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July 18, 2008

John McCain: The Candidate of God Mars, the God of War


by Doug Bandow

Despite some initial hesitation, the Religious Right has decided that John McCain is God's candidate. I'll confess that I can't find the relevant Bible verse, but who am I to dispute the usual religious worthies? Obviously John McCain is the candidate of God Mars, the Roman god of war.

There's nothing new about clerics being involved in politics. Many of the finest and most enlightened political initiatives, such as abolition, reflected a powerful religious impulse. Agree or disagree with the specific policies that resulted, but religious, and particularly Christian, faith has animated many people to crusade for various social reforms, such as to aid the poor, save the unborn, heal the sick, and end war.

What's striking about the Religious Right is how it has wedded itself to the Republican Party, and how it has sacrificed most every issue to social conservatism. Today the movement is hitching itself to a candidate whose conservative bona fides are minimal at best John McCain is of uncertain religious faith, dumped his first wife, and has never taken the lead on social issues. Yet a recent gathering of about 100 social conservative activists in Denver anointed McCain. Mat Staver of Liberty Counsel, who called the meeting, reported: "We're not suggesting that [McCain] supports 100 percent of the values that we support," but "he is an individual of integrity and that he would support our values more than Sen. Barack Obama."

James Dobson, of Focus on the Family, denounced McCain during the GOP primary contest, but has since focused his fire on Obama for, among other things, supporting abortion, twisting scripture, and having "a fruitcake interpretation of the Constitution." Moreover, Dr. Rick Scarborough of Vision America declared: "We cannot afford to sit back and wait for the perfect candidate. In every election, we must support the candidate whose principles most closely reflect our own. We must think of the unborn, of innocent children and of the morality on which America was founded and grew to greatness."

It is fine to think of the unborn. But how about the born? Shouldn't conservatives who claim to be Christians care about the human impact of the foreign policy advanced by the presidential candidates? James Dobson declared that "What terrifies me is the thought that" Obama might end up as military commander-in-chief. But, in truth, the really terrifying thought is of John McCain at the ready to invade, bomb, coerce, and threaten other nations as his heart, or temper, moves him.

After all, he, not Obama at least, maybe not quite as much sang about bombing Iran, even though it is years away from creating, let alone deploying, an atomic weapon. He, not Obama, wrote an article suggesting an assault on North Korea, despite the risk of triggering a full-scale war. He, not Obama, clamored for a ground offensive against Serbia in the needless war over Kosovo a decade ago. He, not Obama, supported the invasion of Iraq, which has turned out so differently than promised by most of its advocates. He, not Obama, wants to preserve obsolete American military occupations and mount counterproductive military interventions around the globe.

Many foreign policy questions are largely prudential what policies advance the interests of the United States? That cannot be the only question asked, but it is an essential standard by which to measure America's foreign actions. And all of the wars and occupations backed by McCain fail the test of serving America's interests. Washington policymakers might like them. But treating war as a discretionary activity, and one guaranteed to lead to group hugs and mass flower tosses, is practically foolish and morally grotesque.

In fact, Christians overseas have proved to be among the greatest victims of the Bush administration's aggressive military actions. Iraq's historic Christian community has been destroyed, with up to half of the population forced into exile, internally or abroad. Sadly, few American Christian leaders, many of whom backed the war, have owned up to their responsibility for the catastrophe which has enveloped Iraq's Christians. There is an additional irony when social conservatives crusade for war: can there be a more anti-family program than initiating a conflict which kills parents, leaves kids without fathers and even mothers, spurs divorce and family break up, and steals parents from children's lives for an extended period, time and time again?

It is one thing to claim that necessity sometimes requires paying such a cost. But none of John McCain's wars was or is necessary. It has become obvious to all but the most unregenerate neoconservative that Iraq posed no threat to America. Unleashing the dogs of war on Iraq, killing hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, wounding even more of them, and driving millions of them into exile, while utterly destroying the fabric of Iraqi society, certainly was not humanitarian, even though Saddam Hussein's removal was a plus.

