uniform, shifting his weight back and forth, obviously uncomfortable in front of camera, answering to journalists. Next to him is Donald Rumsfeld, in a sharp, stylish pin stripe suit that matches his relaxed yet commanding demeanor in front of the microphone.
'Two more questions,' he says. Immediately, simultaneously, the dozens of press reporters shout their questions, hoping to get some verbal dominance over the rest to get their voice, and question heard. The Chairman looks around uncomfortably, trying to decide upon which reporter to call. Rumsfeld, cool as a cucumber takes control of the situation.
'Settle down now,' he scolds, no need for all this shouting. 'How about you?' He points to a man in the center of the room. A dominant voice rises from the general area of his wagging finger. 'No, not you,' he cuts off the rude reporter, 'the gentleman next to you who has been sitting quietly and waiting patiently to ask his question.' The question is a good one.
'There have been reports that there has been an uprising of the local population in Basra against the Iraqi military. How important are such uprisings against the establishment in winning the war in Iraq.' I ponder how important I thought such uprisings are. Of course, if the Iraqi people want to be 'free' they should rise up against the oppressive regime. Not only is it important for the Iraqis, but it is also important for the public opinion supporting the war. This shows clearly how even the most skeptical media viewers are heavily influenced by the media. With great nuance and succinctness, Donald Rumsfeld corrected my misperception.
'I'm old enough to remember,' he reminisces, 'those times in the 50's when people rose up in Eastern Europe and were immediately slaughtered.' While applauding their courage, he explained, without proper support, such uprisings are simply an unnecessary waste of life. It is only under certain specific conditions, in which the coalition military can support such a popular uprising by the Iraqi people that Rumsfeld would encourage the action. 'Let there be no doubt, these are an oppressed people. The Iraqi people should rise up' — when the conditions are right. Recall, after the first Gulf War, thousands of Iraqis rose up against the Hussein Regime, only to be ruthlessly put down by undeterred Iraqi security forces.
After feeling a bit more educated, and learning more of the necessary complexity of war from the US professor of war himself, I was immediately disappointed by the one line summary that CNN posted below the cleverly worded response by Rumsfeld: 'Rumsfeld encourages Iraqi people to rise up.' I wanted to scream. Had I not seen the interview myself, the CNN one-liner would have reinforced my incorrect understanding of the situation. Unknowingly, I was encouraging the glorious and pointless martyrdom of Iraqi people.
Although he obviously controls press briefings as he controls the multibillion dollar US military, Rumsfeld has little control over how the press interprets, and simplifies his skillful explanations. Fortunately, we, the viewers do. Instead of letting the news-entertainment regimes of BBC, CNN, and Allah forbid, Fox News, info-tain us with their interpretation of the news, it is our responsibility to watch critically. Not only must we come to our own conclusions of what the news is saying, instead of being visually seduced by B-Roll footage while an ethereal, yet trustworthy voice interprets the images, we must also be critical of how the news itself is presented, and how it shapes the public opinion of the millions who naively trust 'experts' who know more about ratings than about news. The example I have taken and analyzed occurred within a five-minute span during a 24hour a day coverage. Just think of all the work we have to do to watch the news. Watching the news, critically and constructively, is a practice. The more we do it right, the better we get. While we are bombarded with 24 hour coverage, the time to practice is now.
My first reaction was: Whoa, Bjorn! Fond of "Darth Rumsfeld"? But the defense secretary's distinction between futile and promising rebellions is important. And I like Bjorn's idea of imposing a discipline on the way one takes in the news. He's proposing a Buddhist model of self-scrutiny, paying attention not only to signs of government or media distortion, but especially to ways our own preconceptions may filter out important truths. One can only hope that military planners and officers knew about and anticipated major surprises like, say, where did all these fedayeen come from?
Wednesday, March 26, 2003
CalPundit says he yearns for a party without a radical wing because "fundamentalism is the real enemy of progress, and that includes both fundamentalist take-no-prisoners conservatives as well as fundamentalist America-is-a-sink-of-corruption lefties." Matthew Yglesias proposes the Democrats.
Last night I mentioned Paul Berman's essay on the theological vision behind al Qaeda. Sayyid Qutb "opposed the United States because it was a liberal society, not because the United States failed to be a liberal society." The liberalism that al Qaeda opposes is not just libertinism or secular democracy, and it's much deeper than a complaint about the unfairness of U.S. foreign policy. Berman believes that this new Islamist illiberalism represents a growing militant threat to liberal civilization.
The last time that liberalism confronted a radicalized philosophical challenge, that threat emerged from within Western civilization. Unitarians responded with two major theological renewal movements: Humanism (with a 1933 "Manifesto") and what I'll call, for lack of a better term, chastened Christian liberalism. Unitarian Universalists today are better acquainted with Humanism — although they may not realize how much that movement was a response to the rise of antireligious materialism. William F. Schulz, in Making the Manifesto: The Rise of Religious Humanism, writes that
while religious humanism abandoned the God language of the modernists, it sought to salvage religious sympathies from the throes of a vacant, rock-ribbed materialism. Repudiating the irrationalism and pessimism of the rebellious young, humanism looked to human intelligence and the insights of science to rework the world. Far from seeing the scientific developments of the last half-century as threatening to religion, humanism insisted that they could provide the foundation for a satisfying religious system. (12-13)
But Unitarian Universalists who discuss the "Humanist controversy" of the 1920s and '30s usually imagine that the only other party in the debate was the old-fashioned "lyrical theism" of late-19th century Unitarians. Humanists themselves have certainly played up this version of the story. There was another critical movement that emerged in the 1930s, however, although we remember it today in terms of its leading advocate, James Luther Adams.
Adams brought the theologian Paul Tillich to the United States and was his first translator. Adams launched the Journal of Liberal Religion back in 1939; the journal's opening editorial declared that "Liberalism is dead! Long live liberalism!" A social ethicist as well as a theologian, Adams offered the most trenchant critiques of theological liberalism — and helped religious liberals reshape their core commitments in light of new conditions. He also helped usher in the Unitarian denomination's resurgence in the 1940s and '50s, most notably through his work on the Commission of Appraisal.
Which brings me to the following excerpt, from the Commission's first report, Unitarians Face a New Age (1936). Adams's trademark concerns are evident in these selections from the introduction:
[T]here can be little doubt of the need in the modern world for some organized expression of the liberal spirit in religion. In a time when revolution and chaos are everywhere threatening, when ideals are again forming an alliance with tyranny and dogmatism, when intellectual confusion and social discontent are blindly trying to fight their way out of situations where only the problem-solving temper of mind can be of real help, when a fresh birth of the nationalistic spirit is everywhere offering its spurious comfort to tired and discouraged people — in a time like ours there is imperative need for a religious fellowship that will bring order and hope and confidence to men of the liberal tradition . . .
What is needed in the world of 1936 is an association of free churches that will stand and fight for the central philosophy and values of liberal religion, as set over against any philosophy that denies the spiritual nature of man, making him merely the product and plaything of a material universe in which only blind chance and ruthless force have sway . . .
[F]or without the support of religious principles and religious enthusiasm liberalism cannot hope to fight a long, hard campaign in any field. Political liberalism has suffered serious defeat whenever it lacked foundations of philosophic thought or the stamina or moral endurance which religion can supply. Social and economic liberalism have fallen into disrepute for the same reason. But religion can supply the basic ideas and the inexhaustible driving-force of emotion and will that are necessary to meet on equal terms the forces now arrayed against democracy, provided it be a religion that is itself consistent with the principles of liberalism. (3-5)
Adams worked tirelessly to identify some of the religious affirmations under key liberal commitments. His work can help us ask deeper questions about liberalism today, but we have our work cut out, too. The Unitarians in 1936 defined their mission in terms of a fundamental value — liberalism, or the freedom and dignity of the individual human being. How would we define our basic affirmation today?
A "naive fool" who went to Baghdad as a human shield discovers (gasp!) that Iraqis fear and loathe Saddam Hussein. "Perhaps the most crushing thing we learned was that most ordinary Iraqis thought Saddam Hussein had paid us to come to protest in Iraq." . . . David Corn at The Nation writes: "Now that the war is under way—damage done—the Bush administration's professed desire to free the repressed citizens of Iraq and introduce them to democracy and liberty ought to be supported and encouraged, and the White House's commitment to this supposed war aim closely monitored." The outlook, if Afghanistan is a guide, is not good. Nation-building must become a bipartisan political priority. . . . Dan Kennedy opposed the invasion, but says "to leave Saddam in place now would be the worst of all possible scenarios. The Times story on the battle for Basra also reports that a 'woman who waved to British forces on the outskirts of the city was later found hanged.' Multiply that by a thousand times if we quit now."
Tuesday, March 25, 2003
Paul Berman's extremely provocative essay, "The Philosopher of Islamic Terror", makes me eager to read his new book, Terror and Liberalism. The subject of the essay is Sayyid Qutb, the Egyptian religious scholar whose ideas are foundational not only for the radical Muslim Brotherhood but also for al Qaeda.
