George Strickland comments on editorial by Dr. Bouteneff

I’m highlighting Mr. Strickland’s comments because ideas within it deserve consideration.

Dr. Bouteneff’s article has stirred a great deal of debate in these pages. My response is drawn from Bouteneff’s statement: “Neither is there any one system of governance, be it monarchy, democracy, plutocracy, or theocracy, which the Church would sanction as such to be the Christian way of estasblishing and maintaining a state…Christians are not ipso facto socialists, capitalists, or monarchists. And such as we Americans are accustomed to the logic of democracy, democracy is neither the way in which the Church is govers itself, nor is it the only or obvious Christian kind of state…Christians…have to decide in each particular case what best meets the criteria of Christian life.”

There are many ideas packed in this statement, and I am limited in time in commenting on them. I start with a question. Through her long experience in history, has the Church had a period (until the time of America’s great experiment in democracy) in which the state has not directly attempted to control ecclesiastical affairs? Emperors, Czars, and dictators have all had their hands inside the doors of the Church, attempting to muzzle the voice of the Gospel. As an Orthodox Christian, I cannot imagine wanting to live in a state governed by the whims, greed and power-madness of absolute rulers. Christians for Czarists? No thank you.

Bouteneff is dimissive of the importance of democracy for the Church,simply categorizing it among the various types of state. We only happen to be Orthodox Christians living in a democratic style of government. It appears to me Bouteneff is values- neutral when it comes to democratic institutions. They just happen to be. What account do they have for the Church?

American style democracy is based on the principle of the “limited state.” Governmental coercion is strictly limited by the expressed guarantees of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. There are built-in checks and balances, the safeguards that work well on occasions and fail in others. To be sure, American democracy is a messy business; it is highly competitive in both the markeplaces of economics and ideas. For some people, this is disquieting and assaultive of the ideal. All in all, what would replace it?

This leads me to to the question of the proper relationship between Church and state. Bouteneff is off-center here. The state should not confess a faith. It does that, however, when, in hostility to the faith confessed by its people, it confesses the ersatz religion of militant secularism. The great antidemocratic danger comes from the secularist creeds imposed by governments that recognize no higher (transcendent) sovereignty.

That was the reality of Nazism and communism. That danger is also present in our democracy when “the separation of church and state” is taken to mean the separation of religion from public life. The public square, like nature, abhors a vacuum. If it is not filled with the lively expression of the most deeply held convictions of the people, including their convictions grounded in religion, it will be filled by the quasi–religious beliefs of secularism. Christians should be encouraged to lively, sometimes heated, debate and decision-making in the public square.

One may well ask whether Bouteneff’s perspective is capable of informing democratic deliberation and decision by reference to an Orthodox grounded moral discernment.

Democratic deliberation and decision–making is necessarily conflictual. Short of the End Time, even among people of the best will (and it will never be that everybody will be of the best will), there will be different and frequently conflicting understandings of moral truth and the common good—and, increasingly, there is disagreement over what might be meant by words such as “truth” and “good.” The public square must always be open to all—at least in theory that is supported by determined effort.

Democratic discourse can be sustained by an awareness that God calls us to care for the earthly polis, and by the knowledge that opponents have access to truth and a capacity for reason even when they seem determined to prove that they don’t. And again, it helps to know that the most important things to be communicated and agreed upon are not in the realm of politics.

The Church must acknowledge the limits of her competence in political and economic life. In relation to politics she strives to maintain a principled, firm, and nonpartisan stance. Admittedly, that is not easy. In specific circumstances of partisan conflict, even the most carefully crafted statement of principle will be viewed by some as partisan. Therefore, a good rule of thumb when it comes to statements that intend to invoke the Church’s moral authority is this: When it is not necessary to speak, it is necessary not to speak. At stake is the danger of turning the gospel into an ideology or party platform. Politics is not the vocation of the Church. The Church is to help equip the faithful for the exercise of their vocations in the public square. The vocation of the Church is to help sustain many different vocations.

American democracy may not be the ideal, but is there an adequate replacement? Approximation to the ideal is the best we can hope for this side of the Kingdom of God.

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111 thoughts on “George Strickland comments on editorial by Dr. Bouteneff”

  1. Bill – I know that the documentary ?Stolen Honor? was written by Carlton Sherwood, a long time reporter for the Washington Times, the newspaper owned by the Reverened Sum Myung Moon, and which is known for its far right-wing extremist views. Sherwood, an unapologetic supporter of the Reverend Sun Myung Moon, authored the pro-Unification Church book ?Inquisition: The Persecution and Prosecution of the Reverend Sun Myung Moon. ( Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carlton_Sherwood )

    You will remember that the Reverenced Moon, wearing crown and ermine robes had himself declared ?Humanity?s Messiah? in a bizarre ceremony in the Dirksen Senate Building earlier this year (Source: ?Lawmakers attend Moon ?coronation? in Dirksen? http://www.hillnews.com/news/062204/moon.aspx). According to the Washington Post, ?The Korean-born businessman and religious leader then delivered a long speech saying he was “sent to Earth . . . to save the world’s six billion people. . . . Emperors, kings and presidents . . . have declared to all Heaven and Earth that Reverend Sun Myung Moon is none other than humanity’s Savior, Messiah, Returning Lord and True Parent.”. (Source: ?The Rev. Moon Honored at Hill Reception;Lawmakers Say They Were Misled?,. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A61932-2004Jun22.html

  2. So Bill, if considering the source isn?t enough to make you wary of this strange documentary I will gladly explore the content with you. The major charge that ?Stolen Honor? directs against John Kerry is that Kerry?s testimony to Congress regarding American atrocities during the Vietnam War slandered and demoralized his fellow soldiers.

    First we know that Kerry wasn?t lying because the atrocities that a small group of American soldiers committed during the Vietnam war are well documented. There was the My Lai massacre, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/vietnam/trenches/mylai.html. There were the atrocities of shadowy counter insurgency unites like Tiger Force,, http://www.toledoblade.com/apps/pbcs.dll/section?Category=SRTIGERFORCE.

    John Kerry?s own unit in Vietnam, like so many others, operated under ?Free Fire? rules of engagement that directed soldiers to shoot at anything that moved. Understandably, under such rules of engagement many innocent civilians caught in the cross fire were killed. If we prosecuted John Kerry for his actions in such situations, as Michael Baumann has suggested, we would have to also prosecute every other soldier who fought under free fire rules of engagement during the Vietnam war, and in Iraq today/, where we know the US military has inflicted thousands of ?collateral damage? casualties against Iraqi civilians.

    Was John Kerry?s testimony aimed at slandering and demoralizing his fellow soldiers as he is accused in Stole Honor? Let?s hear what Kerry has to say
    ?Senator Kerry said last week that he never meant to blame the soldiers. ?I have stood up and consistently defended the soldiers as innocent victims of civilian policy at higher levels,? he told The Blade. He has few regrets over what he said in 1971. ?I think that occasionally there was language that might have been a little hot here and there,? he said. ?But by and large, the facts I laid out and the basic criticism of the war has been documented by countless people.? ( Source: ?Kerry?s candidacy opens war wounds; Presidential hopeful stands behind Vietnam testimony; http://www.toledoblade.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20040229/SRTIGERFORCE/102290004
    Kerry never blamed the soldiers for the atrocities, but the civilian leadership and military brass who sought to cover up war crimes by lumping together the vast majority of good and decent soldiers with a handful of bad ones, and then attempted to portray any discussion of the bad as an attack on the good..
    By 1968, Robert McNamara who was Secretary of defense while John Kerry was serving his country in Viet Nam, came to the conclusion that the Vietnam war was unwinnable and advised President Johnson that the best the United States could expect to achieve was ?endless stalemate.? The basic dishonesty of a documentary like Stolen Honor is that it attempts to misrepresent Kerry?s similar comments regarding the hopelessness and terrible cost of the war as an attack on its fellow soldiers.

    As Christians we believe in a commandment that a person should ?not bear false witness? against another. Anyone who supports the contentions of a a shoddy piece of propaganda like Stolen Honor is doing just that. As movie reviewer Roger Ebert writes, ?Of all the dirty tricks in this unhappy presidential campaign, the most outrageous has been the ad campaign by the “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth,” attempting to discredit John Kerry’s service in Vietnam. Supporters of the malingering Bush have shamelessly challenged the war record of a wounded and decorated veteran. Their campaign illustrates the tactic of the Big Lie, as defined by Hitler and perfected by Goebbels: Although a little lie is laughed at, a Big Lie somehow takes on a reality of its own, through its sheer effrontery.?
    Source: Review of ?Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry?, http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20041001/REVIEWS/409300303/1001

  3. Dean, you still haven’t answered my question. Have you actually watched “Stolen Honor” with your own eyes? Yes or no?

  4. If Saddam Hussein was nothing more than a “secular despot” why did he change the nation’s flag in order to incorporate the Islamic phrase, Allahu-Akhbar, which means literally “Allah is Greater”? That phrase was screamed out over the cries of Nicholas Berg as our enemy, the Islamofascists, sawed his head off. It seems that some here have never heard the phrase: The enemy of my enemy is my friend.

