And Where is the Christian Opposition?
try not to sound too preachy in these columns, but having just celebrated
Christmas with more of my extended family than we have been accustomed
to in recent years I had to wonder in print. Jesus talked about
turning the other cheek, about never returning evil for evil, about
humbling oneself, about taking care not to despise even one of these
little ones, about noting that the peacemakers shall be called the
children of God. Do many American Christians take those sayings
at all seriously?
just read a piece saying that it was appropriate that Pat Robertson
resign as head of the Christian Coalition because by common consent
George W. Bush is now the real leader of the religious right, mainly
for his prosecution of the war on terrorism. It strikes me as curious
that waging a war is what it takes to be acknowledged as a Christian
hope I'm not going for cheap shots here or an overly simplistic
analysis. I understand that among sincere Christians some of these
issues are hardly cut-and-dried. Jesus physically went into the
Temple and overturned the tables of the moneychangers, so he wasn't
consistently passive in the face of activities he viewed as wrong.
Some of his rhetoric about what will happen to evildoers in the
hands of an angry God is downright fiery. Theologians and scholars
have agonized at great length and with a certain amount of intellectual
sophistication over concepts like "just
war" and the special burdens that fall on the shoulders
of avowedly Christian statesmen.
think I recognize that the world as it is currently constituted
sometimes demands hard choices of people in situations where none
of the available alternatives is especially moral or even satisfactory.
And the attacks of Sept. 11 were despicable, unprovoked by a specific
U.S. action and well, evil. In the political world as presently
constituted a response is appropriate. A Christian might have to
buckle up his armor and do what he considers his duty. But is it
appropriate to relish
the killing and bloodshed, to take satisfaction and even joy
in the death of a purported enemy? Is it appropriate to consider
the prosecution of a campaign of death and destruction something
of a holy calling, as some have implied that George W. Bush does?
United States has long had something of a civic religion
a generalized, nondenominational, nonsectarian acknowledgment of
some kind of higher power who calls us to do good, be good and do
our duty. Politicians have long called on this rather amorphous,
vaguely Christian but generally inclusive civic religion to serve
the functions that civic religions have served in almost every regime
to keep the people in line through exhortation to morality
and duty rather than fear of punishment, and to buttress the power
of the state.
wonder whether some in the religious right don't see their own interpretation
of Christianity as a more proper civic religion than the amorphous,
not even strictly Christian civic religion that has served American
leaders so well over the centuries. That might explain their fascination
with political leaders, their desire to embrace politicians willing
to give them the time of day or a modicum of respect.
my way of thinking that would be a comedown for evangelical Christianity,
which should be willing to sit in judgment (though without secular
power) on regimes, governments and leaders, to criticize them, to
take a radically prophetic stance from time to time. If evangelical
Christianity is seen by its leaders (or some of them) as mainly
a political or even a socio-cultural movement seeking to influence
contemporary politics and culture, then its God is too small.
the war is justified and necessary, given the possibly unattractive
options and the way this generally secular world responds to mercy,
kindness and turning the other cheek. But I would hate to see it
viewed as a religious or even quasi-religious crusade. Casting one's
lot with the political leaders of this world even given that
some are less contemptible than others and some strive with some
integrity to be righteous rulers makes any religion less than
it could and should be.
AND THE IMPERIAL IMPULSE
enough of seasonal musings. I still think that Somalia (or possibly
Yemen, given some recent news stories) will be the next active theater
in the ongoing
American war on terrorism and evil. The administration seems to
be still weighing the options when it comes to Saddam Hussein, the
preferred target of neocons, New Republicites and a substantial
number of the more traditional conservatives at National Review.
But Saddam Hussein is definitely on the target list, and in some
ways that's curious and revealing.
pushed my buttons was a couple of segments on National Public Radio
the day after Christmas that explored the pros and cons of going
after Saddam next, but there have been numerous similar articles
recently. Two aspects strike me as especially curious.
NO 9/11 CONNECTION,
first is that the campaign to go after Saddam continues despite
the lack of any hard or even soft evidence that he had anything
to do with the September terrorist attacks. For those who yearn
to take him out, any evidence at all that Saddam had harbored, financed
or had anything other than a remote, tangential connection to any
of the hijackers would have been as welcome as a stream in the desert.