Some commentators on the left continue to talk as if the 9/11 terrorists were motivated primarily by rage at U.S. foreign policy. Surely U.S. behavior makes the situation more volatile, but Berman's close study of the ideas behind al Qaeda shows that foreign policy is a minor concern of these radicals. "American hypocrisy exercised him, but only slightly. His deepest quarrel was not with America's failure to uphold its principles. His quarrel was with the principles. He opposed the United States because it was a liberal society, not because the United States failed to be a liberal society."
Robert Worth introduced Qutb to many of us not long after 9/11, and Jonathan Raban also took a peek inside Qutb's oeuvres in a New Yorker essay. But Berman has plowed through volume after volume of Qutb's vast, brilliant commentary, In the Shade of the Qur'an, intent on showing that al Qaeda is not just rooted in the rage of poverty, or in political oppression, or in a personality cult. It's theological and intellectual — and deeply committed to a militant jihad — and it provides a vision that is winning converts among the well-educated and well-connected in the Muslim world.
The conclusion of the essay presents the basic challenge Berman finds in this vision:
It would be nice to think that, in the war against terror, our side, too, speaks of deep philosophical ideas — it would be nice to think that someone is arguing with the terrorists and with the readers of Sayyid Qutb. But here I have my worries. The followers of Qutb speak, in their wild fashion, of enormous human problems, and they urge one another to death and to murder. But the enemies of these people speak of what? The political leaders speak of United Nations resolutions, of unilateralism, of multilateralism, of weapons inspectors, of coercion and noncoercion. This is no answer to the terrorists. The terrorists speak insanely of deep things. The antiterrorists had better speak sanely of equally deep things. Presidents will not do this. Presidents will dispatch armies, or decline to dispatch armies, for better and for worse.
But who will speak of the sacred and the secular, of the physical world and the spiritual world? Who will defend liberal ideas against the enemies of liberal ideas? Who will defend liberal principles in spite of liberal society's every failure? President George W. Bush, in his speech to Congress a few days after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, announced that he was going to wage a war of ideas. He has done no such thing. He is not the man for that.
Philosophers and religious leaders will have to do this on their own. Are they doing so? Armies are in motion, but are the philosophers and religious leaders, the liberal thinkers, likewise in motion? There is something to worry about here, an aspect of the war that liberal society seems to have trouble understanding — one more worry, on top of all the others, and possibly the greatest worry of all.
Now that's a challenge, friends.
Clay Risen writes that the antiwar movement is doing exactly what generals are purported to do: They're busy fighting the last war. And the slogan that they have embraced — "No blood for oil" — is doing their cause more harm than good. It's simply not true that the war is driven by imperial interest in controlling Iraq's oil. (Risen explains why; so does Peter Beinart.) So why do protesters continue to embrace this slogan, when there are so many other compelling reasons to challenge Bush's foreign policy?
Quite simply, because "No Blood for Oil" is in line with proven protest strategies and ideas. It worked in the first Gulf War. It is consistent with the anti-globalization movement to which the current protest movement owes so much of its momentum. And it builds on the quasi-Marxist theory that underlies so many of the guiding principles behind the last 100 years of protest culture: that the United States, regardless of who's in the Oval Office and what is the foreign policy crisis at hand, will stop at nothing to expand its control over world resources.
The United States certainly needs widespread democratic interest in an alternative foreign policy, but "No blood for oil" isn't that policy. The slogan, Risen says, is "ultimately self-defeating. It brings people together, but it also delegitimizes the movement in the eyes of the larger public. It reeks of the same sort of far-left sermonizing that has long turned off middle-class America, and its simplicity strikes many more as both naive and deeply cynical. It is neither nuanced nor relevant to the current conflict. While there are many reasons to oppose the war, this isn't one of them."
Beliefnet's lively new religion blog includes this post from Michael Kress yesterday:
Apologists for Evil? This weekend the Pope, unsurprisingly, joined the long list of religious leaders denouncing the U.S. attack on Iraq, saying it "threatens the future of humanity."
It is difficult to swallow such un-nuanced denunciations, especially from religious leaders. The Pope, or the string of left-leaning religious leaders like the Archbishop of Canterbury, haven't called for Sadaam's immediate surrender, or for the immediate end of his ability to inflict inhumane horrors on his own people. As Edward M. Lempinen wrote in Salon, social progressives used to be interested in fighting evil; now they're merely fighting against war—two very different struggles. They used to recognize that war could play a role in toppling evil; now they too often sound like apologists for evil.
Jewish tradition recognizes the need for war sometimes. Even if the tradition had not come down this way, the realities of the past century would have taught the Jewish people the folly of unadulterated pacifism. Would that other religious leaders learned the same lesson.
While I agree that many religious leaders have been overly circumspect in their criticism of Saddam Hussein, Kress exaggerates the "un-nuanced" part a bit. On February 16, for example, the Pope said, "Certainly, the political leaders of Baghdad have the urgent duty to fully cooperate with the international community to eliminate every motive for an armed intervention." And the Vatican's emissary to the United Nations expanded on the need to enforce international law through the U.N. in a February 19 address to the Security Council.
But Kress isn't really quibbling with the words religious leaders are using. He's disputing the substance — because many Christian leaders have effectively embraced pacifism, even if their language still seems to hold open the possibility of a "just war."
The Pope offers a sterling example: On March 16, he said that "the use of force represents the last recourse, after having exhausted every other peaceful solution," but he also added:
"I belong to that generation that lived through and survived World War II. I have the duty of telling all young people, and those younger than me who have not had this experience: 'Never again war!', as Paul VI said in his first visit to the United Nations. We must do everything possible! We know well that it is not possible to ask for peace at all costs. But we all know how great, how very great, this responsibility is. Therefore, prayer and penance!"
How clear the tension is between the Pope's appeal — "Never again war!" — and his recognition that "it is not possible to ask for peace at all costs." If you don't embrace "peace at all costs," then the use of military force must enter the equation sometime well before the "last resort." But where? The problem is that there is not yet a way to pursue both a world free of military force and a world with a just peace. The United Nations has a tragically limited history as the guardian of a just peace. (Rwanda, anyone?)
I'm also reminded of an episode in Mario Vargas Llosa's novel about the assassination of the Dominican dictator Trujillo, The Feast of the Goat, in which a pious Catholic seeks the advice of the papal nuncio. He wants to know whether he will go to hell for participating in a plot to kill the tyrant. The papal nuncio shows him a passage by Thomas Aquinas which seems to imply that there is justification for deposing or even killing a tyrant, but the papal nuncio doesn't explicitly endorse the idea, either. The conspirator isn't absolved of a sin, but he comes to some degree of peace with the thought that his Catholicism doesn't obligate him to live in subjugation to a brutal despot. Some helpful discussions of this aspect of Aquinas's thought: here and here.
Michael Kress also links to an interesting article about the Jewish rejection of pacifism; the article identifies pacifism as a kind of idolatry. Militarism and nationalism also fit that bill. Finding a religiously and ethically coherent approach to modern military force is and ought to be an agonizing problem.
Monday, March 24, 2003
The Kennedy School's Joseph Nye picks apart several deeply flawed aspects of Bush's case for war, like a purported link between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda, but concludes:
Those of us who are critical of the clumsy handling and timing of the war must admit that indefinite containment was unlikely to succeed.
Saddam Hussein had a record of taking high risks, a clear intention to develop weapons of mass destruction, and a proven willingness to use them.
Enforcing Security Council Resolutions 687 and 1441 is better than returning to the evasive politics of the 1990s when Saddam Hussein successfully defied a divided United Nations.
We multilateralists must now hope that the war is brief, that the Iraqi people will visibly welcome the removal of a tyrant, and that the reconstruction of Iraq will involve many countries and a United Nations role.
Nye believes the aftermath of war can "recover some of the legitimacy after the fact that the administration squandered before the war" — if the U.S. handles it correctly. His March 14 Washington Post op-ed identifies some of the merits and dangers of Bush's doctrine of preventive war.
Salam Pax is back ... The Boston Globe's Hiawatha Bray mentions Pax's "Dear Raed" in an article about bloggers from the front: "Because Pax isn't known to the journalistic community, bloggers aren't certain whether he's really in Iraq, or a really good writer of fiction." ... The Guardian describes the speculation about his identity ... The Star-Ledger asks, "Will an Iraqi blogger named Salam Pax be this war's Peter Arnett?"
For once, a widely circulated e-mail message with all the marks of an urban legend turns out to be true. Kmart, Wal-Mart, and other stores really are selling "pre-assembled Easter baskets...with military and police themes, complete with toy assault vehicles and semiautomatic pistols," according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
Two theme baskets purchased Monday at a metro-area Kmart store each contained seven small bags of candy and toys of a military and police nature. The "Military Force" basket has four miniature assault rifles and a handful of other toy weapons, including hand grenades, knives and assault rifles. The "Soldier Force" basket includes a "Peacekeeper Force" action figure and a kid-sized hand grenade and stun gun...
