debt ceilings, government shutdowns, and the Kingdom of God

Capitol at Sunset

To point out that the hours and days ahead are precarious for America’s political and financial systems is to point out the obvious. At times when disaster seemingly looms just around the corner, interest in politics blossoms, and nearly everyone with a keyboard and a political opinion feels the obligation to weigh in on this or that. The talking heads are droning on in their predictable choruses. The left and right are simultaneously blaming each other while taking credit for any bright spots of hope that may appear.

Christians all across America, professedly polarizing in their politics on days when nothing important appears on the political landscape, are certainly not going to be left out of the ruckus either. Some bloggers are writing about why debt ceilings are unbiblical while others are touting how give great glory to God through the political process. Others are writing how wonderful is the government shutdown while others lament it effects on families and the economy.

I can’t help but think they’re all missing the point. Entirely.

Politics and political systems are important, don’t get me wrong. As proud as Americans are of our political system, they are not an end in themselves but only a means to an end. As a result, we mustn’t trust too highly in politics or expect too much from politicians. If we do, we will be consistently disappointed.

I have no doubt our politicians will come up with a solution to avert fiscal crisis, re-open the government, and get back to business-as-usual…probably kicking the proverbial can farther into the future as politicians are wont to do.

So what’s my point? Don’t put too much trust in politicians, political parties, or politics as a whole. They have their place, but nowhere are we as Christians called to be so completely wrapped around the political axle as we tend to be in America.

Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and [God] will give you everything you need.
– Luke 12.31 (NLT)

The Kingdom of God is not found in any political system or any nation. It is, in fact, a-political.

Some take pride in chariots, and others in horses, but we take pride in the name of Yahweh our God.
– Psalm 20.7 (HCSB)

Don’t put your ultimate trust in the wrong place–politics–ultimately it cannot save us, temporally or eternally.

photo credit: Creative Commons | vgm8383 via Compfight

The RPA ‘Double-Tap’: Ethical Engagement or Moral Monster?

Reaper Remotely Piloted Air System (RPAS)

After what seems like forever, my Air Force-sponsored master’s thesis is completed, graded, and now released to the world or whomever is interested…

Title:  The RPA ‘Double-Tap’:  Ethical Engagement or Moral Monster

Abstract:

The ethical philosophy known as the Just War tradition (JWT) has governed the use and restraint of force on the battlefield for all of modern history. Its tenets are inextricably linked to International Humanitarian Law and the Law of Armed Conflict and, as a result, are both morally and legally binding on American warfighters.

Throughout the past decade, remotely-piloted aircraft (RPA) have gained great popularity on the battlefield, but their use has not gone uncriticized. Little to no literature has been produced examining the ethical implications of RPA tactics, including the tactic known as the ‘double-tap’ where one target is struck multiple times in a single attack.

This paper uses unclassified reports of every known American RPA strike since 2001 and evaluates those determined to be ‘double-taps’ against the Just War jus in bello criteria of discrimination and proportionality to determine how often these attacks violate the ethical constraints on war. The research here finds that 60 percent of the time US ‘double-tap’ attacks violate the principles of Just War and recommends either a modification of American rules of engagement to ensure future employment can be done according to these long-standing ethical and legal rules.

Download the entire paper here.

photo credit: Crown Copyright | UK Ministry of Defence

consumed with legality while ignoring morality

Law Books

We live in a society where questions of legality abound and questions of morality are all but ignored.  When deciding a course of action, we have little hesitation about asking “Is it legal?” but typically fail to ask “Is it right?”  A recent example comes from the leaked DOJ memo containing legal rationale for the killing of American citizens who have joined Al-Qaida or an ill-defined “associated force.”  The memo outlines why, in the opinion of the DOJ and current administration, such activities are considered legal.  Following its release and subsequent public outcry, Sen Lindsey Graham (at the opposite end of the political spectrum) supported the President’s position and issued a statement saying, “The process of being targeted I think is legal.”

One of the many issues in this scenario is the question of legality vs. morality.  Lawmakers (like Obama [as Senator] and Graham) make laws.  Lawyers (like Obama and Graham) practice law.  In theory, I’m certain that most lawyers, judges, and lawmakers genuinely desire moral laws…but there is absolutely zero guarantee that what is legal according to the law is also moral (exhibit A: slavery).