    As far as Saddam being one who “who had his country under control”: I find it reprehensible that some are so willing to shrug their shoulders and do nothing while a tyrant slaughters hundreds of thousands of his own people and creates a special dungeon for children between the ages of 4 and 14. It is true that Iraq is not the only country led by a tyrant. Regarding the others, give us time. It took over 80 years to bring down the Soviet Union. The rest of these Islamofascists supporting regimes will fall.

    Furthermore, Iraq was a haven for Islamic terrorists, the 9/11 Report and the Duelfer Report makes this point perfectly clear. That Pat Buchanan believes it was not only proves that Mr. Buchanan does not know what he is talking about.

    I would encourage people who think that Iraq has absolutely nothing to do with the greater war against the Islamofascists to look at a map. Look at what borders Iraq: Iran, Syria, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia – all havens for Islamofascists terrorism. And if Iraq is so inconsequential to this war, why are the Islamofascists trying so hard to prevent democracy from taking root?

    Allow me to preempt the response that democracy has no history, and therefore no place in the Middle East. That idea leads one inevitably to conclude the Middle Eastern peoples have no right to freedom and liberty as Pres. Bush has expressed, and that we should resign ourselves to the status quo and that these people should be forced to live with the tyrants and despots who have taken control. To beleive that is, at best, bigoted nonsense, at worse hatefully racist.

  5. Bill – I spent several hours on line last night reading everything i could about Stolen Honor, from all political vanatage points but I haven’t actually seen it. What I learned was that those responsible for this documetary have questionable affiliations and the charges they make are totally without merit.

    But you know, I haven’t actually read Adiolph Hitler’s book “Mein Kampf” either so I guess I may be unqualified to say that Hitler was a bad person. Maybe it’s a good book and Hitler was misunderstood and I’m just a biased liberal about that too.

  6. Daniel writes: “If Saddam Hussein was nothing more than a ?secular despot? why did he change the nation?s flag in order to incorporate the Islamic phrase, Allahu-Akhbar, which means literally ?Allah is Greater”?”

    Probably to build support among the religious Moslems. I wouldn’t read too much into the flag.

    Daniel: “As far as Saddam being one who ?who had his country under control”: I find it reprehensible that some are so willing to shrug their shoulders and do nothing while a tyrant slaughters hundreds of thousands of his own people . . .”

    If this was an important reason for invading Iraq, why didn’t Bush bring that up during the 2000 campaign? Besides that, when did it become the job of the U.S. to overthrow a cruel dictator and rebuild that country?

    Daniel: “Furthermore, Iraq was a haven for Islamic terrorists, the 9/11 Report and the Duelfer Report makes this point perfectly clear.”

    I don’t see where the Duelfer Report says that Iraq was a haven for terrorists. Not having read the whole report, I did read the “key findings” version that can be found at Fox News: http://www.foxnews.com/projects/pdf/Comp_Report_Key_Findings.pdf

    There is no mention of terror or terrorists in the document that I found. The document does affirm that Saddam wanted a CW/BW capability, but saw that as being required to meet a threat from Iran.

    Daniel: “And if Iraq is so inconsequential to this war, why are the Islamofascists trying so hard to prevent democracy from taking root?”

    The interesting question is whether the U.S. supports democracy in Iraq. I think what you refer to as “democracy” is really “democracy on U.S. terms that will allow a continuing U.S. military presence”:

    “From the ashes of abandoned Iraqi army bases, U.S. military engineers are overseeing the building of an enhanced system of American bases designed to last for years. . . . Now U.S. engineers are focusing on constructing 14 “enduring bases,” long-term encampments for the thousands of American troops expected to serve in Iraq for at least two years. The bases also would be key outposts for Bush administration policy advisers.

    “As the U.S. scales back its military presence in Saudi Arabia, Iraq provides an option for an administration eager to maintain a robust military presence in the Middle East and intent on a muscular approach to seeding democracy in the region. The number of U.S. military personnel in Iraq, between 105,000 and 110,000, is expected to remain unchanged through 2006, according to military planners.”
    — Chicago Tribune March 23, 2004

    “Polls find that at least 80 percent of Iraqis – whatever their views on the insurgency, democracy, the removal of Saddam Hussein, and other issues – want US armed forces to leave their nation. . . . an Iraq government will accept a US military presence despite popular disapproval.” — Christian Science Monitor, September 30, 2004

    So let’s be clear that we’re not actually talking about having democracy in Iraq.

    Daniel: “Allow me to preempt the response that democracy has no history, and therefore no place in the Middle East. That idea leads one inevitably to conclude the Middle Eastern peoples have no right to freedom and liberty as Pres. Bush has expressed, and that we should resign ourselves to the status quo and that these people should be forced to live with the tyrants and despots who have taken control. To beleive that is, at best, bigoted nonsense, at worse hatefully racist.”

    It is fine to say that people have a right to libery and freedom. But that does not entail that they have a claim to our lives and treasure in order to have that. What you’re talking about seems to be kind of an “entitlement program,” in which it is our responsiblity to enable and fund that transition. This certainly is not something the George Bush of 2000 would have believed:

    “But we can’t be all things to all people in the world, Jim. And I think that’s where maybe the vice president and I begin to have some differences. I’m worried about overcommitting our military around the world. I want to be judicious in its use. . . . I think what we need to do is convince people who live in the lands they live in to build the nations. Maybe I’m missing something here. I mean, we’re going to have kind of a nation building core from America? Absolutely not. Our military is meant to fight and win war. That’s what it’s meant to do. And when it gets overextended, morale drops.” — George W. Bush, October 11, 2000, debate with Al Gore. http://www.debates.org/pages/trans2000b.html

  7. Pres. Bush said that on October 11th, 2000. And no doubt Pres. Bush would not have sent American troops into Iraq to remove Saddam (even though that was stated U.S. policy since the Clinton presidency) were it not for that event on Sept. 11th, 2001. After that this President realized that it would no longer be prudent to pursue the foreign policy status quo; that it would no longer be prudent to let the tyrants in the Middle East fester and continue their support of Islamofascists; that it would no longer be prudent to treat Islamofascist attacks as if they were merely just another a law enforcement matter, as had been done since the Carter Administration.

    “War has been waged against us by stealth and deceit and murder [Sept. 11th, 2001 was not the first salvo in that war]. This nation is peaceful, but fierce when stirred to anger. This conflict was begun on the timing and terms of others. It will end in a way, and at an hour, of our choosing.” Pres. Bush, Sept. 14th, 2001, National Day of Remembrance .

    And on June 1st, 2002, at the West Point Graduation Ceremony , President Bush clarified the new foreign policy that Sept. 11th, 2001 foisted upon him:

    “History has also issued its call to your generation. In your last year, America was attacked by a ruthless and resourceful enemy. You graduate from this Academy in a time of war, taking your place in an American military that is powerful and is honorable. Our war on terror is only begun, but in Afghanistan it was begun well.”

    “This war will take many turns we cannot predict. Yet I am certain of this: Wherever we carry it, the American flag will stand not only for our power, but for freedom. … Our nation’s cause has always been larger than our nation’s defense. We fight, as we always fight, for a just peace — a peace that favors human liberty. We will defend the peace against threats from terrorists and tyrants. We will preserve the peace by building good relations among the great powers. And we will extend the peace by encouraging free and open societies on every continent.”

    “Building this just peace is America’s opportunity, and America’s duty. From this day forward, it is your challenge, as well, and we will meet this challenge together. … You will wear the uniform of a great and unique country. America has no empire to extend or utopia to establish. We wish for others only what we wish for ourselves — safety from violence, the rewards of liberty, and the hope for a better life.”

    “The gravest danger to freedom lies at the perilous crossroads of radicalism and technology. When the spread of chemical and biological and nuclear weapons, along with ballistic missile technology — when that occurs, even weak states and small groups could attain a catastrophic power to strike great nations. Our enemies have declared this very intention, and have been caught seeking these terrible weapons. [A point the Duelfer Report, more than 2 years later, made perfectly clear.] They want the capability to blackmail us, or to harm us, or to harm our friends — and we will oppose them with all our power.”