"To connect the Prince of Peace with these kind of toys for war seems to be on the edge of obscene to me," said the Rev. Craig Johnson, bishop of the Minneapolis Area Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)...
Leticia Marquez, assistant to Megatoys CEO Charlie Woo, said the company [that makes the baskets] has not received any consumer complaints, although she talked about calls from the media and clergy:
"One of the comments that they made was that it had nothing to do with the resurrection. I said, 'Well, neither does a bunny.' "
Sunday, March 23, 2003
Military power can't bring victory in Iraq, although it can finally destroy Saddam Hussein's horrifying hold on his country. What will bring victory is the part of the story President Bush seems less than fully candid about: the scale of the rebuilding project. Alan L. Isenberg offers three goals to rally around:
"Let it be known that America will lead the reconstruction of Iraq, and don't be afraid to call it nation-building...
"Define the mission's duration in terms of Iraqi needs, not Pentagon strategic preferences or American taxpayer frustrations...
"Keep the grand domino hypothesis of the Wolfowitz Plan on the back burner, at least for now. The plan goes far beyond the imminent mission, asserting that a free Iraq that proves the viability of Arab democracy will lay the groundwork for democratization of the region and resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. These goals will hopefully become realities, but now is not the time to talk about them. The more Iraqis view themselves as pawns in a grand chess game, the less receptive they will be to an American presence in their homeland."
I suspect that all the Democratic candidates for president will embrace goals quite similiar to these, but will the antiwar movement turn some of its energy toward these goals too? Or will it stay stuck in "pull out now" mode?
Poor Elizabeth Monnin, the Tufts University student who "lost" her Senior Award after flipping-off former President George Bush earlier this year. It seems that, despite her four years as a "women's studies and peace and justice double-major," she can't tell the difference between political leadership and just making a stink.
During the Feb. 26 event, held in a campus gymnasium, Monnin and about five other students sat close to the stage and turned their backs as Bush spoke. When the former president began discussing the first Persian Gulf War and the possibility of renewed conflict in Iraq, she and others raised a banner that read, ''Gyms are for soccer, not for warmongers,'' and joined in a chant decrying Bush's foreign policy. Another student held an upside-down American flag with an obscenity scrawled on it.
As the students were being ejected from the gym, Monnin said, Bush sought to lighten the moment by recalling a run-in with abortion rights protesters who he found noisy. According to Monnin, the Tufts protester who had been holding the flag then flashed the vulgar gesture at Bush. This student was off campus for spring break, Monnin said, and not available to comment.
MacDougall said yesterday that ''more than one person'' identified Monnin as the student who made the gesture, and that the protest in general had offended many students, alumni, and Tufts officials.
She may have earned an award for drawing media attention to the debased quality of protest politics, but the university was right to withdraw an award for academic achievement and "potential for leadership." Progressive politics — like the country generally — needs more people who know how to lead rather than throw a tantrum.
Fascinating article in today's Boston Globe about sociologist Omar McRoberts's four-year study of Dorchester's impoverished Four Corners neighborhood and its churches, Streets of Glory. There are 29 churches in less than one square mile — all but five in storefronts — but surprisingly they are profoundly uninvolved in their neighborhood:
McRoberts found that most of these churches are attended and run by people who don't live in the neighborhood and are less inclined than other groups to respond to neighborhood needs. They come from all over the Boston area to worship in Four Corners ''because of the low overhead and the availability of space,'' he said . . .
Like many church leaders in Four Corners, [the Rev. Pierre] Dumornay acknowledged little involvement with the immediate neighborhood and said that is not part of the church's mission.
He said he is serving his God and loyal church members, many of whom have followed the congregation from one building to another for the past 15 years or so, and he is proud of the fact that many come from as far away as Brockton . . .
There's nothing wrong with churches taking an isolated, ''in-reach'' approach, McRoberts takes pains to make clear in his book. People have the right to worship wherever and however they want, and these churches clearly attend to some of their members' needs. The problem is that Four Corners ''has fallen through the cracks'' and is not well-served by its churches or anyone else, he said.
At the same time, some of these churches have opposed entrepreneurial development because they fear being displaced. He argues that this is at least part of the reason why Four Corners has not witnessed much of the revitalization occurring in adjacent neighborhoods, such as Fields Corner and Codman Square.
Furthermore, because of the important work other black churches have provided over the years as centers for civil rights protest and community organizing, some health, employment, and other social welfare agencies send notices about programs to the Four Corners churches, expecting them to get the word out to the neighborhood. But, in fact, McRoberts said, the notices rarely go beyond the corkboards on the churches' walls.
Wow. So who exactly is going to run the president's "faith-based initiatives"?
Also in the Globe, a profile of Christopher Penczak, author of several books on contemporary paganism for city-dwellers. How does a neo-pagan find magic in the avenues of modernism?
City-based paganism resonates with those unable or unwilling to leave the city. It turns old rituals upside down, substituting squirrels, pigeons, seagulls, and feral cats for enchanted animal totems, exotic, elusive spirits such as wolves, lions or eagles. These days, even cockroaches could work as signs of spirit life.
''City Magick'' encourages readers to make sacred stones out of mundane materials like tar and asphalt and create spells that can help the caster get a job, an apartment, or a parking space. In a pinch, an urban pagan can even use Big Dig rubble as a magical ingredient in a personal protection charm.
Okay . . .
Saturday, March 22, 2003
Peter Steinfels examines the results of the Pew Forum poll on how Americans' religious beliefs affected their support or opposition to war with Iraq. Two key findings: "a major gap exists between outspoken national religious leaders and the more circumspect clergy members in the pulpits" and "the impact of religion and religious leaders on an issue like Iraq is modest, limited to about 10 percent of the population."
Steinfels says that the gap between the almost uniform opposition of denominational and ecumenical leaders and the more cautious comments of parish ministers may indicate that local religious leaders are more aware of the real moral, political, and military ambiguities of war. (Either that, or they know that their congregations are divided on the issue and don't feel like taking sides.) He also observes that the low number of people who report that religious leaders have a significant impact on their own views doesn't really mean that religion is insignificant in how people make up their minds. "Most religious groups advocate moral principles about using military force, like the notion of a just war, that require complicated, informed judgments about political and military factors. If believers turn to news reports, political commentators or party leaders for assessments of those factors, is that really an alternative to shaping their views on the basis of religious beliefs, or is it simply a necessary part of putting those beliefs to work?"
Politicians and media commentators make a bigger impression on people than their ministers, Steinfels observes, because "ordination does not necessarily better equip one" to answer the fundamental political questions.
Uwe Reinhardt urges people to pray for human beings, not just "innocent civilians," injured or killed in the war: "There is nothing neat about maiming and killing people with precision bombs from the air or gunfire on the ground — even if they're wearing enemy uniforms. Young lives are snuffed out; parents, siblings and lovers weep, and so should we. We want our troops to win a quick victory, to be sure. As the father of a young Marine officer on the front lines in Iraq, I certainly do. But let us heed that Marine chaplain who, like anyone who has ever witnessed war, knows whereof he speaks. Let us hope and pray for a minimum loss of human life — period."
But Daphne Eviatar explains that weighing military goals against civilian casualties is no simple matter. "When it comes to noncombatants, there are two overarching principles that everyone seems to agree on. The first is that the military can't intentionally make targets of civilians. The second is that if commanders know that striking a legitimate military target will kill civilians, causing so-called collateral damage, they must weigh the importance of the military target against the loss of civilian lives... [But] when you weigh civilian lives against military targets, what is the proper measure of military value?" It's a thorny question that soldiers and their commanders ask in the midst of battle — and that the Bush administration seems to be asking in its relatively focused version of "shock and awe" bombing in Baghdad.
Kevin Drum (aka Calpundit) offers some sane long-term perspective on the war. The media is overplaying the war itself (how much more non-stop coverage could World War II have merited?) but downplaying the aftermath. He also complains about the take-no-prisoners gloating of prowar commentators about domestic opponents of the president and the unseemly "fist-pumping" of the president. "War may be necessary sometimes," he writes, "but it's not something that a president should ever 'feel good' about." ... Meanwhile, still nothing from Salam Pax in Baghdad.
The Boston Globe has made Jean Bethke Elshtain's essay on just war theory (published last fall) available on-line. The crucial issue she highlights is the one that has divided liberals who regard national sovereignty as sacrosanct from those who see compelling reasons to sometimes disregard national sovereignty:
In my view, however, just war demands that we see a sovereign state as an actor that either does what states are supposed to do — provide basic civic peace, rule of law, and security for citizens — or does not. When a state destroys or is prepared to destroy its own citizens and to propel its violence outside its own borders, it becomes a criminal entity. Under just war theory, states themselves must often come under severe moral scrutiny.