Where are those asking whether such things as targeting killings (of American citizens or others) are morally right?  Reading the outcomes of our judicial system, it seems that just about anything can be argued to be legal, but where are the discussions of morality?  They are, in large part, nonexistent.

This is true not only in politics.  As a military chaplain, one of my mandated charges is to serve as a moral and ethical adviser to the chain of command.  While I have been consulted on personal ethical matters time and time again by commanders and individual airmen, I have never once been consulted on matters of morality regarding command decisions.  The JAG, of course, is consulted routinely to ensure whatever course of action is legally defensible.  It seems commanders can be easily removed for taking actions that are illegal, but as long as they are legal there seems to be little concern for whether or not they are ethical.

Simply because something is legal does not mean it is right.  We must to be concerned with both.

photo credit: Creative Commons | Mr. T in DC

“on Israel, the Church, and the Politics of Jesus” (link)

For many evangelical Christians, these matters are simple: Israel is God’s side and therefore should be our side, and this about good versus bad, light versus darkness.  Anything less than a ringing endorsement of all Israeli policies is seen as an affront to the living God.  This position is largely determined by eschatological convictions (beliefs about the end of the world), in which Israel (as a modern nation-state) exists as a fulfillment of prophecy.  For some evangelicals, if you send money to an organization that wants to bring Jews from around the world to Israel then you are less likely to get cancer or speeding tickets, or more likely to get a promotion at work.

I have many suspicions about this entire project for many reasons, but I’d start with this simple premise…(continue)

This is the most well-reasoned, theologically astute essay I’ve read on Israel, the Church and (American) politics in a long time.  I encourage you to read it all.

the real Evangelical disaster…

49 Van Ness

The great evangelical disaster is that evangelicalism has become synonymous with Republicanism rather than the gospel of Jesus Christ.

– Rachel Held Evans (read more)

Rachel’s post is right on target with respect to the wearying drone of Evangelicals who equate “conservative” and “Evangelical” with “Republican” rather than anything to do with theology or the Scripture.  Both the political right and left have long since abandoned any sort of Judeo-Christian ethic in their legislation.  If you don’t believe me, then you aren’t reading past their platforms to anything they’ve actually voted for.

Sadly, the president of my seminary alma mater is the loudest voice in the room recently on this subject.

When will American Christians figure out that Christianity has everything to do with Christ and nothing to do with politics?

photo credit: Creative Commons | David Gallagher

Dehumanization and its Effects on Society

Over the weekend, NPR ran a story/review of Jonathon Littell’s book, The Kindly Ones, which they describe as “the fictional first-person memoir of a cultured German who loves Bach, cherishes great literature — and also happens to be a former Nazi exterminator.”  Interestingly, the writeup on NPR’s website focuses on the sexualization of violence and draws parallels between Nazi Germany and Abu Ghraib at the exclusion of what I think is Littell’s  larger point.  During the broadcast (available on the same web page linked above), Littell talks about the capacity of ordinary Americans (and others) to carry out atrocious acts against other people when placed in positions of “absolute power of life and death over people that their bosses tell them are not human beings and [are told] they can do anything they want with them.”  With this suggestion posed, he goes on to illustrate and support it with comparisons between Nazi Germany, the Balkan wars, and Abu Ghraib.Pain

The larger issue, however, is one that peaked my interest.  Almost two years ago, I wrote about the military’s use of desensitization as a part of military training.  In concert with this sort of training, nations and militaries have often resorted to dehumanization to bolster support for their cause during times of war.  If you don’t believe this, take a look at how we depicted Germans and Japanese on our own propaganda posters distributed during WWII.  Talk to a veteran of WWII, Korea, Vietnam, or the Middle Eastern theater and listen to the words they use to describe the enemy.  Without using the terms here, I think everyone knows exactly what I’m talking about.  By distancing ourselves from our enemies and suggesting that they are somehow subhuman, it becomes easier for us to rationalize and accept killing them, an act that at a very base human level is repulsive.  The atrocities of Abu Ghraib are one of the most poignant reminders that this kind of activities still take place, either as formal training or simply stemming from the individual soldier’s coping mechanisms.