    I could go on quoting passages from this great speech, but I don’t want to fill up Fr. Hans comment box when you can go read the whole thing for yourself. And make no mistake about it, that was a great speech. It marks a major transition in American foreign policy. And it is a speech, and transition, that was largely ignored by the major media outlets because it didn’t fit their preconception that Pres. Bush is a bumbling idiot. And it was extremely controversial.

    As I note above, it is very likely that Saddam Hussein would be in power today were it not for 9/11. But that horrible attack by the Islamofascists did occur and now that tyrannical homicidal maniac is rotting in jail … well, some might say that 9/11 was the hand of God moving things along a bit, in order to clean up some of the mess that we, in fact, helped create in the Middle East.

    And regarding those reports about base building in Iraq. So what? I guess West Germany wasn’t assisted in rebuilding its democracy after WWII, after all the Americans built bases and stationed troops there.

  8. Dean, your jibe about Hitler is offensive and uncalled for. There are some things one doesn’t joke about. Your readiness to invoke the name of Hitler suggests to me that you, along with others who have tried to make easy comparisions between Bush and Hitler during this election season, have no education in history. I thought you were more intelligent, or at least more decent, than to stoop to such a remark.

    See where your defensiveness has taken our exchange. In your eagerness to militate against “Stolen Honor,” and in (I hope) your embarrassment that you wrote what you did before actually viewing the movie, you have thrown yourself into a mire of hysterical insults. Think about it, Dean: What if you had simply said, “No, I haven’t seen it, and I’m willing to withhold judgment until I do.”? I hope you know by now that I would have accepted such a response in the gracious and humble spirit it was made, and we could have had a meaningful discussion. But now you have rendered the terms of the discussion meaningless.

  9. The comment about Hitler is certainly a cheap shot but there is some historical irony here as well. Many on the Christian left blamed England and America for WWII (even after Hitler’s invasion of Poland) and were not rendered silent until the concentration camps were opened. See: Onward Christian Pacifists for some background.

  10. Fr. Hans, there’s nothing I’d like better than to tackle the issue of how the left can equate Bush with Hitler. Perhaps a new thread? However (and here I switch addressees), Dean, my point is that once again you have gone beyond the pale of reasonable debate and resorted to extreme statements and implied insults. This has offended me and hindered the discussion. How we say things is as important (not more, not less) than what we say.

  11. Daniel writes: “And no doubt Pres. Bush would not have sent American troops into Iraq to remove Saddam (even though that was stated U.S. policy since the Clinton presidency) were it not for that event on Sept. 11th, 2001.”

    Actually, some in the Bush administration were interested in an invasion of Iraq considerably before 9/11. Both Richard Clarke and Paul O’Neill reported that Iraq was the main topic of discussion at the first meeting of the NSC, when the administation was just ten days in office. Also, we know that Rumsfeld talked about going after Iraq within hours of 9/11, virtually before any facts were known. By the way, the Clinton policy was that Saddam should be removed from office, not necessarily that by means of a go-it-alone U.S. invasion and occupation.

    Daniel: “After that this President realized that it would no longer be prudent to pursue the foreign policy status quo; that it would no longer be prudent to let the tyrants in the Middle East fester and continue their support of Islamofascists; that it would no longer be prudent to treat Islamofascist attacks as if they were merely just another a law enforcement matter, as had been done since the Carter Administration.”

    You’ve said a lot here. First of all, as the speech indicates, we did in fact go into Afghanistan, which was exactly the right thing to do, and really the only thing we could have done, regardless of the consequences. This was not a law enforcement matter, because in effect we were attacked by another country.

    The problem comes when the administration tries to subsume our response to all terrorist groups everywhere in the world under the category of “war.” The problem is that you end up with an open-ended, one-size-fits-all policy that has no end to it and seemingly no real priorities other than personal preference. It certainly is a policy for which we do not have the military resources or manpower.

    But also look at the phrase “merely just another law enforcement matter.” Bush notes in his speech — and I agree that it is an articulate speech — that “we must uncover terror cells in 60 or more countries, using every tool of finance, intelligence and law enforcement.” While fighting terrorism is not merely law enforcement, the tools of law enforcement are often going to be the most useful, and in many cases the only thing that will be effective.

    Where the speech goes awry is in confusing Iraq with terrorist groups that actual post a threat, even though Iraq is never actually mentioned by name. In other words, the speech lumps “tyrants” in with terrorists. And the war against terror now becomes “a conflict between good and evil.”

    There is a very insidious policy creep here. We start with Afghanistan, an instance of attacking a country that attacked us. We then move on to law enforcement types of activities against terrorist cells. We then move on to removing tryants and dictators who could or might do this-or-that but have not yet done it and may never do it. And finally we end up with a conflict of good vs. evil. The pattern is a movement from a specific threat to a general but known threat to a possible threat to the spiritual or metaphysical threat of “evil.”

    It is my contention that at the point at which you begin to fight “evil,” you no longer have a coherent strategy, or anything that could even be dignified with that label. Now with previous presidents we might have written off the language of good vs. evil as a rhetorical flourish. But with this administration, the language has operational consequences.

    As Scott Ritter notes his essay, this leads to what he calls the “theocracy of evil:”

    “Going beyond mere political ideology, the theocracy of evil encompasses a faith-based value system that embraces a simplistic ‘good versus evil’ opposition. If Saddam is evil, such thinking holds, then evil must be confronted, and such niceties as fact and fact-based logic no longer apply. As such, WMD became simply an enabling issue, something designed to focus the attention of the public while those in charge pursued the broader agenda of confronting evil. . . . The pervasiveness in America today of the ‘theocracy of evil’ has led to a widespread ‘ends justify the means’ mentality that may prove fatal to a democratic institution founded on the principle of the rule of law.”

    I do know what it means to have a strategy for defending the country against attack. I don’t know what it means to “confront evil,” nor does anyone else. Confronting evil involves . . . well, it involves whatever someone thinks it involves. Worse, it imposes a theological framework on our actions, so that our self-perception is that WE are the guys in the white hats as long as we claim to oppose evil. In other words, it supplies a kind of automatic self-justification of our actions, whatever those actions may be, and it excuses whatever consequences follow from those actions.

    Lincoln said that he prayed not that God would be on our side but that we would be on God’s side. “Confronting evil” operationally presumes that God is on our side and that therefore anyone who disagrees with us is not.

    Thus, the policy and actions of the United States become an extention of fundamentalist religion. Operating from a position of self-righteousness and theological certainty, we determine what is and is not evil, who is and is not evil, and anyone who disagrees with us must necessarily be on the side of evil. It ultimately becomes a policy that cannot even be understood except through a fundamentalist lens. Note the comments of a father whose son was killed in Iraq:

    “It’s the ultimate sacrifice to lose your son, but it has not changed my view,” he said. “This is not a war between the U.S. and Iraq. This is a spiritual war that’s going on. That’s something that non-Christians can’t understand.”
    http://www.oregonlive.com/news/oregonian/helen_jung/index.ssf?/base/news/1095422540203670.xml

    In response to Islamic fundamentalism, the Bush administration offers us policies shaped by Christian fundamentalism. In place of Kerry’s global test we end up with Bush’s theological test. It remains to be seen where that test will ultimately lead us.

  12. Sigh, …. When someone states that they don’t know, and “nor does anyone else” know “what it means to confront evil” there’s no point in continuing the conversation.

  13. Daniel writes: “When someone states that they don?t know, and ?nor does anyone else? know ?what it means to confront evil? there?s no point in continuing the conversation.”

    I was speaking in the context of how “confronting evil” is supposed to be instantiated in the particulars of a nation’s foreign policy. As I mentioned, it is a theological concept whose content depends on whoever is defining evil at the moment. It is a concept that relies on a black and white view of the world rather than on a balancing of various priorities and interests.

    Confronting evil has never been the basis of U.S. military action; it is totally without precedent. Traditionally military action has been related to specific thrreats against national security. For example, we went to war with Germany and Japan because we were attacked, not because they were evil. In fighting against them we certainly were resisting evil, but that was not the *reason* why we went to war. Thus, I have no idea what “confronting evil” means in the context of that being the basis for foreign policy and military action. It appears to me to be a highly subjective concept. If you can describe how confronting evil provides a basis for foreign policy, including some of the details of how that plays out in concrete actions, then tell us and prove me wrong.

  14. And so we finally come back to it. Evil has no objective reality that can be commonly recognized, it is only a “theological concept”, an insubstantial miasmic vapor that only obtains substance in an individual person’s mind at the moment of confrontation. And so we progress from relativity to realitivity to the point of the absurdist playwright whose play about the ultimate meaning of life was 30 seconds of heavy breathing on a dark stage.