She goes on to argue that Iraq has failed to be a legitimate state, although one piece of evidence she cites — a link between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda — seems highly unlikely to me. Still, this is the basic issue that tipped me toward the interventionist camp.
Friday, March 21, 2003
Nothing new from Baghdad's mysterious Salam Pax since just before today's massive bombardment; the entire blogosphere is eagerly waiting to hear from him. ... The New Republic has daily updates by Gregg Easterbrook on military tactics and technology and by top-dissident Kanan Makiya on the Iraqi future, but you'll have to visit this index to find the latest. ... Looking for a way to track the number of Iraqi casualties? ... Beliefnet has put together a "What You Can Do" guide listing groups that provide humanitarian relief to Iraqis or to the families of people in the U.S. military.
Thursday, March 20, 2003
Tapped puts in an amen to Justin Raimondo's important essay, "This Isn't About You." (I mentioned Raimondo's essay on Monday.) Tapped also commends Timothy Burke's post about what the antiwar movement should be trying to do about the war:
None of us can stop it. Give that up right now: you cannot stop the war. Don't even try. Don't even fantasize that you can.
You can only prepare to exact a political price from the people who led us so poorly to this point, and to do that, you need to make the war a bigger issue than the antiwar.
The answer to the war now is not theatrical street protests. The most important movement to join is the one that will insure the election of a better administration in 2004.
Prudence, patience and planning are what's needed now. That's what has worked for the Republican grassroots: ever since Barry Goldwater's defeat, they’ve been organizing steadily, laying down deep connections with actually existing communities, thinking about what kinds of rhetoric carries water in the public sphere, and disciplining or ignoring errant nutcases and fringe elements. If you want to exact a price for this war, led in the way that it has been, you’re going to have to be similarly focused.
My advice to religious liberals who are tempted by extremist language in these disturbing times: Dissent from the center. Don't shut up: Just figure out how to make your point in ways your neighbors will actually hear and take seriously.
The march — made up of several hundred college students at least — just passed my office. (A Boston Globe photographer saw me sticking my head out the window and came up to borrow my perch. You're welcome!) Clearly someone from the UUA was standing out front with an encouraging sign, because the students were definitely waving and cheering at our building. Update: The Globe estimates the march at 4,000 people.
Helicopters are hovering relentlessly over downtown Boston for the second day. Yesterday they would often simply hang in the air over the Common outside my office window; today at least they are circling. But between the percussive drone of the helicopters and the sirens racing past on Beacon Street, it is impossible to forget that we are at war. One earnest young man was holding a poster outside the State House all afternoon — "Honk if you hate war" — but I haven't heard honking. Meanwhile, a fifth helicopter has passed my window since I began writing this post. Perhaps this is why: an antiwar march is just now coming up the street.
Beliefnet's Belief-o-matic promises to find the religion that matches your beliefs. Now the religion Web site offers a quiz that helps you apply "just war" principles to the war with Iraq. I took the test three times to see how my waffling on several key questions would affect the outcome, and I ended up with scores of 54 to 66 — doubtful to "almost certain" that this war meets the criteria. Just as I thought: conflicted.
Question 2 ("Does the United States have the right to go to war alone in this case?") doesn't include a response that recognizes the presence of other allies in the fight, most notably Great Britain, and Question 7 ("Will fighting a war now make it more likely that there will be peace in the region in the long run?") hinges entirely on choices the United States must still make. But the quiz is useful in pushing you to make up your mind on several key questions.
David Gushee explained last year in the Christian Century that there are at least two quite different versions of "just war" theory; I offered my own responses to the "soft" and "hard" versions of the doctrine in October.
The Washington Post's Iraq coverage includes streaming video ... The BBC Special Report site is clean and very navigable ... The Los Angeles Times adopts a restrained approach and moves updates to the bottom ... The front page of the New York Times actually seems more up-to-date than the Nation at War section.
The Guardian and the Los Angeles Times are maintaining sites dedicated to coverage of the antiwar movement. Oh, and if you don't mind a bit of hysteria in your news, there's also Alternet. Update: Major protests in Greece and Egypt (Globe) and Australia, Germany, and Italy (Reuters). The Los Angeles Times reports on efforts within the antiwar movement to avoid the Jane Fonda effect.
Wednesday, March 19, 2003
"Dozens of Iraqi nationals in at least five U.S. cities, thought to be sympathetic to Saddam Hussein's regime, will be detained because war is imminent, government sources told CNN Tuesday." ... Secretary Ridge comments on the detention of asylum seekers. ... Amnesty International condemns the detentions. ... The FBI makes a distinction between detained asylum seekers and foreign nationals already in the country, and says "there are no plans for the mass detention of Iraqi nationals in the United States in the event of war." Keep your eye on this story.
"Roughly one in three of the top 50 employers of publicly held companies based in Massachusetts paid the minimum $456 state corporate excise tax in 2000," writes Steve Baily in this morning's Globe. "Meanwhile, the median family in Massachusetts paid $2,795 the same year." Hey. Whose government is this?
Is the United States setting a precedent for China, say, to attack Taiwan? Or for India to take out Pakistan? Eugene Volokh examines the slippery slope argument — and finds that precedents don't really work that way in international relations. He identifies five factors that would have to be present for another government to follow Bush's lead.
Tuesday, March 18, 2003
From the campaign's blog:
Tonight, for better or worse, America is at war. Tonight, every American, regardless of party, devoutly supports the safety and success of our men and women in the field. Those of us who, over the past 6 months, have expressed deep concerns about this President's management of the crisis, mistreatment of our allies and misconstruction of international law, have never been in doubt about the evil of Saddam Hussein or the necessity of removing his weapons of mass destruction.
Those Americans who opposed our going to war with Iraq, who wanted the United Nations to remove those weapons without war, need not apologize for giving voice to their conscience, last year, this year or next year. In a country devoted to the freedom of debate and dissent, it is every citizen's patriotic duty to speak out, even as we wish our troops well and pray for their safe return. Congressman Abraham Lincoln did this in criticizing the Mexican War of 1846, as did Senator Robert F. Kennedy in calling the war in Vietnam "unsuitable, immoral and intolerable."
This is not Iraq, where doubters and dissenters are punished or silenced — this is the United States of America. We need to support our young people as they are sent to war by the President, and I have no doubt that American military power will prevail. But to ensure that our post-war policies are constructive and humane, based on enduring principles of peace and justice, concerned Americans should continue to speak out; and I intend to do so.
Before we get lost in the fog of war, let's take a moment to review some of the untruths offered by the Bush administration: Reports that Iraq tried to buy uranium in Niger? Forged. Aluminum tubes for enriching uranium? Wrong kind. And who put these unbelievable words in the President's mouth? "Iraq is exploring ways of using these UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles] for missions targeting the United States"? Ha! Oh, and what about the link between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda? What link, indeed.
Meanwhile, Robert Wright sorts out justifiable from unjustifiable fears about the war over at Slate.
A lot of people are talking about Fareed Zakaria's Newsweek cover story — and for good reason. Zakaria wonders why more people seem afraid of George W. Bush than of Saddam Hussein. He shows just how badly the Bush administration has handled "diplomacy." Some key excerpts:
But there lies a deep historical fallacy in the view that "they hate us because we are strong." After all, U.S. supremacy is hardly a recent phenomenon. America has been the leading world power for almost a century now. By 1900 the United States was the richest country in the world. By 1919 it had decisively intervened to help win the largest war in history. By 1945 it had led the Allies to victory in World War II. For 10 years thereafter America accounted for 50 percent of world GDP, a much larger share than it holds today.
Yet for five decades after World War II, there was no general rush to gang up against the United States. Instead countries joined with Washington to confront the Soviet Union, a much poorer country (at best comprising 12 percent of world GDP, or a quarter the size of the American economy). What explains this? How — until now — did America buck the biggest trend in international history?
To answer this question, go back to 1945. When America had the world at its feet, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Harry Truman chose not to create an American imperium, but to build a world of alliances and multilateral institutions. They formed the United Nations, the Bretton Woods system of economic cooperation and dozens of other international organizations. America helped get the rest of the world back on its feet by pumping out vast amounts of aid and private investment. The centerpiece of this effort, the Marshall Plan, amounted to $120 billion in today's dollars.
Not least of these efforts was the special attention given to diplomacy. Consider what it must have meant for Franklin Roosevelt — at the pinnacle of power — to go halfway across the world to Tehran and Yalta to meet with Churchill and Stalin in 1943 and 1945. Roosevelt was a sick man, paralyzed from the waist down, hauling 10 pounds of steel braces on his legs. Traveling for 40 hours by sea and air took the life out of him. He did not have to go. He had plenty of deputies — Marshall, Eisenhower — who could have done the job. And he certainly could have summoned the others closer to him. But FDR understood that American power had to be coupled with a generosity of spirit. . . .
