Tuesday, October 12, 2004

The Presidential Election and the War in Iraq

That's why there isn't a churchgoer in America who doesn't know which candidate his pastor wants him or her to vote for.
E. J. Montini, in today's Arizona Republic

There must be a few who don't know, as I still don't know which candidate, if any, will get my vote! I must admit that I am somewhat intrigued by some of the arguments advanced by Mr. George Soros, especially when he says,
If we re-elect him (that is, President Bush) now, we endorse the Bush doctrine of preemptive action and the invasion of Iraq, and we will have to live with the consequences.

It's probably a mark of a terrible pride on my part to quote myself here, but I want to use a part of my sermon from Sunday as a part of this "internal conversation in your midst" as I wrestle with the decision about my vote for the presidency. The text was from the Gospel according to St. Luke, and was centered on our Lord's commandment, "Love your enemies." Here's part of what I said:
I don’t know how this works itself out on the world stage. I don’t know if it is possible for a nation to act in this way. And yet I can’t help but wonder how the world might have been changed if, after the terrorist attacks of 9-11, we had responded, after remembering and honoring and burying our dead, we had coolly, calmly, set about rebuilding that which the terrorists had destroyed, not striking back by declaring a war in which force meets force; but by saying, in words and deeds, “You cannot defeat us. No matter what you do, you shall not change our way of life. We shall prevail, and you shall not stop us.”

It's hard for us to imagine the "shape" of a "war on terror." Mr. Soros believes that American military action in Afghanistan was justified, as it was the base of operations for al-Qaeda. In another way, it was, and is, a questionable action: a sovereign country not at war with us was invaded by the United States. Part of not imagining the "shape" of a war on terror begins here: in a world so linked together by means of communications and commerce, are there still places in the world that are so "wild 'n' wooly" that a band of terrorists can operate openly, regardless of what the government (however nominal) might think? Was Afghanistan so wracked by its war with the Soviet Union, and ensuing civil war, that the Taliban was powerless to act to expel al-Qaeda? Or was there a tacit understanding between them, thereby making the Taliban complicit in the terrorist acts of al-Qaeda? Our military "intervention" there was certainly understandable; but is it justifiable?

In part, the liberty taken to invade Afghanistan set the stage for the American violation of the sovereignty of Iraq as well. The operating paradigm now seems to be, if we find it necessary to take action against a state, either because of what that state has done, is doing, or may one day do, or because of a group that is operating against our interests within the boundaries of that state, we will respond in whatever way, and at whatever level of force, diplomatic, economic, or military, we deem necessary and/or appropriate. In defense of President Bush, I will say that he did, prior to the attacks of September 11, 2001, identify Iraq as part of an "axis of evil"; and few people questioned at the time the existence of the now-infamous "weapons of mass destruction" in Iraq. Those who had followed the news reports over time knew that Saddam Hussein had used chemical and biological weapons in the war with Iran, and against the Kurds in Iraq; and had threatened to use them during the first Gulf War, following his invasion of Kuwait. However, this does not mean that the American invasion of Iraq is justified; and the argument that the wrold (including Iraq) is now better off because Saddam Hussein has been removed from power doesn't change the fact that the ostensible reasons for acting with our military power were unjustified, then and now. I'm glad that this tyrant is gone from power, and I hope that the Iraqi people will be able to establish a peaceful and prosperous life for themselves. But we've soiled our national honor by the use of military force.

Of course, this misuse of power against sovereign nations did not begin with President Bush. The NATO bombing of Serbia, undertaken at the direction of President Clinton, was a similar violation of a sovereign state by our military presence and power, as we sought to intervene to direct a conflict to an outcome we desired. I had then, as I have now, a sense that part of the flexing of our military "muscles" is due to the fact that there is no one nation at present with the capability and the will to interpose itself in such a way as to restrain our actions. That era ended with the disappearance of the Soviet Union; and a glimpse towards the horizon doesn't show that China, or any particular bloc, is positioning itself to be the counterweight to American actions. It pains me to say this, but we, as a nation on theinternational stage, seem to have become the schoolyard bully, threatening those we can intimdate, and beating those who resist, bringing about both their capitulation and sending a message to others, "You'd better do what I want, or this will happen to you." We'd like to see ourselves as the helpers of those in need around the world: the down-trodden and enslaved, the suffering, the poor; but, even as we do these charitable acts, it becomes less and less difficult to imagine as well the extension of an American hegemony into a new world empire.

All of this is "in play" as we move inexorably to Election Day. There is no doubt that President Bush, if re-elected, will continue on the course he has followed since 9-11. It sounds bizarre to say it, but this is a part of the reason why I say I can trust him, where I do not think I could ever trust Sen. Kerry. I do not agree with the President in this action; but I do trust him. As I've said before, I do wish we had more of a choice this November... Anyway, if we define matters as, "A vote for Bush-Cheney is a vote to continue an unjustifiable use of American military power, including the on-going war in Iraq," I cannot say that I can vote for the re-election of President Bush. But I feel even less safe contemplating the shape of the world with a Kerry presidency; and for this reason (and many other reasons as well), I cannot (and will not) vote Kerry-Edwards. In one way, I can't wait for this election to be over...

Oh, and, with a nod to Mr. Montini: My endorsement of a candidate is my opinion alone, and does not constitute a directive from me or from the church as to the candidate for whom you should cast your vote!