    Jim, there is only light. Those who refuse to comprehend the light live in darkness. The gray world only exists because both the light and the heavy shadows of refusal exist in each person’s heart. As St. Paul put it, “we see through a glass, darkly.” The glass to which he referrs is our own soul distorted by sin.

    Can opposition to evil be easily manipulated by demagogic politicians? Yes! We have to be on guard against that. Does President Bush’s evangelical orientation that includes a skewed eschatology in which the current state of Israel figures prominently a concern? Yes! However, it does not negate or override the fact that there are real people out there, who really want to destroy us simply because we exist outside the rule of Islam.

    Many people believe such aggressive Islam is not the true Islam, but it is easy to find just as many Islamic scholars, some who are Moslem themselves who will argue just the opposite. Whether they are mainstream or extreme, they express their faith in evil ways–the uncaring destruction of human beings just because they don?t submit to a certain view of Islam. Such destruction has to be confronted. If you, Jim, don?t wish to call it evil because it is at odds with your sense of realpolitik, it does not absolve you of the necessity as a caring human being to confront it and do everything you can to stop it. A person holding the mind set of these destructive Muslims cannot be negotiated with–physical force is required, the same physical force that is the worldly foundation for all law and justice. I do not understand why so many shrink from that reality.

  15. Bill – it upsets me to learn that my (apparently weak) attempt at sarcasm ended up offending you. That was not my intent. I look forward to your comments and have found them valuable in examining and developing my own views.

    The subject of the election perhaps makes me too prickly because I resent having my faith and morality questioned for refusing to vote for a man I consider arrogant, incompetent and unfit to lead this country. The good news: only 16 days left and it will all be over.

  16. Dean, I appreciate your retraction. I also agree with your second paragraph: with an opposite reference in the first sentence, of course, but wholeheartedly with the second sentence.

  17. Dean and Bill:
    The election will be over in 16 days, but not the effect of the election and maybe not even the election itself. Unless someone surprises with a huge last minute surge, it is entirely possible that we will have a repeat of the court challenges of 2000 and not just in Florida.

    We have all become so accustomed to the “scream your accusations loud enough and someone will believe you” approach (both sides) and so intent on getting our own way, we easily loose sight of what is best for the country. If any of us are tempted to support fighting in the courts if our candidate looses, just remember the example of Richard Nixon in 1960. When he was presented with clear evidence that vote fraud in Cook County Illinois (Chicago) had cost him the election, he rejected any attempt to overturn the election because it would not be in the best interests of the United States. This was Richard Nixon folks–not exactly known for his selfless approach to politics.

    BTW Dean, since I can express my opinion of John Kerry in exactly the same words you use to describe President Bush, it will be a challenge for whoever wins to try to really bring the country together. Regardless of the outcome, it will not be over, it will be just a beginning–after all the events in Florida, 2000 are still not over for the Democrats. We will still be faced with how to effectively protect this country and the world from the Jihadists. We will still be faced with how to best enhance economic equity both at home and around the world without forcing penury on the west and bankrupting a lot of small businesses.

    Remember two things–we get the type of government we deserve and only we can make it any better.

    We need to find an Orthodox voice. Not the voice of the Church, but a political/social voice founded in the teachings of the Church and reflective of the highest ideals of this country, but practical too. St. Paul was quite fond of proclaiming absolute truths that everyone had to adhere to and in the next breath saying—BUT, if you can’t do it, go boldly before the throne of grace. As Orthodox, we need to find a way to express that wonderful sense of absolute truth and grace-filled economia that becomes neither the triumphalism of which Stephen warns in his post: “My take on a problem of triumphalism in Orthodoxy concerns Orthodox involvement in politics. Although I’m not necessarily against Christians involving themselves in politics, there does seem to be the danger of Christians presuming that they have all the right answers and values and thereby hitting other people over the head with “Orthodox” legislation (that almost sounds like Calvinism)”, the mindless mush of ecumenism, or the parroting of political ideology of any stripe.

    That even those of us who profess Orthodoxy should be so divided, indicates that we have not yet gone deeply enough into our faith. Fr. Seraphim Rose warned often that it was useless to quote the Fathers of the Church if we did not have the mind of the Fathers. We need to pray for our leaders (those who are opposed to Bush should pray most fervently for him and we who are opposed to John Kerry should pray wholeheartedly for him). We need to pray for each other, and we need especially to pray that God’s will for our country be done in the coming election and the strength to accept the outcome no matter who wins.

  18. A couple of clarifications on the evil thread. We did not go to war with Japan and Germany because they attacked us. Germany never attacked the US.

    Yes, evil is a theological concept, but theology can be very practical. Pol Pot was evil. A theological judgment? You bet. Is it accurate? You bet your boots again.

    Sometime events and people emerge out of the nuances into stark reality. How about Joseph Stalin? Adolf Hitler?

    BTW, Scott Ritter’s analysis is reductionistic. He reduces evil to fairy tale simplicity thinking its enough to dismiss it on this basis. He should take as walk through Dachau and look at the pictures they have hanging on the walls.

    We don’t go to war just because leaders are evil. But denying the evil in order to avoid war is the fastest route to surrender to that evil.

  19. Well, Germany declared war on us. Same difference.

    Fr. Hans: “Yes, evil is a theological concept, but theology can be very practical. Pol Pot was evil. A theological judgment? You bet. Is it accurate? You bet your boots again.”

    My argument isn’t that evil is trivial or meaningless. My argument is that “confronting evil” does not constitute a basis either for foreign policy or military action.

    Fr. Hans: “We don?t go to war just because leaders are evil. But denying the evil in order to avoid war is the fastest route to surrender to that evil.”

    But this is what the president’s words suggest: “There can be no neutrality between justice and cruelty, between the innocent and the guilty. We are in a conflict between good and evil, and America will call evil by its name. By confronting evil and lawless regimes, we do not create a problem, we reveal a problem. And we will lead the world in opposing it.”

    I don’t hear that people are denying that Saddam is evil. What I hear is people denying that his evilness constitutes a sufficient justification for an invasion. Saddam didn’t have WMD, he had no operational connection to Al Qaeda, he wasn’t behind the 9/11 attacks, virtually all of Powell’s presentation to the U.N. was not true, and all the statements preceeded by “certainly” and “without a doubt” were false. And much of this “intellegence,” we find out, was based on material that was cherry picked and arranged by the administration so as to make a case for war. So I have a hard time when people suggest that those are lesser concerns, and that the main concern is that Saddam was “evil.”

    As I mentioned in a previous post, Bush is making confronting evil the cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy in the context of fundamentalist religion. That means that when he goes about to figure out what is evil, he’s not going to read the Orthodox fathers, nor will he operate out of the Catholic moral tradition. Instead, he will operate from a “faith” position, guided by neither by fact nor by rational theological ethics, but by an inner feeling of certainty and rightness and calling unchecked by self-criticism. Bush uses the idea of evil to demonize the enemy, to show that they are the goats and we the sheep. These are all concepts that flow from his religious background.

    Bush may use all the right language, but you have to understand that what he means by all of this is very different from what the traditional churches mean by it. The traditional churches understand that to some extent all are evil, that both evil and good are always found even in the best of our intentions, and that evil, a spiritual concept, is dealt with in spiritual ways. When Bush talks about evil, what he means is that these other people over there are evil, unlike we Americans who are good, who lead the world in opposing evil not through spiritual means but through our application of lethal military force.

    Thus in my view, Bush’s use of “evil” not only is an inadequate and dangerous basis for a foreign policy. It also undermines the traditional Christian view of evil as something inherent in human existence, rather than being the property of those whom we perceive as enemies.

  20. The hypothesis that confronting evil is the cornerstone or foundation of the Bush administration foreign policy is something I expect to read in “The Nation” or “Mother Jones” ie: a theory a left-winger could love. It’s the old liberal complaint about Reagan — he’s a cowboy, he’s stupid, he’s too black and white, he doesn’t understand the complexity of the world — with a spin of popular theology thrown in.

    (At least the argument recognizes that some people see evil as real, even if only rhetorically. Looks like the liberal boundaries have retreated somewhat.)

    In recent history the Carter administration was closer to your hypothesis. Cater’s goal was to lessen human rights abuses. Instead he created conditions for even greater abuses in the world. Carter’s problem was (and still is) that he doesn’t believe evil really exists. He thinks that the decisions despots make are a funtion of their temporal circumstances, and if he can change those circumstances their decisions would become more humane.