The standard set by Roosevelt and his generation endured. When George Marshall devised the Marshall Plan, he insisted that America should not dictate how its money be spent, but rather that the initiatives and control should lie with Europeans. For decades thereafter, the United States has provided aid, technical know-how and assistance across the world. It has built dams, funded magazines and sent scholars and students abroad so that people got to know America and Americans. It has paid great deference to its allies who were in no sense equals. It has conducted joint military exercises, even when they added little to U.S. readiness. For half a century, American presidents and secretaries of State have circled the globe and hosted their counterparts in a never-ending cycle of diplomacy.
Of course, all these exertions served our interests, too. They produced a pro-American world that was rich and secure. They laid the foundations for a booming global economy in which America thrives. But it was an enlightened self-interest that took into account the interests of others. Above all, it reassured countries — through word and deed, style and substance — that America's mammoth power need not be feared.
Bush has done nothing like this. Instead, Zakaria observes:
President Bush's favorite verb is "expect." He announces peremptorily that he "expects" the Palestinians to dump Yasir Arafat, "expects" countries to be with him or against him, "expects" Turkey to cooperate. It is all part of the administration's basic approach toward foreign policy, which is best described by the phrase used for its war plan — "shock and awe." The notion is that the United States needs to intimidate countries with its power and assertiveness, always threatening, always denouncing, never showing weakness. Donald Rumsfeld often quotes a line from Al Capone: "You will get more with a kind word and a gun than with a kind word alone."
But should the guiding philosophy of the world's leading democracy really be the tough talk of a Chicago mobster? In terms of effectiveness, this strategy has been a disaster. It has alienated friends and delighted enemies. Having traveled around the world and met with senior government officials in dozens of countries over the past year, I can report that with the exception of Britain and Israel, every country the administration has dealt with feels humiliated by it.
These are only a few highlights in a must-read analysis.
"What on earth has happened to American conservatism?" Joe Klein asks in Time. "It used to be a reliably dour movement, a sober restraint upon the wishful thinking of mushy-minded liberals. But it has slipped, somehow, from realism to utopian fantasy. On the domestic side, there is the sugarplum delusion of endless tax cuts and untrammeled government spending. In foreign policy, there is a wildly idealistic pro-democracy jihad. (Iraq will be the first of many dominoes to fall, it is said.)" And now conservatives are yearning for the collapse of the United Nations. . . So, Klein asks, what is the U.N. good for?
Monday, March 17, 2003
Sunder Katwala looks at the foreign policy of Martin Sheen's presidential alter-ego.
Some antiwar activists are condemning plans by radicals to engage in widespread civil disobedience when war starts. Justin Raimondo writes:
In nominating themselves for sainthood, the direct-actionists are acting out their personal fantasies on the political stage. In their little morality play they are the stars, moral paragons who, by the sheer power of their goodness and bravery, will shut down the war machine. "Shut it down!" is their slogan, and they mean the whole country.
Far from stopping the war, he writes, this approach will simply alienate almost everybody from the antiwar movement. It's a tantrum, not a long-term antiwar strategy.
Sunday, March 16, 2003
Thomas L. Friedman poses a provocative question:
What does Tony Blair get that George Bush doesn't? The only way I can explain it is by a concept from the Kabbalah called "tikkun olam." It means, "to repair the world." If you listened to Tony Blair's speeches in recent weeks they contain something so strikingly absent from Mr. Bush's. Tony Blair constantly puts the struggle for a better Iraq within a broader context of moral concerns. Tony Blair always leaves you with the impression that for him the Iraq war is just one hammer and one nail in an effort to do tikkun olam, to repair the world.
George W. Bush, fixated on "homeland security," has a much less lofty vision of the world. Repair is not one of his priorities; "homeland security" overwhelms everything else. Anthony Dworkin writes in the Boston Globe that Blair's vision has true liberal roots — something to keep in mind as we look for a Democrat to succeed Bush:
According to the historian Sir Michael Howard, formerly of Oxford University, Blair's outlook places him squarely in a particular British center-left tradition, that of the 19th-century Liberal leader William Gladstone. ''As against the Conservative Disraelian concept of mere national interest,'' Howard argues, ''Gladstone believed that British foreign policy should be based on a broader concept of international order which should also embrace the right of intervention in states that were misbehaving.'' Gladstone passionately attacked the Conservative government of the day for its failure to challenge the Ottoman Empire over its persecution of Christians in the Balkans. The use of armed force to promote an international order based not on national interest but on a law of humanity-this characterization of the liberal tradition perfectly captures Blair's quasi-evangelical sense of mission in the world. . .
"The world community must show as much its capacity for compassion as for force,'' Blair argued.
Sadly, because Bush has never seemed open to considering options, there will be even more need for repair in the world.
Elizabeth Smart's answer to police officers is being described as "Bible speak," but it's even more interesting than that. Let's roll the tape:
Wearing a wig, sunglasses and a makeshift veil, Elizabeth denied her identity when police asked who she was.
"She made those statements, 'You guys think I am Elizabeth Smart. I am not,' " Sandy Police Sgt. Victor Quezada said. "She kept denying who she was, right to the very end."
Quezada said he and his fellow officers decided to "give it one more shot" as they put Mitchell, Barzee and Elizabeth into police cars, asking again if the girl was Elizabeth Smart.
The teenager dodged the question.
"She uttered the words 'Thou sayest,' " Quezada said, "and I had never heard that phrase before."
Nevertheless, Quezada said, "we took that as a yes."
My fiance, however, knew exactly what the phrase means. It's Jesus' answer to Pontius Pilate, in the King James Version of the Bible that both Brian Mitchell — aka Isaiah David Emmanuel — and Smart would have known. (Since I grew up Mormon, I should have recognized it, too. Oops!)
And Jesus stood before the governor: and the governor asked him, saying, Art thou the King of the Jews? And Jesus said unto him, Thou sayest. (Matthew 27:11)
Ms Philocrites says: "It's her response to the question, 'Are you the one we've all been looking for?' It's the crucial moment for Christ. It's the climax, when he is taken away by people who don't understand who he really is.
"Think of the parallels: The Messiah is the long-awaited one, the one everyone has been searching for. In Matthew, it's the climax of his trial, when Jesus — who has been 'holding his peace' in his encounters with the chief priests and elders — answers Pilate. This is the moment when Christ is taken away from his followers. Emmanuel thinks that he is the messiah — and that's what Elizabeth has been hearing for the past nine months — and all of a sudden the words that should belong to the messianic prophet suddenly truly apply to her. Instead of the crucifixion, it's her resurrection moment."
Oh, and another thing: Mitchell picked quite a string of roles to play: Isaiah, the prophet (who holds a special role in Mormon cosmology, especially for apocalyptically-minded renegades); David, the warrior-king; and Emmanuel, "God with us," prophesied by Isaiah and identified by Christians with Jesus Christ.
As people start paying attention — once again — to the weird margins of Mormon culture, folks are asking why Mitchell and his veiled entourage didn't stand out more. But people in Salt Lake City get used to raving prophets; they see them all the time. (When I was in college in Salt Lake — from 1991 to 1995, I lived in the same "Ninth and Ninth" neighborhood that Mitchell lived in — a girlfriend was approached by a guy who declared that she was "the virgin Mary," and who then proceeded to preach a sermon about her to embarrassed passers-by.)
An expert on Mormon fundamentalist groups says that Mitchell's unusual cloak — and especially the veils worn by Wanda Barzee and Elizabeth — marked his sect as, well, Islamic: "I guess he's improvised to give an Islamic blend to it all." That's just what Utah needed: Taliban Mormons. (The article also analyzes Mitchell's scriptural book, "The Book of Immanuel David Isaiah.")
Friday, March 14, 2003
Here is a resource for facilitating dialogue that may be helpful in a congregational setting: U.S. Policy Toward Iraq: What Should We Do? by the Study Circles Resource Center.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church links to worship resources from several Protestant denominations. A brief essay from the Episcopal Church on prayers of lament will undoubtedly prove useful. The United Church of Christ has developed a resource called "Patriotism, Nationalism, and the Christian Life." The UCC also offers a liturgy for peace in a time of war (pdf).
Interviews with liberals and human rights advocates who aren't delighted by Bush's war plan — but who won't join the antiwar movement, either. Fence-sitters? Or voices of reason? You decide.
Kennedy School dean Joseph Nye — a Unitarian Universalist — is among them. He's quoted in the Times piece — but his op-ed in the Washington Post today cuts to the heart of the matter:
The regime has a history of aggression that has already been condemned by the Security Council. It has used weapons of mass destruction. It has been a state sponsor of terrorism. It lacks a pluralistic political system that allows internal restraints. A war would meet the standard of a just cause. Moreover, the military means we would use can discriminate between combatants and noncombatants, and there is a reasonable prospect of success. So far, the missing criterion is a broad coalition of allies. Without it, Iraq could be a case of the right war at the wrong time.