This sort of dehumanization goes beyond times of war, however, and extends to most all acts of hatred and so-called ‘hate crimes’–from the cross-burning racism of the American South to genocide in various parts of Africa to the painting of swastikas on Jewish synagogues around the world to acts of harassment and brutality against homosexuals in the United States.  Look and listen to how people write and speak of those against which they wage any sort of these kinds of deeds.  They are presented as subhuman, unworthy, illegitimate, or (fill in the blank).

One of the very obvious yet unmentioned targets of dehumanization and its resulting atrocities are the unborn.  For many years now, those in positions of real power (government, courts, etc.) or perceived power (academia, special interest groups, etc.) have repeatedly told us that the unborn are not really children in the proper sense and so there is no issue in ‘aborting’ them.  This tactic is nothing more than what Littell described above.  Specifically, our ‘bosses’ have been telling us–we who have the power of life and death via our democratic process–that the unborn are not human beings and we can do anything we want with them.

So what am I saying?

  • Should we continue to ignore the widespread dehumanization of those different from us?  No.  We must be agents of change in spite of the very ‘deep ruts’ of history.
  • Should we marginalize and treat with disdain those who have had abortions?  No.  On the contrary, we should do everything in our power to help them heal.
  • Should we rally the voters to try an overturn Roe v. Wade?  Perhaps surprisingly, no.  As has been pointed out by Little Cog, “abortion is a moral decision…the state should keep its inept hands off of
  • Should we continue to condone desensitization/dehumanization as a means to advance our agendas, political or otherwise?  No.  If we cannot bring others to share our viewpoint without resorting to such despicable practices, perhaps this should be a clue that we are probably wrong to begin with.

Instead…

  • To social conservatives and social liberals alike, you must realize that you cannot rely on government to legislate your understanding of morality because ‘we the people’ are often as guilty of this wrong on the societal/governmental level as we are on the individual level
  • To social conservatives and social liberals alike, you must realize that no one wins when you resort to these tactics to make your case, pass your legislation, or further your agenda
  • To all, we must recognize the powerful effects of dehumanization as it rears its head in many different areas and in many different agendas…in order to reject it

Hurt

Rev. Lowery…My Final Thoughts

Several people have replied to my earlier post on this blog and made statements elsewhere on the web in defense of Rev. Lowery’s benediction during the inauguration.  In short, the response has been that his words should not be interpreted as racist remarks.  The rationale for dismissing his statements as not racist are essentially three:

  1. Whites have never been treated like other races in the United States…so get over it
  2. His statements were thanking God that the day mentioned in his song had arrived
  3. He was merely quoting an old song familiar to many in the civil rights movement

To the first objection, my response is simply this:  You’re right, whites have never suffered the horrible atrocities that other races have been subjected to in United States history, but two wrongs don’t make a right.  This objection is bogus.

To objection number two, if you look at the transcript of his benediction on my first post, Rev. Lowery prays that God will “help us work for that day…”  Clearly this is not thanksgiving for the arrival of said day but a pleading that we will get there in the future.

The most common objection is the last one, that he was merely quoting (or alluding to) a song familiar to those in the civil rights movement.  Wonderful!  If Rev. Lowery wishes to pay homage to those who have labored in the civil rights movement against adversity, persecution, and the horrors that have been a sad part of our nation’s history, I will be the first to stand by his side (as a Caucasian) and say, “Amen!”  I for one am horribly ashamed of the racism that has been and arguably is still part of U.S. history.  To quote or allude to a song that itself is racist (which this lyric clearly is…whites after all are the problem that needs fixing in this verse) as a tribute to Civil Rights leaders is so blatantly wrong and hypocritical, I honestly struggle with the fact that we’re having this discussion in the first place.

If I, as a Caucasian, were to be in the position of Rev. Lowery and quote any kind of racist poem as part of my benediction I would rightly be called to account for my actions.  Why the same standard is not being applied to a Civil Rights leader, who from his own hallowed experiences should know better, is beyond me.  If we are to move beyond racism in this nation, this sort of language must perish from the lips of all.