    The Soviets knew this and sifted him like flour (think Salt IV which even a Democratic Senate rejected as too much of a giveaway). Reagan, however, understood the Soviets and ended up defeating the evil empire.

  21. If I may return to an earlier discussion, the views expressed in this article are relevant, since they point out that the effective difference between the candidates in re: the abortion issue is probably more slight than we’ve been told to think. If folks think it’s worthy of debate here, might it start another thread?

  22. Note 63

    The BBC recently reported on the discovery of another Saddam Hussein mass grave. The BBC reported that children’s skeletons were found with bullet holes through the head. Some graves contained toys.

    I defer to Fr. Jacobse on theological matters, but, do we really need to consult the Orthodox Fathers to determine whether this constitutes the Blackest Evil.

  23. In Jim’s defense, if I have understood him correctly, he is not arguing what is evil or what is not evil. He is arguing that we should not base a foreign policy or, perhaps more specifically, the use of military force on the eradication of evil.

  24. Missourian: Most of those atrocities took place in the late eighties when Ronald Reagan and George HW Bush were President, and Saddam Hussein was our ally.

    Of course Republicans didn’t show much concern about him then, just like they didn’t care about all the people being tortured and “disappeared” by General Pinochet in Chile, or massacred by the Central American death squads in Honuras and El Salvador that our current ambassador to Iraq John Negroponte helped train and finance. They didn’t care when US surrogates raped four American nuns or when they shot Archbishop Oscar Romero dead as he prayed over the Eucharist.

    Over a million people are being targeted for genocide in the Sudan while the Bush administration dithers and pretends to look outraged while not doing anything. Our “ally” in Uzbekistan, Islam Karimov is a brutal dictator who routinely tortures political prisoners and even has had them boiled alive.

    “Independent human rights groups estimate that there are more than 600 politically motivated arrests a year in Uzbekistan, and 6,500 political prisoners, some tortured to death. According to a forensic report commissioned by the British embassy, in August two prisoners were even boiled to death. The US condemned this repression for many years. But since September 11 rewrote America’s strategic interests in central Asia, the government of President Islam Karimov has become Washington’s new best friend in the region.”
    (Source: http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,3604,963497,00.html)

    The motivation for the war in Iraq was always control if Iraqi oil and middle-eastern oil shipping routes, and Saddam Hussein’s abysmal human rights record was simply one of the smoke-screens (along with WMD and alledged Al-Qaeda ties) used to justify the invasion. Our goal was always to turn Iraq into a friendly, oil producing Satrapy or protectorate, which is why the Bush administration is pushing ahead with plans to build 14 permananent bases there.

  25. Note 68

    I am shocked that your first reaction is to pick up a political angle on the mass graves report. My note addressed the supposed problem that Bush wasn’t looking at the world through the correct theological lenses, and so consequently, when Bush used the term “evil” his definition of evil might not be correct in theological terms. This is an overly academic and I might say cowardly response. Hence my comment that we did not need to consult the Orthodox Fathers to conclude that the murder of children was evil. The point of my note was that under any respectable theological system killing children was evil.

    Bush made a major foreign policy speech while in Britain in which he denounced the former practice of condoning brutal Middle Eastern dictators by conducting “business as usual” with them diplomatically. Consequently, he didn’t conduct “business as usual” with Saddam, he confronted him.

    American can’t win. If it challenges brutal dictators, it is criticized as unilateralist, interventionist, and neo-colonialist. If it conducts diplomatic “business as usual” with the brutal dictators who control more than 100 of the world’s 180 countries then supposedly we lose the moral stature to criticize the human rights record of anyone.

    As I remember Dean you were all for conducting “business as usual” and dropping economic sanctionswith Castro hoping that if we were nice to him he might decide to let the free speech dissidents out of his prisons. Keeping in mind that all money going to Cubas flows through Castro first, I stated that I didn’t think it would benefit the Cuban people that it would just strengthen Castro. You were willing to take that risk. America was supposedly wrong for maintaining an embargo.

    I would welcome some criticism for France, Germany, China and Russia who made billions off the Iraqi people. Are you willing to concede that just maybe the objections voiced by those governments were not principled but were the result of bribery and greed? Weren’t those nations guilty of “doing business as usual” with Saddam knowing full well what the state of his people were. I would welcome some recognition from the Left that just perhaps the governments of Europe are not uniformly composed of Saints.

  26. Note 68

    Let me see, America is morally implicated in the murder of children by Saddam Hussein because America did business with Saddam Hussein at the time the children were murdered. I will assume for the sake of argument that these particular children were murdered during a period in which the United States had diplomatic relations with Saddam Hussein.

    But, according to Dean, even though collaborating with Saddam Hussein tars the United States with his crimes, REMOVING Saddam Hussein and stopping the commission of his crimes, which affected millions of people, is WRONG?

    How can both options be Wrong? If we didn’t invade and depose Saddam Hussein wouldn’t we be complicit in his crimes? The Dueffler report shows that Oil for Fraud gave Saddam more power, it also shows that Saddam was succeeding in his goal to achieve complete termination of sanctions and it lastly, shows that Saddam was ready to resume WMD efforts as soon as the sanctions were gone.

    Even if Saddam did not encourage or support the 9/11 hijackers, he gave asylum to Al-Zawquari after Al-Zawquari was evicted from Afghanistan by the United States. This is open knowledge uncontested by anyone.

  27. Missourian: You ask a valid question: why was Saddam Hussein too evil to do business with but somehow not evil enough to justify our invasion to depose him?

    I would say that the manner in which we went about deposing Saddam Hussein is a large part of the problem. You think the end justifies the means, I do not.

    We constantly changed our rationale for war, we invented pretexts for war that were false and unsubstantiated, we lied to the American people and the United Nations, we didn’t take time to build a true international coalition that would have shared the burden more evenly, we didn’t secure the second UN resolution that Tony Blair thought necessary to confer legitamacy, we didn’t take care to minimize civilian casualties and collateral damage, we didn’t bring enough troops to secure the country after taking Baghdad, we didn’t have a plan for restoring order and stability to Iraq.

    Certainly far more Iraqi civilians were killed last year by the violence, lawlessness and instability that the Bush administration allowed to ensue than were killed by Saddam Hussein the year before our invasion.

    The fact that no stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction were uncovered, and that Charles Dueffler found that Iraq did not produce any after 1991 means that the sanctions worked. The small amount of corruption that occured did not justify an invasion, since that could have been corrected by simply changing and tightening up the program. The appropriate course of action was the maintenance of the policies of isolation, deterrence and containment that were already in place and steadily weakening Saddam Hussein, while continuing to quietly support internal Iraqi opposition. In due time Saddam would have fallen like a rotten, overipe piece of fruit from a tree.

  28. Daniel writes: “In Jim?s defense, if I have understood him correctly, he is not arguing what is evil or what is not evil. He is arguing that we should not base a foreign policy or, perhaps more specifically, the use of military force on the eradication of evil.”

    Yes, my argument exactly. And frankly, it’s not really my argument, but the argument of many, both liberals and traditional conservatives. In other words, this is not a “liberal” issue. I personally reject the use of “confronting evil” as a practical basis for foreign policy because because it’s too non-specific and open-ended. On a spiritual level I reject the rhetoric of “evilness” as it places us in the position of being international arbiters of good and evil. Saddam is indeed an evil man; his evil is well-known, and the depths of his evil may not be known for years. But when we go after him in the name of confronting evil, that in effect categorizes us as “good.”

    As kind of a simplistic example, I would note that a police officer arrests individuals because they are believed to have committed crimes, not because they are “evil” and the officer is “good,” even though that may in fact be true.

  29. Note 72

    A President has to operate on a number of different levels. First and foremost, the guidepost is the interests of the Nation which is his duty to protect at all times and under all circumstances. The President should have something close to a master plan which is based on sophisticated analyses of many types: economic, military, scientific, moral and so on. After the President formulates this plan or strategy he must persuade the American people to accept his leadership and support his strategy. When the President used terms like “evil” he meant to convey the nature of the problem to the general population. He meant the audience to understand that Islamofascists are beyond the bounds of any legitimate morality and that they will stop at nothing to achieve their goals. It is proper to use the term evil in this context, I think.

  30. A corrective to Jim’s post. He also is arguing that a criteria of “evilness” is what directs the Bush administration’s foreign policy. It doesn’t. In fact, the criteria does not exist as doctrine at all. He is subsuming all policy considerations under the rubric of “evil” when in fact charactering some regimes as evil (and correctly) so does not require or effect such subsumption.

  31. Missourian writes: “When the President used terms like ?evil? he meant to convey the nature of the problem to the general population. He meant the audience to understand that Islamofascists are beyond the bounds of any legitimate morality and that they will stop at nothing to achieve their goals. It is proper to use the term evil in this context, I think.”