Nye also outlines how the United Nations could and should broaden the criteria for justified intervention. Read it.
Every few years, the news from Utah includes a story about a religious (and often criminal) zealot. We'll be hearing more about the strange kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart, but here's a start on the "prophet" who abducted her:
Emmanuel was a street preacher often dressed in biblical robes. With an untamed beard and carrying a staff, he alternately preached and panhandled. . .
Mitchell's two stepsons, Mark and Derrick Thompson, didn't think much of their stepfather. Mark Thompson said he hadn't seen Mitchell since last April at the funeral of his mother's father. "We didn't speak. He just yelled at us and called us a bunch of sinners." . . .
A dozen years ago, Mitchell began having "revelations," eventually changing his name to Emmanuel, Hebrew for "God is here," family members said.
Derrick Thompson said his stepfather told him he had taken "10 hits of LSD and talked to God out in the desert" several years ago. "They said they weren't on drugs, but we think that was a lie. We think that's how he could communicate with God. That and listen to the Steve Miller Band." (Deseret News, 3.13.03)
Ah, the Steve Miller Band. Which brings us to Daniel Trotta, who hosted a prophet and two veiled women who wouldn't give their names in his home. Nothing weird about that, right? How did that go?
Trotta met Emmanuel while working at Wild Oats, a natural foods store, a few months before Smart was abducted from her Federal Heights home in early June. Though Emmanuel didn't speak to him at first — Trotta believes it was a spiritual ritual — they still forged a friendship. Trotta would see the wanderer about once a week, and eventually Emmanuel even brought Smart and his wife into the store.
The three visitors were respectful and kind, Trotta said. He doesn't recall the women having any possessions, but Emmanuel carried a backpack. They didn't watch TV, but they seemed to enjoy the different music he'd play for them. In return, the three sang religious hymns to Trotta to show their appreciation. (Deseret News, 3.13.03)
Thursday, March 13, 2003
"Morally, politically, financially, containing Iraq is one of the costliest failures in the history of American foreign policy. Containment can be tweaked — made a little less murderous, a little less dangerous, a little less futile — but the basic equations don't change. Containing Hussein delivers civilians into the hands of a murderous psychopath, destabilizes the whole Middle East and foments anti-American terror — with no end in sight."
In addition to Dan Kennedy's Media Log, another UU World contributor has a blog worth your attention. John A. Rakestraw Jr. contributes the magazine's "Religion News" and "Testimony" columns — and he's blogging away at www.roundaboutnow.com. His site also uses a technology I haven't encountered before: the blog service Geeklog.
Wednesday, March 12, 2003
"If whatever is left of that post-9/11 solidarity is exploded by a divisive, unilateral war in Iraq, we will not only be sacrificing good feelings, but also the key to managing this complex, dangerous world." (Thomas L. Friedman) . . . "[T]he United States has everything to lose if Europeans fall to squabbling among themselves for American favors; our leaders should be ashamed of themselves for gleefully encouraging this." (Tony Judt) . . . "The issue here isn't that France opposes us. That doesn't bother me particularly. The real point is that everyone opposes us. Everyone." (Josh Marshall)
Dana Priest, in The Mission: Waging War and Keeping Peace with America's Military, writes:
The US government had grown increasingly dependent on its military to carry out its foreign affairs. The shift was incremental, little noticed, de facto.... The military simply filled a vacuum left by an indecisive White House, an atrophied State Department, and a distracted Congress.
Thomas Powers, reviewing the book, comments:
When Priest began her travels the ballooning of the mission was simply an interesting fact; if the United States wanted to attempt something abroad — distribute food in Somalia, stop ethnic killing in Kosovo, put drug dealers out of business in Colombia — it asked the military to take on the job. After September 11 this American dependence on its military immediately began to drive the Bush administration's response to the challenge posed by Islamic terror. Priest makes no attempt to prove which came first — a visceral preference for military solutions or practical resort to the military tool that lay readiest to hand. But the result, she says, is a war on terror that is all war; and a "mission" whose prospects reflect the strengths and weaknesses of the military instrument chosen to carry it out.
He has plenty to say about the weaknesses of military force as a diplomatic tool — but I was also struck by this paragraph about one of the chief spoils of war in Iraq. It isn't oil:
The paper trail left by decades of effort to build weapons of mass destruction will not be the only target of American cleanup teams. "A key element of US strategy in the global war on terrorism," [Douglas J.] Feith told the senators [on February 11], "is exploiting the information about terrorist networks that the coalition acquires through our military and law enforcement actions." He is referring to the "information" collected by Iraqi intelligence services; in other words, the files. The biggest intelligence bonanzas come at the end of wars, when the very people who compiled the files hand over the keys and explain where everything is. Police states are notorious for the obsessive keeping of files, and dictators with dreams of world power want to know everything about everybody. Saddam Hussein's secret police have been collecting information on political movements, terrorist groups, arms dealers, rich bankers and businessmen, and rival leaders since he came to power in 1968. This trove of secret information about the dark underside of Arab and Islamic politics will not be an incidental benefit of an American military occupation lasting two years or more, but will be one of the first targets of occupation forces.
Oh, and then there's this: "[T]here are two rogue states with programs to build nuclear weapons in the Middle East. The theory says that both have to go, and if President Bush can be taken at his word, he thinks the same thing. To me the implication seems clear: Iraq first, Iran next." (Some background reading here.)
Tuesday, March 11, 2003
Sometime in the next week or two, when the bombs start to fall, a new crisis will overtake religious people who have actively opposed President Bush's war to topple Saddam Hussein. The moral clarity that energizes the antiwar movement — especially in Unitarian Universalist churches and elsewhere on the "religious left" — will collapse. Liberal churches and their leaders will be hard pressed to respond to the anguish, bitterness, impotence, numbness, and grief that many of their people will feel. They will especially be hard pressed to stay active in the antiwar movement once the nation really is at war.
Right now, people are focused on persuading American and international leaders to oppose Bush. It's the democratic thing to do. We can win without war, they say. Believing that the ultimate decision has not yet been made — or believing, at least, that it can always be reversed — millions of people are trying to preempt a war. Caught between a desperate sense of urgency and the exhilaration of being part of a growing popular movement, people are focused, understandably, on a short-term goal. It is one they are unlikely to achieve. Liberal ministers need to start preparing for a more grim scenario — just in case.
President Bush is not going to back down. And once the war begins, the movement that has tried to stop him is going to find itself deeply divided. Many activists are promoting widespread civil disobedience once war starts. They hope to bring the war to a halt in the first few days by disrupting our own society and government. Religious liberals need to think long and hard about joining or encouraging such behavior: It can't work. It's self-indulgent. It is not a step toward realistic long-term political change. Instead, it's a revolutionary gesture, an expression of lost faith in any version of our current system. But many who oppose war will be tempted to act out of growing desperation. They may find it almost impossible to confront the fact that once the bombs start to fall, they will have failed. They will need help from wise companions, for the temptation to despair will be very strong.
There is a spiritual as well as political truth to be wrestled with here. Our failure to achieve one goal does not mean that all bets are off: Opposing the launch of a preemptive war does not automatically translate into open defiance of the law once a war begins. For many antiwar activists, their goal has been to convince elected officials — especially members of Congress — to use their Constitutional prerogatives to block an unjustified war. Many people have been seeking a more legitimate approach to disarming Iraq than Bush's doctrine of "preventive war." Religious opposition to war has been rooted, for most people, in "just war theory" — in the notion that nations must be subject to legal and moral constraints on the world stage just as their people are on the domestic stage.
Unlike the people of Iraq, Americans can elect a different government in November 2004. We are not dependent on revolution to change our course. We can still insist that our government do more to insure the long-term development of civil society in Afghanistan. We can still insist that our government provide rapid and extensive relief and reconstruction in Iraq. We can still demand more equitable policies at home and greater cooperation abroad. More importantly, we can continue to relate these short-term needs to our larger vision of "a world with peace, liberty and justice for all." Seeking the best among the sorry options available to us, we must not lose sight of the fact that there is no "immaculate conception of virtue." Building a better world is possible, but waiting for the perfect world is folly. We have work to do, we will need allies to do it, and despair and anger cannot sustain us on the way.
Hold fast to what is good.
It is a spiritual imperative to acknowledge when we have failed. There simply are moments when the next step is not yet visible. At such moments, it is wise to pause. This is the liturgical point of confession: It is liberating to acknowledge that "we have left undone those things which we ought to have done; and we have done those things which we ought not to have done." (This statement will always be true.) When the war begins, religious communities must take up their sacramental role in addition to their prophetic role. I will pray when the war starts, but I will not join a protest march. Finding the next political step will require clarity that I do not expect to find in the immediate aftermath of war.