President Obama’s Glorious Burden

This is, by far, the most stirring thing I’ve read from President Obama’s first day in office:

On this Inauguration Day, we are reminded that we are heirs to over two centuries of American democracy, and that this legacy is not simply a birthright — it is a glorious burden. Now it falls to us to come together as a people to carry it forward once more.  (from A National Day of Reconciliation and Renewal, 2009)

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Rev. Lowery’s Racist Benediction…So Much for Reconciliation…

On a day when many of my conservative and/or libertarian persuasion are deriding President Obama’s inauguration as something nearing the end of the country as we know it, I have been much less pessimistic but still anxiously awaiting what the future will hold for our great nation under a new administration.  Indeed, our new President’s first official act after taking office was to issue a proclamation decreeing a National Day of Renewal and Reconciliation and calling “upon all of our citizens to serve one another and the common purpose of remaking this Nation for our new century.”  I applaud President Obama’s actions here–indeed I am ready to draw fire from many fellow conservatives by recognizing and sorrowing over our nation’s less-than-proud heritage of racism and discrimination.

With those thoughts in mind, I was horrified to hear Rev. Joseph Lowery’s benediction during the inauguration today.  Specifically, I am shocked and offended at his closing paragraph (see below), which is just about as blatantly racist as one can be.  To suggest that whites, to use his words, fail to “embrace what is right” is hardly rhetoric that tends to inspire toward renewal and reconciliation.  Indeed, Rev. Lowery, my brother in Christ, this very language is divisive, caustic, and just plain hateful.

I, for one, am outraged, and would like an apology from Rev. Lowery and President Obama.  My letter will soon be on its way to the White House.

Mr. President, this is hardly the change so many have hoped for for so long.

(Transcript courtesy Federal News Service, foundhere)

God of our weary years, God of our silent tears, thou who has brought us thus far along the way, thou who has by thy might led us into the light, keep us forever in the path, we pray, lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met thee, lest our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forget thee. Shadowed beneath thy hand may we forever stand — true to thee, O God, and true to our native land.

We truly give thanks for the glorious experience we’ve shared this day. We pray now, O Lord, for your blessing upon thy servant, Barack Obama, the 44th president of these United States, his family and his administration. He has come to this high office at a low moment in the national and, indeed, the global fiscal climate. But because we know you got the whole world in your hand, we pray for not only our nation, but for the community of nations. Our faith does not shrink, though pressed by the flood of mortal ills.

For we know that, Lord, you’re able and you’re willing to work through faithful leadership to restore stability, mend our brokenness, heal our wounds and deliver us from the exploitation of the poor or the least of these and from favoritism toward the rich, the elite of these.

We thank you for the empowering of thy servant, our 44th president, to inspire our nation to believe that, yes, we can work together to achieve a more perfect union. And while we have sown the seeds of greed — the wind of greed and corruption, and even as we reap the whirlwind of social and economic disruption, we seek forgiveness and we come in a spirit of unity and solidarity to commit our support to our president by our willingness to make sacrifices, to respect your creation, to turn to each other and not on each other.

And now, Lord, in the complex arena of human relations, help us to make choices on the side of love, not hate; on the side of inclusion, not exclusion; tolerance, not intolerance.

And as we leave this mountaintop, help us to hold on to the spirit of fellowship and the oneness of our family. Let us take that power back to our homes, our workplaces, our churches, our temples, our mosques, or wherever we seek your will.

Bless President Barack, First Lady Michelle. Look over our little, angelic Sasha and Malia.

We go now to walk together, children, pledging that we won’t get weary in the difficult days ahead. We know you will not leave us alone, with your hands of power and your heart of love.

Help us then, now, Lord, to work for that day when nation shall not lift up sword against nation, when tanks will be beaten into tractors, when every man and every woman shall sit under his or her own vine and fig tree, and none shall be afraid; when justice will roll down like waters and righteousness as a mighty stream.

Lord, in the memory of all the saints who from their labors rest, and in the joy of a new beginning, we ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get back, when brown can stick around — (laughter) — when yellow will be mellow — (laughter) — when the red man can get ahead, man — (laughter) — and when white will embrace what is right. [emphasis mine]

Let all those who do justice and love mercy say amen.