Then it would have been pretty easy to mobilize public opinion behind
a campaign to take out the dictator in Baghdad once and for all.
if there has been any connection between Saddam and al-Qaida, it
seems to have been a prickly and perhaps even hostile one (though
I don't presume to know all the ins and outs of such shadowy and
secretive relationships and wouldn't be amazed to learn later that
the appearance of hostility has masked quiet cooperation). Even
the Israelis, whose intelligence services are widely respected and
who would seem to have an interest in fostering enough hostility
to persuade more powerful Western regimes to take Saddam out, have
not been able to establish a 9/11 connection.
fascinating is that most of those who now advocate attacking Iraq,
while they might have spun some interesting conjectural theories
early on about Saddam's complicity, now acknowledge this lack of
a nexus and it doesn't make any difference. Saddam might not
have fostered the 9/11 terrorists, but he's a bad guy who covets
weapons of mass destruction and more geopolitical power, and he's
still riling in Baghdad just as if we hadn't kicked his butt in
not complicity in current terrorism and it isn't a clear and present
danger to the United States. But who cares? He's a dictator, a jerk
and a potential threat someday, and that's enough to justify an
recently as 1991 it took the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait (ignoring
for the moment whether American diplomats winked
and nodded and gave him "permission") to mobilize an American
army and an international coalition against him. The old "rules"
of the supposedly enlightened internationalists some of us learned
in college still had some sway. Our leaders thought they had to
phony up a Gulf of Tonkin incident to justify escalation in Vietnam.
The idea that recognized regimes were sovereign in their own territory
but forfeited the right to be left alone when they invaded other
sovereign countries still had some psychological heft.
however, that regnant mythology is gone, gone, gone. The United
States doesn't have to be defending against aggressors or protecting
the integrity of the international system to justify an invasion.
It simply has to dislike a ruler or a regime and what that ruler
does within his country to feel perfectly righteous in beginning
a war and in attacking first.
to me is the attitude of a world emperor more than a first-among-equals
in a system of sovereign nations. This is not to say that some of
our foreign policy gurus are not thoughtful and even (in their view)
apparently benevolent over the long haul, or that some of the regimes
they target don't richly deserve at least the opprobrium of all
decent people. But there's no longer even the pretense of recognition
of sovereignty or the need to have an attack or incident of aggression
to justify war by the United States. It's enough to dislike the
leader in another country or to consider him a potential threat.
attitude no doubt feeds my second observation. The NPR report, along
with other discussions, was fairly frank about the various opposition
groups that have opposed Saddam's regime. They are factionally and
ethnically divided, they have generally been ineffective, and some
exist almost solely to gather money and sympathy from Westerners.
the report rather nonchalantly (in my view) discussed the possibility
that these groups could be "shaped up" by a proper infusion of United
States money and advice into an effective fighting force with some
political heft. And if that could be done, then the possibility
of ousting Saddam and replacing him with a more congenial regime
might just make an attack more congenial and therefore more likely.
serious people in the US foreign policy establishment are ready
to consider not just an attack on a regime that has not invaded
anybody or supported the terrorist attacks in September. They are
ready to spend our money to groom and shape the opposition so it
will be a more effective tool of their version of American interests.
They don't even bother with the pretense that there is a powerful
and effective opposition with deep roots in the beleaguered Iraqi
people who need just a little help to succeed in their patriotic
task of ousting the dictator-usurper. They are eager to use an acknowledgedly
ineffective and weak opposition movement.
trying not to be shocked here. Such maneuverings have been the way
of the world and the way of great powers for eons. But it seems
important to me to make it clear that these attitudes are not those
of a country that seeks (as John Quincy Adams had it) to be the
friend of freedom everywhere but the guarantor only of its own.
They are not even the attitudes of a conscientious and responsible
member of the "international community" willing to use its own power
to protect the innocent and defenseless against the rapacious aggressors
who abound in the nasty world at large.
these attitudes are those of an imperial power that believes it
not only has the ability but the right to decide how any country
in the world shall be run and to use force if need be to see to
it that the proper outcome occurs. The fact that so many of our
policymakers see this role as benevolent and constructive and don't
see themselves as hypocrites is, if anything, more chilling than
the notion that our leaders are conscious imperialists. They are
imperialists without even knowing they are, making assumptions that
could only be justified by an empire's stance in the world while
believing they are simply out to do good in an unruly world.
the rest of us should be clear. Discussing an attack on Saddam Hussein
in the absence of an overt provocation is the act of an imperial
power that believes it has a custodial duty to make things right
in the rest of the world.
contribution of $50 or more gets you a copy of Ronald Radosh's out-of-print
classic study of the Old Right conservatives, Prophets on the
Right: Profiles of Conservative Critics of American Globalism. Send
520 South Murphy Avenue #202
Sunnyvale, CA 94086
Contribute Via our Secure Server
Credit Card Donation Form