But I do think we can anticipate what the next step might be, after the shock passes. Simply stopping a war should never have become the religious liberal objective. Larger goals, like promoting freedom, human rights, and democratic government here and abroad, should set our course. These goals required much more commitment and much more public conversation than most Americans were willing to make back in the halcyon days before 9/11. President Bush has not asked Americans to sacrifice anything for his astonishing war plans — but then again, the Democrats have hardly proposed an alternative vision. Meanwhile, the antiwar movement is largely organized around "Don't." Its goal, out of necessity, has been to oppose the president's agenda. But we need a national conversation about what kind of role America will take in the world — the kind of conversation that takes shape in national elections, not just in conference rooms or opinion journals. And since religious liberals do not constitute a significant voting bloc in any part of the country, religious liberals can only contribute to this conversation by talking to their neighbors rather than to themselves. They will need help from religious leaders who can participate effectively in civic dialogue and interfaith work.
But most immediately, religious liberal leaders need to prepare for the deep spiritual challenges their people will face in the next few weeks and months. Many will have family members, coworkers, and neighbors serving in the military. They will need support. Many will experience escalating anxiety — especially in the major cities, where the fear of terrorism is already high — and many will turn this anxiety against people close to them. Fierce ideological arguments are likely to erupt in some liberal churches, with anger directed not only at the government but at less-than-fully-committed activists. Others will turn inward, seeking some refuge from the war. For still others, central tenets of their faith will seem threatened — like the viability of the United Nations, or the moral stature of their nation.
In a sermon I heard at the Episcopal monastery in Cambridge last Tuesday, the day before the beginning of Lent, I finally learned how "fasting" — the spiritual discipline — is related to the more pervasive sense of the word "fast." Our contemporary emphasis on hurry — faster! faster! — derives not from the speedy connotations of "fast," but rather from its deliberative connotations. One is steadfast in pursuit of a goal; to fasten something is to secure it. And fasting is not renunciation but discipline: A fast is time set apart for spiritual concentration, for focus, which may be helped by setting aside other distractions.
And this opened a new insight for me. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians: "Do not despise the words of the prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil." Many of us see a great deal of evil in the world, and we are tempted to think only of how we might abstain from it. ("Not in my name" is one of the more popular antiwar platitudes.) And yet it is not enough to abstain from every evil. Especially in times like these, people turn to their churches and religious communities in order to be reminded of what is good and worthy of praise and celebration, not simply to hear prophetic denunciations of the world's evil. In order to abstain from evil — in order to put aside its distractions and temptations — we must "hold fast to what is good." This is the sacramental purpose of religion.
When the bombs fall, we will help our people more by pausing to worship than by rushing to the barricades — acknowledging our despair and sense of failure through confession and prayer, reacquainting each other with sources of renewal through fellowship and praise and thanksgiving, holding fast to what is good. There will be much work to do, and we will need great strength to do it.
In October 2001 — when we were all still feeling raw and afraid — I was amazed that King's Chapel was celebrating Genesis 1 one Sunday with exuberant Haydn anthems, children's stories, and a sermon about the refrain in that chapter: "And God saw that it was good." It was a worship service defiantly and triumphantly celebrating life's good purpose.
Sometime not long after the war begins — not in the first solemn days, perhaps, but in the first month — a service celebrating the "experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces that create and uphold life" will be just what people need most if they are to "confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love." May you find that renewal and that openness in the troubling days ahead.
Monday, March 10, 2003
Katha Pollitt gets a kick out of the latest antiwar art — a revival of Aristophanes' ancient comedy Lysistrata — but she observes: "Like Code Pink, the semiparodic, all-women antiwar group that is conducting a vigil at the White House and demonstrates in garden hats and feather boas, Lysistrata plays on some very old stereotypes. Both say men are violent and women are peaceful, men love guns and women love children, and propose that men messed up the world and women can fix it. . . [But] women don't live in a separate domestic sphere anymore. We don't need to use our children to claim the right to speak up. . . For progressive women, in 2003, to fall back on the ideology of woman-as-peaceful-outsider rings as false as Phyllis Schlafly pretending to be a housewife." Not only that: This time around, women will actually be fighting the war. (And, in case you missed it, here are Unitarian Universalists in pink.)
Sunday, March 9, 2003
Josh Marshall explains that his opposition to Bush's war is not an about-face:
Many people are now championing the merits of robust containment. But if you think back to a couple years ago the whole point was how our sanctions against Saddam were killing all those Iraqi children. Another point was that containing Saddam required us to garrison troops in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf emirates and that made for a fertile breeding ground for bin Ladenism. Even now, I think it's right to say that Saddam is contained. But how long can we contain him? We have 250,000 troops on his borders. It's taken that much to squeeze this grudging level of compliance out of the regime. How long can we maintain that? At how much expense? At how much diplomatic and cultural collateral damage, as we managed to build up during the first decade of containment?
I don't say these are in themselves justifications for war. But it is not enough simply to say you oppose war. That statement brings with it a responsibility to say what the proper policy is or would be. If you think Saddam is contained now then it's incumbent on you to say how you imagine perpetuating that state of affairs into the future. And what the costs will be to your policy.
But as with other disheartened "liberal hawks," Marshall's war is not the war Bush is about to launch.
"Are inspections more effective than force? Is the United Nations a better guarantor of U.S. security than American power is? Both questions are fraudulent. Inspections depend on force, and the United Nations depends on the United States." (William Saletan) . . . On Bush's faith: "The problem isn’t with Bush’s sincerity, but with his evident conviction that he’s doing God’s will." (Martin Marty) . . . "Jesus became Bush's life coach—a sort of divine Tony Robbins." (Michelle Cottle) . . . Does the Department of Homeland Security know how to keep us safe? "Even a slapdash private Web outfit such as howstuffworks.com offers a far more sophisticated dirty-bomb discussion than Ready.gov. Perhaps someone should tell Tom Ridge about Google." (The New Republic)
Saturday, March 8, 2003
In an article about Eli Pariser, the 22-year-old whiz kid who turned the Internet into the mass-mobilization tool of the American antiwar movement, George Packer observes: "There is a very old American type of protester — think of Emerson's friend Thoreau, or of John Brown — who sees politics as an expression of personal morality." He explains:
The strongest tendency at the Feb. 15 rally (and in the movement generally) was not anti-Americanism or antiglobalism or pro-Arabism; it was simply a sense that war does more harm than good. A young woman from Def Poetry Jam shouted: ''We send our love to poets in Iraq and Palestine. Stay safe!'' The notion that there is little safety in Iraq and, strictly speaking, there are no poets — that the Iraqi people, while not welcoming the threat of bombs, might be realistic enough to accept a war as their only hope of liberation from tyranny — was unthinkable. The protesters saw themselves as defending Iraqis from the terrible fate that the U.S. was preparing to inflict on them. This assumption is based on moral innocence — on an inability to imagine the horror in which Iraqis live, and a desire for all good things to go together. War is evil, therefore prevention of war must be good. The wars fought for human rights in our own time — in Bosnia and Kosovo — have not registered with Pariser's generation. When I asked Pariser whether the views of Iraqis themselves should be taken into account, he said, ''I don't think that first and foremost this is about them as much as it's about us and how we act in the world.''
Packer adds: "For now, clarity and a sense of righteousness have created the most potent American protest movement in a generation. What isn't clear is how the new movement will sustain itself once a war begins."
P.S. Having attended a Ralph Waldo Emerson bicentennial celebration just last night where English professors Wesley Mott and David M. Robinson talked about Emerson's influence, I did a bit of Web browsing and found Robinson's 1997 essay, "Transcendentalism and the Utopian Mentality." I can't wait to read it.
"To paraphrase Camus, I belong to the antiwar movement despite the antiwar movement. I've written critically about the leadership groups, arguments, and styles of the early antiwar movement, and expect to do so again. In any given antiwar protest I expect to see and hear some, or much, that I cannot abide. I'll abide what I can until I no longer can. I'll look for coalitions that are not fronts for the sectarian left, that reach out to realists and conservatives, that make practical and not just pacifist arguments, that aim for political influence and not self-satisfying theatrics."
(Todd Gitlin, writing in Dissent)
Friday, March 7, 2003
On the President's news conference: Bush was "bored and enervated" (Shales) . . . "Everything he knows about foreign policy, he learned in kindergarten" (Saletan) . . . "This is the worst president ever" (UPI's Helen Thomas, snubbed doyenne)
But wait! It's not just liberals who think the President was running low: "he almost seemed catatonic with fatigue" (Andrew Sullivan)
Update 3.10.03: Somehow I missed Tapped's take: "If it is recalled at all in future years, it will be as a Wizard of Oz moment where the curtain was pulled back and the all-powerful figure toward whom people have looked for guidance was revealed to be just another middle-aged man in a suit, standing forlornly in a space too large for his presence to fill." . . . And The Nation's David Corn writes: "What happens in the UN over the next days seems to have no bearing on what will transpire in Iraq. The question is merely whether Bush has to run a red-light on his way to Baghdad. His foot is already heavy on the gas."