AUDIENCE: Amen!

REV. LOWERY: Say amen –

AUDIENCE: Amen!

REV. LOWERY: — and amen.

AUDIENCE: Amen! (Cheers, applause.)

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Bailing Out the Big 3…Seriously?!

Traditionally, I have intentionally avoided politics here.  With a few exceptions surrounding the Olympics this summer, I have chosen to write almost exclusively on other topics…but things in Washington are getting so absolutely out of control, I am compelled to vent.

In case you haven’t been paying attention, Mr. Paulson decided earlier this week that he was wrong about those sectors of the financial world that initially needed our $700 billion, deciding on a new course of action with (at least) the same price tag.  Whatever.  Granted I’m far from an expert on these matters (I only took a year each of college-level Economics classes and Political Science), I’m sure I’m not the only one with absolutely zero confidence that anyone on Capitol Hill has any semblance of an idea of how to really fix the economy, at home or world-wide.

So far, however, I’ve managed to keep my rantings to myself…until now.

This proposed (and no doubt desperately lobbied for) plan to funnel $25 billion to the troubled “Big 3″ automakers is absolutely, positively one giant leap toward the establishment of a worker’s paradise here in the United States.  For years a major drain on the profitability of the Big 3 has been the vast sums of money going to support their unions and union workers.  Now I certainly do not want to see big corporations creating unsafe working conditions and unfair pay for anyone…but it’s about time we get real and recognize that in today’s society, nobody is going to go to work for pay and benefits that they deem unacceptable.  Argue all you want, it just isnt’ going to happen.  And it isn’t like the UAW and others are managing to get pay and benefits for their people that are just barely survivable.  The medical benefits afforded many of these workers is better than my current company, better than I will have as a civil servant, and just about comparable to what I get on active duty in the military–and even in Detroit, factory workers aren’t getting shot at as much as U.S. troops are!

This nonsense was summed up well by the Fearsome Pirate Comrade today when he wrote:

You realize what the bailout for the auto industry is, right? The American taxpayers are now subsidizing the unions–you work and pay taxes so that people with better benefits than you can continue to receive them. The new message to the unions is now, “Drive your employer into the ground? No problem, we’ll make the taxpayers make up the difference!”

Amen, Comrade, amen.  I’m certain my Congressman (Ron Paul) isn’t going to give the go-ahead for this continued slip toward the People’s Democratic Republic of America…but others need to get on the phone and tell their elected representatives (who work for YOU by the way) to stop the nonsense!

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The Lesser of Two Evils

How should someone concerned about the morality of abortion AND (pre-emptive) war vote today?  Is there a moral choice available?  Does one candidate represent the ‘lesser of two evils’?

The Political Enquirer has an intriguing post this election day on the subject of ethical voting.  What begins with a typical-sounding scenario from a basic ethics class quickly adds a dash of Augustinian thinking and ends with the a thought-provoking conclusion that:

There is no ethically relevant different [sic] between this [classroom ethics] case and the case of choosing between a rabid pro-abortion candidate, and a rabid pro-war candidate.

So, if he’s correct, it appears that the Christian is left with only two options:

  1. Vote for a third-party candidate
  2. Abstain from voting altogether

Are these the only ethically acceptable options for the Christian in this election?  What about anyone else concerned with the morality of abortion and war?  What do you think?

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This Made Me Laugh

This is just plain funny…

When liberals start acting like they’re opposed to pre-marital sex and mothers having careers, you know McCain’s vice presidential choice has knocked them back on their heels.
–Anne Coulter

HT: The Fearsome Pirate

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A-musement (29 Aug)

Haven’t had any a-musement around here for a while…and with McCain’s announcement of Sarah Palin for VP, this seems fitting:

More Thoughts on the Olympics…

While preparation for the Olympics continues around the world amid both protest and celebration, I’ve been thinking more and more about the issue of human rights abuses in China and an appropriate response from the United States. A three-day Olympics media summit began yesterday in Chicago, and I must confess, the responses of our athletes are less than impressive. In fact, I find the attitudes presented there largely disgusting.

(Disclaimer: I have not been able to find any sort of complete transcript of these meetings, so I am aware that the quotes I am reading may not reflect the whole story...)