    You know, I would like to believe that you are right. But I’m not sure that’s case. Take, for example, this snip from the 2002 State of the Union Address: “Evil is real, and it must be opposed.” Or from the West Point address: “We are in a conflict between good and evil, and America will call evil by its name . . . we will lead the world in opposing it.” From a Bush speech in Poland: “”We must confront evil when we find it.” Or this from Condoleeza Rice, Johns Hopkins University: “We must recognize that truly evil regimes will never be reformed. Such regimes must be confronted not coddled.”

    Here’s a problem — In Bush’s comments not only is Saddam evil, but WE are “good.” I think this is a very dangerous attitude for the leader of any country to have.

    Granted, not a smoking gun, but you see this kind of language all over the place. I’m not sure you could find a Bush speech the last couple of years that wasn’t sprinkled with such references. I think rhetoric such as this begins to take on a life of its own and that people no longer understand it merely as a way of emphasizing the threat. I say this because I see references to Saddam’s evilness increasingly used as a justification for the war.

  32. Note 75

    I am sorry Jim but I think your response is both a) hopelessly academic and out of touch with what is going on in the world and b) unfair to Bush.

    We are dealing with people who are willing to shoot children in the back, as in Beslan; in other instances we are dealing with people who are willing to shoot a child in the back of its head, as in Saddam’s Iraq. There is no fault in calling this evil. Don’t you understand that Bush is doing the very real job of rallying our courage? Don’t you understand that Europe prefers to appease rather than confront this evil? Is this anything that motivates you to action? At some point, one must act:not debate, not quibble, not qualify and condition. This is that time.

    It is simply unfair to Bush to allege that because Bush fairly and accurately calls evil behavior evil that one can conclude that he, Bush, thinks that he is purely good and that America is purely good. Evangelical Protestants are constantly taught the doctrine of human fallibility and imperfectability. His theology wouldn’t lead him to think that he or America is all good; quite the opposite.

  33. Second Comment Note 75

    Saddam’s evilness could well be a justification for war.

    The only objection to that rationale is practicality. We can’t take them all on. The world groans under the oppression of more than 90 gold plated despots. Good men and women are rotting in Castro’s jails becuase they want an open political life and a free press. Gosh, I wish we would invade Cuba. North Koreans are starving while South Koreans set records for industriousness and wealth production. Zimbabwe is a wealthy country which has literally been improverished by Robert Mugabe who can only be described as having lost his mind. Non-Wahhabi black Muslims and black Christians are being slaughtered and enslaved by the Wahhabist Sudanese government. Nigerian Christians are subject to attack and harassment by Muslims. Women in Kashmir who refuse to wear a veil are subject to acid attacks. The sad list goes on and on. I am proud that the military of my country deposed Saddam. I have no… none…. zero…. moral regret on that point.

    The planet we live on is not a debating society. The weak are trampled by the strong. I am proud that my country has liberated 100’s of millions of people, including the French, most of Eastern Europe though out resistance to the Soviet Empire, South Korea, and Afghanistan and Iraq to name a few.

  34. Missourian writes: “Don?t you understand that Bush is doing the very real job of rallying our courage? Don?t you understand that Europe prefers to appease rather than confront this evil? Is this anything that motivates you to action? At some point, one must act:not debate, not quibble, not qualify and condition. This is that time.”

    When you refer to “action,” you’re talking about invading and imposing a long-term military occupation on another country. There is a tremendous difference between winning a brief military conflict and occupying another country. This is an extremely difficult thing to do, and it puts a tremendous burden on the military resources of the country. Look, Iraq has a relatively small population and size, and we currently have probably about half of the troops on the ground that we should have had. Even so, we have had serious shortages of men, equipment, and materiel. Everyone knows the score: vehicles without armor, severe shortages of parts to the point that the combat effectiveness of some units was reduced, lack of body armor, and so on. In addition, soldiers are subject to stop loss orders and have to serve multiple tours on combat zones. Recruiting goals are not being met. Reserve and NG troops are essentially used as regular army, but with less training. Worse, in the event that some other conflict breaks out, the U.S. would be hard-pressed to meet it. When units are pulled back to the U.S. it can take a year to refit and retrain them. And all of this is in addition to the tremendous expense of the war. The opportunity cost of the war — what we could have done with the resources had we not gone to Iraq — is rarely discussed. (Saddam is evil, but dying of an easily-preventable disease is also evil. Imagine what kind of worldwide immunization program you could buy for $200 billion. You could dig hundreds of thousands of fresh water wells around the world. The list goes on and on.)

    The only possible rationale for all of this has to be related to national security, and “confronting evil” is not a substitute for that, nor is “liberating” the Iraqi people. While I’m sure Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz are not sitting around thinking about confronting evil, as the various rationales for the war have vanished the war has been increasingly sold to the American people on the basis of confronting evil.

    Missourian: “Evangelical Protestants are constantly taught the doctrine of human fallibility and imperfectability. His theology wouldn?t lead him to think that he or America is all good; quite the opposite.”

    Evangelical protestants tend to look at theological issues from a position of certainty. Lack of certainty is seen as unbelief. Black and white views are seen as strong; nuanced views are seen as weak. Humans may be fallible, but Bible-believing Christians have access to the infallibility of God. For evangelical protestants, the most important thing is the personal relationship with Jesus. Jesus literally tells them what to do moment by moment. For many evangelicals, the two things that are not fallible are God and their beliefs about God. Thus, many of these people operate from a position of certainty that is not necessarily related to any facts, is not necessarily consistent with any theological or philosophical tradition, and is largely based on a subjective feeling of certainty.

    Take, for example, this exchange between Pat Robertson and President Bush on the war in Iraq, reported today on CNN:

    “He [Robertson] described Bush in the meeting as ‘the most self-assured man I’ve ever met in my life. . . . ‘And I [Robertson] warned him about this war. I had deep misgivings about this war, deep misgivings. And I was trying to say, ‘Mr. President, you had better prepare the American people for casualties.’ Robertson said the president then told him, ‘Oh, no, we’re not going to have any casualties.’ . . . I mean, the Lord told me it was going to be A, a disaster, and B, messy,’ Robertson said. ‘I warned him about casualties.'”
    http://www.cnn.com/2004/ALLPOLITICS/10/19/robertson.bush.iraq/index.html

    Remember, this is not from a Michael Moore documentary. This is actually what Pat Robertson reported about his conversation with the president!

    So here you have two guys with conflicting views, but both operating out of positions of certainty. Note that “The Lord” speaks directly to Robertson about the issue of casualties. Casualties? Not going to be any, Bush replies. I’m not kidding you, this is how these people think. [Imagine if any other president had dismissed the idea of wartime casualties so easily. With anyone else we would be so shocked so as to conclude that the fellow was unfit for office. With Bush it’s just par for the course, and no one even thinks anything about it.]

    Missourian: “Saddam?s evilness could well be a justification for war. The only objection to that rationale is practicality.”

    A more fundamental objection is how the U.S. military is used. The one thing missing in this discussion so far is the soldier. Soldiers sign up to defend the country, and they put themselves at risk for that. They don’t sign up to potentially be killed, wounded, or maimed so that some guy in Cuba can vote. At least they didn’t used to.

  35. By the way, if there is any doubt at all about how Bush makes decisions out of a feeling of religious certainly, then read Ron Suskind’s recent article in the NY Times. A few excerpts:

    “‘Just in the past few months,’ Bartlett said, ‘I think a light has gone off for people who’ve spent time up close to Bush: that this instinct he’s always talking about is this sort of weird, Messianic idea of what he thinks God has told him to do.'” — Bruce Bartlett, a domestic policy adviser to Ronald Reagan and a treasury official for the first President Bush

    “‘This is why he dispenses with people who confront him with inconvenient facts,’ Bartlett went on to say. ‘He truly believes he’s on a mission from God. Absolute faith like that overwhelms a need for analysis.'”

    “[A] senator was, in fact, hearing what Bush’s top deputies — from cabinet members like Paul O’Neill, Christine Todd Whitman and Colin Powell to generals fighting in Iraq — have been told for years when they requested explanations for many of the president’s decisions, policies that often seemed to collide with accepted facts. The president would say that he relied on his ”gut” or his ”instinct” to guide the ship of state, and then he ”prayed over it.”