Thursday, March 6, 2003
I'm watching the city grind to a halt from my perch at the top of Beacon Hill. Traffic hasn't moved in more than half an hour on Beacon Street as several buses have arranged themselves in roadblock formation in front of the Massachusetts State House — but the word we're hearing is that as many as 100 cars are involved in major pile-ups on several highways in the area. It's extraordinary to watch.
Slate's Chris Suellentrop takes a close look at the book that convinced a lot of liberals that war with Iraq was the best of a lot of bad options, Kenneth Pollack's The Threatening Storm. The assessment? Pollack's case for war "reads as much like an indictment of the Bush administration's overeagerness to go to war as it does an endorsement of it."
The Threatening Storm demonstrates that you don't have to be pro-Bush to be pro-war. Think that Bush should focus on al-Qaida before Saddam? So does Pollack. Think that Bush should make a more serious effort to reduce the violence between Israelis and Palestinians before invading Iraq? So does Pollack. Think Bush's linkage of al-Qaida and Saddam is facile and unconvincing? So does Pollack. Fearful that Bush's endorsement of the "pre-emption" doctrine could set a dangerous precedent that other nations might imitate? So is Pollack. Worried that Bush's inattention to the rebuilding of Afghanistan bodes poorly for the reconstruction of Iraq? So is Pollack!
Looking for some solid reviews of Pollack's book? I'd suggest reviews by Brian Urquhart and Joshua Micah Marshall. Marshall, by the way, pretty much sums up our current predicament: "We’re all hostage to the Bush administration’s incompetence, whether we like it or not."
Wednesday, March 5, 2003
An e-mail message today from the director of the Unitarian Universalist Association's Washington Office for Advocacy reported the following:
At 8:45 AM, I (Meg Riley) went to the Code Pink office, a tiny enclave within the National Organization for Women's hq, and picked up pink leaflets, pink peace buttons, pink baseball hats, pink berets, pink banners, a few pink fleece jackets, and a pink cellphone to take to the White House. There was only one pink feather boa, which I greedily snatched up and wrapped around my neck immediately. I wheeled all of this pinkness in a little pushcart the few blocks to the White House, where I had been instructed we could stand right outside the gate. As I arrived, Robin Hoecker strode up in a red coat, which looked dazzling when she topped it quickly with a pink beret. I opened the vigil with a moment of silent reflection, taking time to look carefully at the White House as a symbol of our nation's power and our nation's vision. The police were friendly and interested. One of them, after asking us repeatedly who paid us to stand there, eventually believed that we were not part of a conspiracy and muttered, "Well, I'll have to give you this, you're dedicated!"
Soon, the Rev. Roberta Finkelstein arrived from the Sterling, Virginia church. Roberta came even while on sabbatical, I guess realizing that you can't take a sabbatical from war. As women began to gather, primarily UU women, but a few also from Luther Place, an activist Lutheran congregation in Washington, Roberta shared a reading she had written for the occasion. She shared that, in her past life as a nurse midwife, "Code Pink" was what you called out when you needed the newborn resuscitation team..."Code Pink" meant, "Help us save the life of this child!" It seemed highly appropriate for our vigil
The Revs. Ginger Luke and Lynn Strauss then strode in from the River Road UU Church in Bethesda, Maryland with parishioners. Ginger invited us to sing the old John Lennon refrain, "All we are saying, is give peace a chance," which I remembered from my very earliest peace vigils during the Vietnam War, some 35 years ago. As we were singing, and standing quietly, it became apparent something unusual was beginning to happen. Along with the women in pink who were with us, suddenly there was a handful of teenagers, dressed very oddly in togas and sandals (and goosebumps!). It turned out that they were from the Duke Ellington High School for Performing Arts, and that there was to be a press conference in which they would perform five minutes from "Lysistrata," that old anti-war play from ancient Greece, which was performed in thousands of venues yesterday. TV cameras and print reporters began swarming the place, and suddenly a cadre of Code Pink women bearing signs that said, "Women say yes to men who say no to war" and "No peace, no &*(#$" began to show up. Lynn Strauss muttered to me, "I'm not sure how comfortable I am being mixed up with this message!" and so many of us opted not to jump behind the cameras, but it was great fun to see the high schoolers perform. While such a large group was gathered, I went to a nearby cafe, eat soup and thaw out with Kathy Sreedhar, who directs the UUA's Holdeen India Programs. Kathy had come to the vigil hoping to lead us in a rousing chorus of "We Shall Overcome" in Hindi, but unfortunately she was overcome by performing teenagers! Rev. Lynn Strauss also was unable to share her offering with the crowd due to unforeseen drama performances.
There's more, but the key comment is Lynn Strauss's: "I'm not sure how comfortable I am being mixed up with this message!" It's time to read Rosemary Bray McNatt's UU World review of Paul Osterman's Gathering Power and Michael Gecan's Going Public, where we find these crucial paragraphs:
Gecan is most provocative in defining his life's work in opposition to what passes for grassroots activism these days. He describes once seeing hundreds of police officers preparing for a demonstration; intrigued, he returned to the scene at lunchtime. "Five people stood. . . . Two had splashed black paint on their clothing and smeared black paint on their faces. They writhed on the sidewalk while a graying demonstrator pounded a drum and a young woman harangued the passing crowd. . . . What I was observing was not an action at all, but a reenactment . . . more theatrical than political . . . not just scripted, but plagiarized. . . . They were political idolaters."
He contrasts this political theater with the "constructive and creative action" of Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott. According to Gecan, Parks "studied the forgotten phonics and lost language of public action. She mastered this vocabulary, with depth and discipline, then 'spoke' to her fellow leaders and followers. . . . She demonstrated once again that an ordinary American could learn about action, could lead the action, and then could transmit the lessons and limitations of that action to others."
I'd give up street theater politics for Lent if I hadn't already done so.
Tuesday, March 4, 2003
Calpundit looks at the squeamishness liberal hawks are starting to show as Bush's war plan sheds whatever thin veneer of humanitarianism it had picked up. You know, endorsements by Tony Blair, Vaclav Havel, Kanan Makiya, Kenneth Pollack, Thomas L. Friedman, The New Republic, Josh Marshall, that kind of thing. (George Packer assesses Makiya's failing gamble; TNR's Peter Beinart wavers; Friedman takes stock in the Times; and Josh Marshall hedges.)
The charge from more resolutely antiwar liberals is that the liberal hawks have been naive or projected their hopes onto Bush's plan. My take on it is that liberal hawks, seeing that Bush meant to take out Saddam Hussein, have tried to help shape the outcome. (Why else would liberal hawks have put so much stake in Colin Powell's efforts? How else to interpret Tony Blair's behavior?) The odds were always long — but that's because our party isn't in power, doesn't have a plan, and is embattled by silly and fractious demands farther left.
Plus, there are long-term liberal problems that need attention — like coming up with a liberal doctrine of the use of force that American voters would accept. (That's where Dissent's Michael Walzer, George Packer in Mother Jones, and — come on, admit it — The New Republic have been so helpful.) Many antiwar folks want a hard-and-fast rule like, "Don't swing til the other guy punches us in the nose." Liberals who held to rules like this preferred inaction when confronted by genocide in Rwanda and Bosnia because the United Nations chose not to intervene.
Many liberal hawks are trying to figure out how to combat tyranny, protect American interests, and strengthen international law at the same time. Clinton's NATO intervention in Bosnia marked a turning point for many of these hawks, as George Packer showed in another Times Magazine article. Unfortunately, we don't have a Democrat in the White House, and as the Democratic bystanders in Congress proved back in October, Democrats are miles from having a coherent alternative.
(Calpundit has more on the topic.)
Meanwhile, among Unitarian Universalists and religious liberals generally, the divide between pacifists and pragmatists continues to grow. John Buehrens (who opposes war with Iraq) sees pragmatists as a vanishing breed. That's not good news from my perspective.
Monday, March 3, 2003
"The most striking characteristic of the younger Bush's use of religion is its relentless triumphalism," writes Fritz Ritsch in a perceptive essay about George W. Bush's religious rhetoric. "[S]ecular Americans are as likely as religious Americans to believe that we are the rightful beneficiaries of some kind of manifest destiny.
But some on the religious right have built a theology around this hope. Many of them believe that America will be at its best if its government submits to their understanding of God's work on Earth. What they have longed for is a Davidic ruler — a political leader like the Bible's David, who will unite their secular vision of the nation with their spiritual aspirations. All indications are that they believe they have found their David in Bush — and that the president believes it, too.
Whoa. "Bush's religious supporters are his greatest cheerleaders," Ritsch says. "Rather than his spiritual guides, they are his faithful disciples. He is the leader of the America they think God has ordained. Contrary to popular opinion, the religion that this group espouses is Triumphalism, not Christianity. Theirs is a zealous form of nationalism, baptized with Christian language."