Thursday, December 21, 2006

God's Politics, Part Two

I don’t deserve Marco’s admiration. I am not, in the main, finding Jim’s book refreshing. In fact, I have stalled completely, since it is like reading porridge.

One of its features is inclusion of a great many fragments Jim wrote previously. To prove to you all that I am actually reading it, I should discuss one of them. The one that leapt out at me first is a ‘Six Point Plan’ for Iraq that Jim prepared with a number of other religious leaders in the US and UK in February/March 2003. Interestingly, this appears in two versions: one that mostly makes sense (pp.51-52), and an edited-down version sent to Tony Blair that makes much less sense (p.54).

Point one, version one:

1. Remove Hussein and the Baath party from power. The Bush administration and the antiwar movement are agreed on one thing- Hussein is a brutal and dangerous dictator. Virtually nobody has any sympathy with him, either in the West or in the Arab world, but everybody has great sympathy for the Iraqi people, who have already suffered greatly from war, a decade of sanctions and the corrupt and violent regime of Hussein. So let’s separate Hussein from the Iraqi people. Target him, but protect them.

[This preamble to point 1 is eminently sensible, and suggests a made-for-cinema-release war plan. I can envision a Jean-Claude van Damme-led special ops team seizing control of television stations and the presidential palace in a demonstration of ‘V for Vendetta’-style regime change. This would have been a good idea, I think. But this does not seem to be what Jim and company have in mind. How do they suggest that Hussein be targetted?]

As urged by Human Rights Watch and others, the Security Council should establish an international tribunal to indict Hussein and his top officials for war crimes and crimes against humanity. This would send a clear signal to the world that he has no future. It would set into motion both internal and external forces that might remove him from power. It would make clear that no solution to this conflict will include Hussein or his supporters staying in power. Morton Halperin has pointed out: ‘As we have seen in Yugoslavia and Rwanda, such tribunals can discredit and even destroy criminal regimes.’
[‘set into motion both internal and external forces that might remove him from power’. What does this mean? Presumably, since it isn’t a very Christian sentiment, Jim doesn’t mean ‘we hope those coloured folks will get rid of Saddam while all our boys stay at home.’ But really, what else is this plan going to mean in practice? Indicting Slobodan Milosevic was part of a plan that also involved invading his country with a dubious Coalition of the Willing, and the Rwandan genocide architects were only indicted after a ruthless Tutsi rebel leader and his band of ruthless Tutsi rebels had kicked them out of power. An indictment would have been a nice gesture, but for it to amount to something it has to be bundled with something else.
There is this understandable current of thought that if the Iraqi people had risen up and overthrown Saddam Hussein, that would have been good; but having somebody else overthrow him is bad. I can sympathise with this point of view, but it a view that is largely alien to the Judaeo-Christian-Islamic tradition. There aren’t any psalms full of exhortations for the Israelites to rise up against their oppressors; there are lots pining for the coming of a Righteous Ruler who will show their oppressors what for. (NB: You should check this for yourselves, since I haven’t re-read the Psalms for a couple of years and may be talking through my hat) In a similar vein, you will see in St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica that the first criterion for a just war is that it be waged by a lawfully constituted authority of some kind. The Pope tried abandoning this principle once, and exhorted the English to rise against Queen Elizabeth, but had his fingers burned so badly that his successors have never tried it again, not against Stalin, not against Hitler. Much as I, too, am in thrall to the romantic vision of brave rebels overthrowing the bad guys, the weight of Judaeo-Christian tradition is in favour of the Good King riding in to cast them down.]

In the letter to Tony Blair, the preamble is ditched, and the amble is made more specific:

1. Indict Saddam Hussein for his crimes against humanity and send a clear signal that he has no future in Iraq, setting into motion the internal and external forces that could remove him from power and bring him to trial at the International Court in The Hague. History has shown, as with Slobodan Milosevic, that this can help bring down a criminal regime.

[They have cut the Rwandan reference, probably seeing that it had some problems. On the other hand, by specifying the International Court at The Hague they have guaranteed that their point will be ignored. A Republican administration might have gone for a one-off tribunal to indict Saddam, but the International Court of Justice is one of those button-pushing things: they don’t want to hand over any sovereignty to permanent institutions of the United Nations, nor give them any more legitimacy than they have to. Everybody knows that.]

Point two, version one:

2. Pursue coercive disarmament. Removing Hussein must be coupled with greatly intensified inspections. This would mean not just more inspections but inspections conducted more aggressively and on a much broader scale. The existing U.S. military deployment should be restructured as a multinational force with a U.N. mandate to support and enforce inspections. The force would accompany inspectors to conduct extremely intrusive inspections, retaliate against any interference and destroy any weapons of mass destruction it found. There should be unrestricted use of spy planes and extended no-fly and no-drive zones.