Not surprisingly, most athletes are shying away from the “political” aspects of the games, doubtlessly referring to protests centering on Tibet and Sudan, in order to focus on the games themselves. I still have read absolutely nothing about actual human rights abuses in China itself (see my earlier post on the subject here). While no one is completely in denial about the very serious host of issues surrounding the Olympics in China, there is continued avoidance of the real problems. In the words of women’s soccer Olympian Heather O’Reilly, (quoted here) “Winning the gold medal is where we can speak the loudest, by representing our country in the best way possible.” With all due respect, Ms. O’Reilly, I’m not really sure winning gold medals is saying anything truly significant to the rest of the world, is it? Is medal count really going to change the world? No.

Olympic gold medalist Paul Hamm remarked (quoted here), “The Olympics are about bringing people together. It’s not about making the Olympics something you can use as a political tool.” I can appreciate the sentiment here, in a sense. Let’s be honest, Mr. Hamm is not a politician, he’s an athlete…but…as an Olympic athlete he is by default an ambassador from our nation to the rest of the world. As such, I would argue that he and other athletes not only are in the position to speak on the world stage but have an obligation to do so. To suggest that the kinds of human rights abuses seen in China and elsewhere are merely political agenda items reserved for “the politicians” is beyond ignorant, it is absurd. Can we not speak out against the denial of fundamental human rights (such as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness..sound familiar to anyone) unless we are professional politicians? Seems to me a couple of hundred years ago a bunch of guys got together in Philly to do just that.

There are some bright spots of light in the midst of this murky darkness. According to this Free Press article, Jessica Mendoza is an outfielder on the women’s softball team who is also an active ambassador for Team Darfur, a group of athletes seeking to raise awareness of the horrendous crisis in Sudan. Again though, sadly, as Americans we are showing our ignorance, which Jessica pointed out. “Some of my teammates have asked me, ‘What’s happening in Darfur? Is that in Africa?’” The Free Press author of this article wrote these questions off as her teammates’ focus on preparing for the games, but I would argue this is yet another sad testimony to both our ignorance and indifference of most things beyond the bounds of our comfortable little worlds. Thanks for actively caring, Ms. Mendoza, keep up the great work! May you continue to be a beacon of light among your teammates and the larger community!

At the end of the day, I have a very hard time agreeing with the attitudes of many of our athletes (and politicians) that the tragedies continually occurring in China (not to mention Tibet and Sudan) are somehow unapproachable and unworthy of comment merely because we may not be vocational politicians. These lines ring totally hollow–as the supposedly sophisticated rhetoric of those who really don’t have the compassion or courage to speak up. How can depriving someone of something as fundamental as their very life be relegated to the realm of political speech and not be an area where we all have a moral obligation to speak up? Have these folks thought through how ridiculous they sound?

To our athletes: As international ambassadors from the United States as well as world-class performers who are de facto role models for countless young folks (athletes or not), I would like to ask you, “Why is your silence so deafening?” It’s hard enough to find role models worthy of imitation in sports arena today, how could a opportunity in which it is so easy to say and do the right thing go ignored? As a supporter, viewer, and parent desperately searching for role models for my two young children, I am utterly disappointed. Instead of focusing on your medals, re-read your Olympic Creed, which states, “The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.” Perhaps you should focus less on the triumph and more on the struggle…the bigger struggle, beyond the hallowed halls of the arena.

To our politicians: The same question goes to our elected officials on both sides of the aisle and in the White House…why do we hear nothing from you? As a voting and letter-writing constituent who has no vested interest in your continued representation if you cannot handle situations as clear-cut as this, I am disgusted. Instead of worrying about your pet projects and re-election, re-read those so wonderful words from the Declaration of Independence that remind us, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Perhaps you should focus more on working toward the rights of others instead of the pettiness of beltway politics.

Presidential musings…

In case anyone else is less than excited by our Presidential options this fall, allow me to make the following suggestion to the American populace:

Any objections???  No, seriously???