U.S. intelligence doesn't believe Iran even has an ongoing nuclear weapons program, and Tehran certainly is not poised to create a nuclear arsenal. The idea of attacking Iran before actually testing the possibility of a negotiated settlement is obscene. And the practical consequences of war would be hideous.

North Korea is dismantling the reactor that would be the most likely target of U.S. military action, obviating the purpose of such a strike. Anyway, committing an act of war against the unpredictable totalitarian regime of Kim Jong-il would risk sparking full-scale war, which would have catastrophic consequences for all concerned, and South Korea in particular.

The attack on Serbia was unprovoked, the geopolitical interests at stake were frivolous, and the intervention was hypocritical. At the same time the U.S. initiated war to resolve a minor guerrilla war among white Europeans, it ignored much larger and more costly conflicts in Africa.

Nevertheless, John McCain sees war as a solution to potentially any geopolitical situation.

The spectacle of religious conservatives backing John McCain's veritable policy of a war on every continent is even more bizarre given Christianity's message of peace. Christian theologians have argued for centuries over the legitimacy of serving in the military and going to war. The dominant view reflects some sense of Just War theory, that under specific and narrow circumstances, war is justified. In practice, alas, clerics could always be found to pronounce almost every war to be just and necessary, turning Just War theory into more an excuse for than limit on war.

Still, despite the spirited case for neo-pacifism made by some Christians, it is hard not to countenance national self-defense just as most Christians accept personal self-defense. But this really means self-defense, not romping around the globe attempting to micro-manage the affairs of other nations at the point of a gun. If God acknowledges cases in which the moral good is better served by going to war than surrendering to evil, it likely is a very reluctant acknowledgement, for war is the embodiment of evil: committing death and destruction writ large, wrecking entire countries and continents, and targeting God's creation, human and natural. No wonder Jesus Christ declared in the Sermon on the Mount, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God." (Matthew 5:9)

Thus, making peace obviously is better than making war. While the latter sometime might be unavoidable when the consequences of any alternative course are far worse most often it is not. And even when war might be theoretically justified, resolving the controversy peacefully if possible would still be far preferable. But if there is one thing John McCain is not, it is a peacemaker. He sees war and the threat of war, backed by an even larger military bigger than today's already largest, most sophisticated, most powerful armed forces on earth as a simple tool to be promiscuously deployed not just against smaller powers such as Iraq, but serious states, such as China and Russia. His policy of confrontation all the time, everywhere, may be favored by the usual neoconservative suspects, but is likely to generate conflict and war, and perhaps protracted conflict and catastrophic war.

Such a policy would seem inconsistent with Christian teaching. Forget general injunctions for peace. Most wars turn into widespread murder and theft, behaviors proscribed by the Ten Commandments, as well as other Biblical teachings. While war sometimes brings out the best and most heroic in people, it far more often brings out the worst and most base personal characteristics. In short, it is something Christians should strongly resist, not welcome.

A genuine believer certainly could confront the complexities of war and conclude in a particular circumstance that a particular conflict must be fought. But that still doesn't mean that Christian voters should ignore a candidate's proclivity for war in assessing his or her qualifications to hold office.

Yet this seems to be where religious conservatives find themselves today. John McCain doesn't want America's babies to be killed. Good. But when will he extend that same concern to the young Americans who will be killed fighting in foreign wars? When will he extend a similar concern to America civilians put at risk from terrorism because of misguided U.S. intervention in foreign conflicts? And when will he extend that humanitarian concern to other people, such as the Iraqis, killed by American soldiers and in conflicts triggered by Washington? People of faith might want to ask him these questions, before endorsing him because of his position on gay marriage.

Does God have a favored candidate? Maybe, though so far he hasn't told me who. It appears that the God of all creation has remained silent on who would best fill the Oval Office next year. But then, many religious conservatives seem to have stopped following the God of the Bible and have transferred their affections to the god Mars, the Roman god of war. In that case, perhaps the Religious Right is justified in believing that John McCain is god's candidate.

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  • Joshua Frank is the author of Left Out!: How Liberals Helped Reelect George W. Bush, just published by Common Courage Press. You can order a copy at a discounted through Josh's blog at www.brickburner.org. He can be reached at brickburner@gmail.com.

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