    “The disdainful smirks and grimaces that many viewers were surprised to see in the first presidential debate are familiar expressions to those in the administration or in Congress who have simply asked the president to explain his positions. Since 9/11, those requests have grown scarce; Bush’s intolerance of doubters has, if anything, increased, and few dare to question him now. A writ of infallibility — a premise beneath the powerful Bushian certainty that has, in many ways, moved mountains — is not just for public consumption: it has guided the inner life of the White House.”

    http://www.nytimes.com/2004/10/17/magazine/17BUSH.html?pagewanted=1&adxnnl=0&oref=login&adxnnlx=1098281526-1T2oEDg2KCZVzHxOGDXmvA

  36. Note 78

    Jim

    You seem to be a well-intentioned and intelligent man. You want foreign policy to be made in a well-thought out manner, so do I. Your arguments are not without logic, but, ….. what can I say. You live in a bubble.

    After that I left the bubble of law school. I did a few criminal law cases. I saw what police and coroners see. I came face to face with what human beings are capable of. Come with me, my dear friend, I need only take you to the coroners office to bring you face to face with EVIL.

    The true depravity of humanity crosses cultural and socio-economic lines. One of the reasons that I give only limited weight to the “poverty causes crime” credo is that I have seem so many supposedly well-adjusted and successful people commit heinous crimes. TV doesn’t do EVIL justice. You may have watched many crime solver TV shows and you may think that you have some idea of the harm caused by criminals. You don’t. What TV doesn’t show is that every day the coroner and police see repeated evidence of human beings committing atrociously EVIL ACTS for the SHEER ENJOYMENT OF COMMITTING EVIL ACTS. It is happening here in the United States now, because it is the human condition. It is who we are.

    As to Evangelical Christians, I was raised as one. We are raised to be certain of some essential things. We are raised to be certain that Jesus is Lord and that Justice will come some day. We are raised to know that humans are totally fallible and only God is fully reliable. Was it Deitrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran minister, in Nazi Germany who was hanged because he defied the Nazis? Without certainty about core beliefs, no one can muster the courage to stand up to evil.

    This isn’t a seminar, it is a life and death struggle… At some point in everyone’s life, I believe that we will be called upon to take a stand for what we believe. At that time life will not permit us to stand on the sidelines as disspassionate observers. The day will come when we have to make decision… the day will come when we have to take a stand… and that will determine who we are and were we spend eternity. Bush is right, there is a epochal struggle between good and evil going on. Fallible and flaw ridden as we are, it is up to America to lead that struggle.

  37. Missourian: Is lying to the American people about the reasons for going to war ever justified? Even if the cause is just?

  38. Note 81

    This is a very old debate by now. Bush reported to the American people what George Tennant reported to him. Tennant’s conclusions matched those of other Western intelligence services. Saddam was able to keep the truth from even his closest advisors. Saddam kept up the charade for a variety of demented reasons which make sense to despotic fiends.

    The Dueffler report makes clear that Saddam had a plan in place to completely dismantle the restrictions of sanctions and that he was succeeding very well prior to the U.S. insistence that inspectors go back to Iraq.. It also makes clear that Saddam had various components of his WMD program ready to go as soon as he could get rid of the pesky sanctions.

    Our friend Al-Zawquari (spelling?) moved from Afghanistan to Iraq with Saddam’s spproval after Al-Zawquarti was driven from Afghanistan. Saddam clearly supported world-wide terror.

    Bush did not lie. It is irresponsible for you to asset that he did. You should save your allged righteous indignation for the governments of France, Germany, and China that took money from Saddam to block effective sanctions enforcement.

    The Clinton administration allowed the enemies of this country to metastisize to alarming proportions. Kerry would be worse than Clinton who at least has the excuse that he was preoccupied with his mistresses. Kerry would be a new Carter. If Kerry gets elected I will have to go get fitted for a burkha.

  39. Missourian: Your powers of denial and rationalization are formidable but I look upon them as a challenge. Now you are blaming George Tenet, who in October 2002 testified before Congress and continued to maintain aterward that Iraq was never an “imminent threat”. Source: “CIA denies claims that Iraq posed ‘imminent’ danger
    http://www.commondreams.org/headlines04/0206-01.htm)

    The Bush administration wasn’t the passive victim of bad intelligence – it was the instigator of bad intelligence. Former Secretary Paul O’Neill wrote in his autobiography “The Price of Loyalty” that president Bush sought a way to invade Iraq from the earliest days of his administration. (Source: “Bush Sought ?Way? To Invade Iraq” http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2004/01/09/60minutes/main592330.shtml.
    Former Counter-terrorism chief Richard Clarke wrote in his autobiographhy “Against All Enemies”, that in the days following September 11th President Bush sought to link Iraq to the attack and wanted to invade Iraq first. (Source: Ex-aide: Bush ignored terror threat” http://www.usatoday.com/news/washington/2004-03-20-clarke_x.htm)

    The fact is the Bush administration exerted extreme pressure on the intellegence community to uncover information unfavorable to Iraq and then “cherry-picked” the intellegence provided while suppressing the caveats and qualifications that went with them in order to produce the most damning case. ( Source: THE STOVEPIPE
    by SEYMOUR M. HERSH “How conflicts between the Bush Administration and the intelligence community marred the reporting on Iraq?s weapons.” http://www.newyorker.com/fact/content/?031027fa_fact)

    Hersh writes:”Kenneth Pollack, a former National Security Council expert on Iraq, whose book ?The Threatening Storm? generally supported the use of force to remove Saddam Hussein, told me that what the Bush people did was ?dismantle the existing filtering process that for fifty years had been preventing the policymakers from getting bad information. They created stovepipes to get the information they wanted directly to the top leadership. Their position is that the professional bureaucracy is deliberately and maliciously keeping information from them.

    …In the view of many C.I.A. analysts and operatives, the director was too eager to endear himself to the Administration hawks and improve his standing with the President and the Vice-President. Senior C.I.A. analysts dealing with Iraq were constantly being urged by the Vice-President’s office to provide worst-case assessments on Iraqi weapons issues. ‘They got pounded on, day after day,’ one senior Bush Administration official told me, and received no consistent backup from Tenet and his senior staff. ‘Pretty soon you say ‘F.. it.’ And they began to provide the intelligence that was wanted.”

    This shows that the Bush administration rigged the system and pressured analysts responsible for evaluating intelligence to get the result they desired from the start. Deliberately distorting facts is the same as lying. A democracy is in serious trouble when citizens like the many Bush apologists accept lying from our leaders about the reasons for going to war as standard operating procedure.

  40. I see at least three versions of George Bush floating in and out of all of these posts and throughout America. Which one is viewed as the most accurate will likely determine the choice one makes in the voting booth.

    #1: George Bush is a megalomaniacal imperialist who seeks world hegemony for himself and his billionaire oil friends. As such, he is willing to promote and engage in wars for that purpose. He is equally willing to use any means necessary to obtain the political support needed to carrying out his purpose.

    #2. George Bush is a God ordained defender of truth, justice, and freedom, who through the strength of his inspired leadership and the power of the United States will bring about a new world order founded on equality, free will, democratic choice, and mutual respect.

    #3. George Bush is a greatly flawed politician who honestly seeks the best for his country and takes his responsibility to defend it as his primary duty. He is a person who is willing to stand for what he believes to be true and commit the United States and our resources to the task of defending our liberty and promoting freedom around the world as the best assurance of worldly peace.

    Of course there could be a lot of other possibilities and I would be interested in any comments.

  41. Note 83

    Burden of proof…. even more important than….attitude.

    Remember, Dean, the basic logical framework.

    As part of the 1991 cease fire Saddam admitted possession of a specific quantities of a variety of WMD. Saddam promised to allow inspectors to MONITOR WMD DESTRUCTION. He allowed outsiders to monitor the destruction of SOME BUT NOT ALL of his WMD. Hence one is justified in concluding that he possessed WMD. Note, I think it has been shipped to Syria during the delay generated by Saddams bribed partners on the Security Council. It was NOT THE JOB OF THE WEST to PROVE SADDAM has WMD. It was Saddam’s job to allow inspectors to document and confirm WMD destruction.

    Hersh is one tired, old political hack. Paul O’Neil has no credentials in national security he is a career financier. (Nothing against financiers, although warning to Dean, he may be “obscenely rich.”)

    There were formidable barriers to the free flow of information. Jamie Gorelick, a Clinton minion, severely harmed the interests of the United Statess when she restricted the flow of information betweeen the CIA and the FBI. I believe that
    100 years from now, she will be known as the Mother of September 11, 2004.

    Note, the reason I am so energetic in my arguments is that I formerly was a liberal democrat. I have also spent more than a decade in academia. I am able to compare the reality of the world outside academia with the Marxist fever dreams which pass for scholarship inside academia. Need to get out more DeAN. Spend 6 months working for a small business and learn where wealth comes from. Remember some poor slob has to generate that wealth that you are itching to redistribute by force of government.

