Diigo Links

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Leaderlessness


I saw some crappy American newspaper headline yesterday like "Iraq troop withdrawal: must maintain US prestige". What to make of that? My first response is: "well, lucky thing GW has dragged that prestige down to a level that's at least easy to maintain". Living as an expat, I have the perspective and authority to say that. The "prestige" they're talking about is not a domestic possession. The prestige the US "holds" is "afforded" by foreign allies (because the US doesn't care how it's considered by the unilaterally declared "rogue nations" ). And regardless of what populist flag-waving isolationists might think, that prestige is important to US domestic security and carries economic value (however difficult to measure).

But all irony aside, and I wrote about this a while back, when America delivered a free and democratic Iraq to the Iraqi people they stripped any remaining dignity from Iraqi men (the holders of weapons). This dignity is what the Iraqi men are fighting for right now. Had the war been prosecuted differently, the male population of Iraq may have been made to feel they fought the good fight OR that they at least somehow earned their new Iraq. I previously called the newly borne free and democratic Iraq a bastard child. And now it's starting to appear that it is a stillborn bastard child (not only no father, but no real pulse or life in it). I fear it's headed for something like a zombie or Frankenstein status as time goes on.

( As an aside I'd also like to mention again that a pre-emptive war is a failing of diplomacy. The US military faithfully and effectively accomplished the mission laid out by the administration. At that point, the infamous "Mission Accomplished" moment, the US military took on a custodial role and the diplomats were once again in charge. This is the same administration that failed to accomplish anything while Iraq was a highly structured and somewhat predictable entity. I don't understand how or why we were to expect diplomats who failed prior to the massive civil unrest caused by the war could succeed in the violent power vacuum after the war.)

The last time the US lost a war by not winning, Vietnam, everybody paid for it. Americans are still paying a tremendous price in prestige, dignity, pride, and confidence due to the way we handled ourselves around that war. From the various indignities suffered on both sides on Vietnamese soil, to the confused (to be kind) response by the American citizen towards the returning veterans. Nobody got out of that war clean. I know "the terrorists win" every time somebody mentions Vietnam. I know that Iraq is not Vietnam. But similar to the quantity of bad stuff produced and brought home via Vietnam, I can see, hear and feel the failings of Iraq being so plentiful so as to be easily and equitably shared between Iraqis and Americans alike. Prestige be damned, Christ never uttered a word about it. Quite the opposite Christ gave humble advice like:

But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; Matthew 5:44 - 45 (KJV)

Had this strategy been employed post-9/11, US prestige would be higher than ever before. But the wide path was taken and we've predictably descended into a quagmire which presents only grim decisions. The answer to these decisions is again the narrow path. But the previous investment of prestige and esteem leaves the administration little to serve as humble pie.

Many people take for granted that the leader of the US at the time had "no option" but to strike back with signature "overwhelming force". I'm doubting that a real leader needs to take for granted what "many people take for granted". And to illustrate that I'll point to Christ again (because he allegedly has the ear of the PotUS and a silent majority of American citizens).

If we assume Christ's main message was to spread love, and that he was well aware of how revolutionary this is, we can insert the intent of Matthew 5:44 - 45 (KJV) (above) everywhere Christ refers to himself in this statement:

"Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel's, the same shall save it. For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?
Mark 8:34b - 36 (KJV)

And in recognition that this is indeed the narrow gate, a path that leads to persecution, but is worthwhile, Christ predicts that anyone who sticks to this simple but difficult doctrine will be brought to trial. And at that trial you'll need to speak your conscience:

"But when they shall lead you, and deliver you up, take no thought beforehand what ye shall speak, neither do ye premeditate: but whatsoever shall be given you in that hour, that speak ye: for it is not ye that speak, but the Holy Ghost." Mark 13:5b - 11 (KJV) .

This is where I think GW failed his faith. Had he spoken and acted in any way consistent with the spirit of his chosen religion (instead of arguably responding in an Old Testament paradigm ), the power of Christian faith would have been revealed to the American people. Instead he took the wide gate and followed the polls, followed advice, followed the wagging tails of the dogs of war. And he's now left with the plastic bag in hand cleaning up the inevitable excrement left by big dogs.

Now, of course this also begs the observation that Christ ended up nailed to a cross with a spear in his spleen. True. But if you're a Christian who isn't signed up for the same thing, you're probably missing the entire point of being a Christian. GW has always been pretty up front with his past failings, and I think it's obvious that his spiritual evolution is very much a work in progress. So although I hold him responsible for his lack of true leadership, I don't actually expect him to understand or act in a Christian way. I do however expect the "moral majority" leadership, who specialize in the word of Christ and have the ear of the administration AND large swaths of the US public, to say something out loud about the direction American prestige is going. And I would like to hear a moral message broadcast with the moral authority that I'd assume from leaders of a moral majority. There's no reason, scriptural or otherwise, that Christians need to be right wing hawks. And there's especially no reason that Christians should pander to right wing hawks.

And by the by, this is the same discussion I have not heard from the Islamic community. For all the talk of being religions of peace and the scripture to back it up, I have not heard enough policy discussion grounded in the simple and easily readable moral fiber of scripture (whether it be the words of Christ or Muhammad). As someone outside of the 90+% of true believers, I find that to be a concern, a let down, unattractive, disingenuous, irresponsible, cowardly, and short sighted.

I believe that although the gate is narrow, the path is well defined. There can be no going back from the invasion of Iraq. There can be no saving of American prestige (outside of some sort of miraculous transformation of Iraqi culture, which I don't see things trending towards). There aren't going to be any easy decisions having strayed the narrow path from the beginning. The answer is for a leader (I don't care which one) to start acting and taking decisions consistent with his faith (again, I don't care which one).

I don't need to believe in any God to believe this. I only need to believe that the basic tenants of the various religions involved are sound, and worth adhering to. I do believe that, partly because I think the folk wisdom of a religion transcends the judgment and intelligence of any leader (especially a dim witted one with documented poor judgment). You can think of religion as a doctrine of our best selves written and derived in consensus over generations. You can think of it as much more than that, but you can think of it as at least that. And being a doctrine of our best selves, the worst time to stray from it is a time of crisis. And that's exactly what's happened. America elected an evangelizing Christian on a shared understanding of that doctrine of our best selves, and expecting behavior consistent with that. I think they/we got short changed.

(lots of links to follow when I get the time. On second thought, why would I bother.)

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