Thoreau on Politics

What is called politics is comparatively something so superficial and inhuman, that practically I have never fairly recognized that it concerns me at all. (Henry David Thoreau, “Life Without Principle,” 1863)

Ah, alas, some things never change…

Thoughts on the War in Iraq…

I have deliberately kept this blog apolitical in the past, and I’m not intending to make this a political arena now, but there is something I noticed in the debates last week that all the presidential candidates on both sides of the fence fail to understand:

The war in Iraq is political…in fact, all war is politics.

In the early nineteenth century, Carl von Clausewitz famously wrote, “War is an extension of politics by other means.” In other words, the continuum of political action that contains such things as diplomatic negotiations, treaties, embargoes, sanctions, trade, and other day-to-day things also contains, on its outer fringes, war. War is politics–bloodier, louder, and more costly (in terms of human life) than other areas of politics. But at the end of the day, war is always political…and that is neither good nor bad, it just is.

Specifically with regards to the war in Iraq, the political ideology behind the war (from the beginning) was to replace a heinous, murderous dictator with a democracy. Whether one agrees with the premise or not, this is why the was began.

As a military officer and armchair military historian and tactician, it seems evident that this ideology requires several long-term political goals, including:

  • Development of an internal police force / military capable of protecting the citizens of Iraq against internal and external threats
  • Creation of the ability to repair and extend the national infrastructure
  • Development of the ability to create / foster international relationships with the goal of increasing domestic security and providing the opportunity for foreign and domestic economic growth
  • Establishment of a viable democratic government able to maintain control of the nation in order to a) make democracy a more alluring form of government than other alternatives (willing change) and b) make democratic government ‘worth fighting for’ against those who would subvert it (unwilling change)

In order to achieve the long-term goals, this ideology immediately requires tactical and strategic military victories in order to establish an environment conducive to the growth, nurture, and development of the long-term objectives.

So how are we doing?

  1. We are relatively successful with our immediately necessary goal of tactical military victories
  2. We do not seem to be seeing any significant progress toward achieving our long-term political goals
  3. We appear to be losing military advantage and political / national will

Unless there are significant improvement in areas two and three, above, we run the risk of losing the war in a manner not all that different from what we experienced in Vietnam, where we were tactically successful (militarily) but failed strategically and politically. Am I making hasty and emotional comparisons to the Vietnam War? No! However, as time progresses, the risk of losing the war increases and the likelihood of victory decreases, similar to what we saw in another decade in another theater.

Our military power is weakening over time due to troop burnout, aging equipment, troop retention issues, a loss of battle-experienced soldiers/officers, and lack of timely tactical adaptation from convention to low intensity (i.e., guerrilla warfare) tactics. To argue to the contrary is nonsensical. Simultaneously, our political power and national will are weakening due to the length of the war and the questionable legitimacy (in the eyes of many) of the original ideology. Two hundred years ago, Clausewitz cited the need for overwhelming military strength and national will as essential for victory in war. Based on his wisdom and our current situation, are we currently in a situation where the war is unwinnable? I don’t think so…not yet, anyway.

Despite what we may see and hear in the media, there is no reason why the US should not be able to achieve victory in Iraq:

  • We are familiar with the terrain and physical environment
  • We are equipped with the proper equipment (though we need to continue upgrading, maintaining, and replacing that equipment as it ages)
  • We are prepared at some level to train for, fight, and win in low-intensity conflicts (though I think we have forgotten some of the tactical lessons from Vietnam)
  • As a nation we largely (?) believe in the legitimacy of fighting for causes of right and wrong

Given these reasons, it is reasonable to expect that victory is possible even without the benefit of a powerful multinational coalition. As in Vietnam, we must be acutely aware at all levels that tactical victory does not necessarily translate into strategic victory (militarily) or overall political victory (achieving our political ends). Additionally, we must also be aware of the reality that war is an extension of politics–our ultimate aim here is political, not merely (or even primarily) military. Consequently, we cannot expend all our attention or resources trying to achieve military victory while letting political ends languish. In short:

  • If we are militarily superior but fail to realize our political goals, we can never reach the point of military withdrawal without admitting defeat because…
  • Failure to achieve our political ends is defeat

Maybe later I’ll put on my chaplain hat and write some thoughts on what our course of action as a nation must be morally if we reach the point where the war becomes unwinnable…but those are different thoughts for a different day.