  42. Note 83

    If Saddam had a) nothing to hide OR b) no plans to restart WMD programs after sanctions were lifted….

    Why did he bother to bribe Kofi Annan’s son and people close to Chirac? Why spend all those billions?

  43. The intelligence failure was due to systematic dismantling of our intelligence apparatus during the Clinton administration. Historian will write about this in the next few years.

    Also, it still remains to be seen what was shipped to Syria before the war began.

    Missourian is also correct in characterizations of Hersh and O’Neil.

  44. Father Jacobse: One of our most useful and loving of all Christian concepts in the concept of forgiveness. Forgiving others allows us to repair our relationships with other people so that they are will not be poisoned by emnity and a desire for retribution. Seeking forgiveness from God, and others, allows us to acknowlege our errors, express remorse, learn from our mistakes and move on with our lives.

    The neccesary components of forgiveness however are the acknowlegement of one’s error(s) and an indication that one regrets their mistake and has learned from the experience. The other person’s acknowlegement of error makes it easier for us to forgive them, while the absence of such an acknowlegement makes it more difficult. Imagine your skepticism and disbelief if I said to you during confession “No Father, I really can’t think of any mistakes I’ve made. Yes, there have been problems but they are all the fault of my predecessor.”

    I experience the same feeling of skepticism and disbelief every time I hear Preident Bush say that he can’t think of any mistakes he has ever made, none at all, despite the repeated terror warnings he ignored before September 11th, despite the faulty and incorrect intelligence used to justify the invasion of Iraq, despite the huge budget deficits created by his tax cuts, despite the botched occupation that has allowed anarchy and violence to prevail in Iraq, and despite the net loss of one million American jobs.

    Even President Clinton admitted errors while in office. In his “Era of Big Government is over” speech Clinton admitted that perhaps he had raised taxes too much. Later of course, Clinton apologized for lying about his affair with Monica Lewinsky.

    President Bush, on the other hand, wearing an arrogant smirk on his face, refuses to apologize for anything. When called to account for errors, he casts the blame on every other person but himself. This is not the way a Christian should behave, which is why I cringe when I read your comments joining in this chorus of blame-shifters, still seeking to protect George W. Bush, now a grown man in his fifties from any responsibility or accountability for his actions.

    Your comment that President Clinton is responsible for the flawed intelligence used to justify the war in Iraq is totally outrageous and without basis in fact. If you have one shred of evidence to substantiate this absurd claim I implore you to produce it.

  45. Note 88

    Dean, Puleezze. This one takes the cake. My 8 year old nephew knows that the demand that Bush admit his “mistakes” is nothing but a rhetorical trap. Should the President be so foolish to admit any form of mistake, the Dems would tear him to shreds over it.

    The Duefler report affirms the wisdom of deposing Saddam. Saddam had kicked out the inspectors before he had met his obligation to account for his weapons. By doing so, Saddam defeated the “international community” by demonstrating to the entire world that the “international community” was impotent and/or corrupt.

    Secondly, Bush’s actions are to be judged by the standards of a leader of a great struggle, an epochal struggle, not the standards of a private confessional interchange between a parishioner and a confessor.

  46. Note 88

    Let’s aahsk Kerry about his mistakes. I have a few suggested answers.

    A) Promoting the idea that we “caahn’t fight Communism all over the weirld.” Translation “We (America) can’t fight Communism all over the world.” 1971 testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

    B) Failing to stop and report the “war crimes” he claimed he observed.

    C) Failing to disclose his true military record by signing Form 180

    D) Asking the Roman Catholic Church to annul his first marriage, effectively
    delegitimizing his daughers.

    E)Meeting with the enemy in secret meetings in Paris in violation of the Lanham Act.

    F) Becoming the American mouthpiece of enemy propaganda for political gain.

    G) Publishing a book with a cover mocking the Iwo Jima flag raising by showing hippies in the uniform of the United States Armed Forces raising an upside down American flag.

    H) Being the single person who is most directly responsible for the contempt heaped on Viet Nam veterans as a result of his campaign of relentless calumny against his fellow soldiers and his county.

    I) Fabricating some bizarre story about Christmas in Cambodia which his campaign staff and
    official biographer now admits was false.

    J) Providing the Vietnamese with a basis for executing American prisoners of war as war criminals.

    I believe Dante has a place in Hades for those who betray their country. Just a literary observation. I would be willing to forgive Kerry as a person, but, not as a political candidate.

  47. Dean, thanks for the sermon but Bush is too shrewd to fall for “error trap.” The indignation driving it gets old too. Everyone sees through it.

  48. The problem with the Bush administration is not a failure to admit mistakes, but an intentional mishandling and shaping of intelligence. This has been documented so many times and from so many angles that I will spare you the details here. A related problem was an intentional rejection of intelligence and advice that suggested that the occupation of Iraq would be less than easy and cheap.

    The Bush administration has a problem with reality. This is best illustrated through the comments that a senior advisor to President Bush made to reported Ron Suskind:

    “The aide said that guys like me were ”in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who ”believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ”That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. ”We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.””
    http://www.nytimes.com/2004/10/17/magazine/17BUSH.html?pagewanted=6&adxnnl=0&oref=login&adxnnlx=1098281526-1T2oEDg2KCZVzHxOGDXmvA

    Who needs facts when you create reality?

    Concening Kerry’s opposition to the Vietnam war — his efforts were based on his own observations and on the observations that were reported to him by others. His critique was based on his best understanding of the reality on the ground.

    Concerning his remarks about Cambodia, I think it is entirely possible that he was mistaken about where exactly he was, and when. You may have noticed that actual landscapes do not have borders painted on them, and in the pre-GPS world it was entirely possible not to know exactly where you were. It may be that Kerry got mixed up on times and places. It may even be that Kerry exaggerated. But at least he was in the country. We know that during this time the U.S. ran clandestine operations into Cambodia, so his story is not impossible.

    Be that as it may, compare that to what George Bush was doing around that time. After being instantly placed in the Texas ANG, skipping over an 18 month waiting list, he received a million dollars worth of flight training, refused to take a mandatory flight physical, and effectively abandoned his military service. It appears that he did something on a campaign in Alabama, but it is difficult to know what. Recent reports indicate that spent a lot of time getting drunk in bars and pissing in parking lots. He had a history of substance abuse, was arrested in 1976 at least once for drunk driving (with his underage sister in the car), subsequently lied that he had not been arrested after 1968, refused to answer questions about other drug abuse, refused to fill out certain sections related to prior arrests on an official form related to jury duty, and actually had his driver’s license number changed, apparently in an attempt to hide his prior record.

    As a politician Bush, working with people such as Rove, has participated in the worst kind of smear and disinformation campaigns, untroubled by the vile lies used to undermine even his Republican opponents.

    It’s charming that religious people feel a tremendous loyalty to such a scoundrel, but future generations will rightly look upon the Bush administration with contempt, and will marvel at how large portions of the Church could have gone so off track.

  49. Note 92

    Bush was the first American President to recognize the reality that Arafat was an intentional obstacle to peace. Regardless of the content of the Camp David Israeli peace offer, Arafat never made a counteroffer. Why? Because there was a good change that the United States would pressure Israel to accept it.

    Reality is recognizing that Western Civilization is under renewed attack from one of its oldest enemies. Islamic Jihadis.

  50. Note 92

    Kerry is the primary reason that American troops were met with disrespect and insults when they returned home. If you see a yellow ribbon with the words “Support our Troops.” It is because Americans do not want our military treated in the manner that John Kerry made sure our military was treated after Viet Nam. He is the primary war crime propagandist.

    We agree that Kerry accused American soldiers of war crimes. He did this is the largest venue he could find, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1971. He sought out that venue to spread the claim aas far and wide as he could.

    What was the basis of his claim? He could learn of war crimes from one of two sources: his own direct observation OR someone whose testimony he trusted and was willing to pass on as truth and have entered in the Congressional Record for virtual eternity.

    If he directly observed war crimes he had a moral and legal duty to report those crimes. He never did. This alone maked all of his testimony suspect. If he relied on the Winter Soldier events he had a duty to thoroughly review the supporting facts before he passed them on as truth, before he gave his own credibility to those claims. The Winter Soldier event has been thoroughly discredited, Kerry, however, has never apologized for passing on false and wildly defamatory information. Why? Kerry is the original source of the false and wildly information. It was part of his collaboration with the enemy goal of demoralizing American and its military. To do this he met with the enemy in a time of war against the express prohibition of the Lanham act. A crime for which he has never been prosecuted.

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