[Would a mandate like this have been forthcoming? I don’t think so. If such a mandate was forthcoming, would Saddam have complied with it? I don’t think so. What possible incentive for co-operation with the U.N. does he have if we have already signalled he has ‘no future’ in Iraq? We can dream, but any such resolution would have to specify what the U.N. would do if Saddam didn’t comply: and the only credible thing it could say was, ‘we’ll come in and do it whether you like it or not.’ I think the hope of getting a mandate like Jim describes, with the coda that is needed to make it believable, was why GWB went down the U.N. route in the first place. By working with the U.N. to try to get it to enforce its resolutions, which were all about weapons of mass destruction, he only handed his critics this big stick to hit him with, labelled ‘Bush Lied about Weapons of Mass Destruction, Boo, Hiss.’ But I am digressing.]

Point two for Tony:

2. Pursue coercive disarmament with greatly intensified inspections based by a U.N. mandated multinational force.

[The loss of the detail given in the first version effectively emasculates this point, I think.]

Point three, version one:

3. Foster a democratic Iraq. The United Nations should begin immediately to plan for a post-Hussein Iraq, administered temporarily by the United Nations and backed by an international armed force, rather than a U.S. military occupation. An American Viceroy in an occupied Iraq is the wrong solution. An internationally directed post-Hussein administration could assist Iraqis in initiating a constitutional process leading to democratic elections.

[Hang on: if ‘internal and external forces’ bring down Saddam, surely they are going to have their own ideas about running the country. This is clearly not a ‘Six Point Plan’, but a series of ‘If than else’ points: ‘If point 1 doesn’t work, and either point 2 leads to the regime falling when the multinational force is present, or point 2 fails and the Americans move on to point 2a, then we go to point 3...’
Besides this quibble I only have a rhetorical question: is a democratic Iraq more likely to be fostered by an unelected regime that is composed of people who are, when they are at home, practitioners of democracy themselves, or an unelected regime composed of people appointed by a committee including Libya, China, Sudan, Woy Woy, etc.?]

Point three for Tony:

3. Foster a democratic Iraq through a temporary post-Hussein U.N. administration, rather than a U.S. military occupation.

[Which looks even more ‘if-than-else’-ish in the executive summary version.]

Point four, version one:

4. Organise a massive humanitarian relief for the people of Iraq now. Rather than waiting until after a war, U.N. and nongovernmental relief agencies should significantly expand efforts to provide food, medical supplies and other humanitarian assistance to the Iraqi people now. Focusing on the suffering of the Iraqi people, and immediately trying to relieve it, will further help to protect them from being the unintended targets of war. It would also help to further isolate Hussein from the Iraqi public by contrasting the world’s humanitarian concern with his indifference to his own people.

[This is the sort of thing one would hope would be part of any plan, though if Hussein was in power there is no practical way relief could be provided in such a way as to make him seem other than the benevolent father of his people. This point serves as a reminder that we always worry about catastrophes that don’t happen, and don’t see the ones that do happen coming...]

Point four for Tony:

4. Organise a massive humanitarian relief for the people of Iraq now, rather than only after a war.

[Now, Jim and company veer off to consider points that are only feebly connected to the other four.]

Finally, to ensure a lasting peace in that troubled region, two other points are necessary:

5. First, we should recommit to a ‘road map’ to peace in the Middle East. The United States, Britain, and other European Union nations must address a root cause of Mideast conflict with a peace plan resulting in a two-state solution to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians by 2005, structured to include meaningful deadlines enforced by the international community.
[What will ‘enforced by the international community’ mean? An invasion of Israel? If you could get the U.N. to agree to a resolution approving the invasion of just one country, I suppose that would be it. I don’t see how either side could be made to accept terms they consider grossly unfair except by overwhelming force.
I think it is hubristic in the extreme to suppose that anyone can come in and simply impose a peace plan on Israel/Palestine. And as far as putting effort in to negotiate a diplomatic solution, I can’t imagine anybody putting more serious, sincere effort in than Bill Clinton did. He tried really hard, and it didn’t work. The only thing he didn’t do- because he is basically sane, and decent- is join the U.N. orthodoxy of reflexively condemning Israel for everything. Is this what Jim wants? Would this point of the plan be satisfied if the U.S. were to vote for all the ritualistic anti-Israel resolutions, even if this didn’t – as it wouldn’t- bring us one step closer to a resolution of the conflict?
It is only fair to point out that Israel was the first, and as far as I know, the only state established by a U.N. resolution.]

Point five for Tony:

5. Commit to implement the ‘roadmap’ to peace in the Middle East, with a clear timetable toward a two-state solution that guarantees a Palestinian state and a secure Israel by 2005.

[The little introductory sentence is gone. This point is now just lumped in with the other points! Note that the sensible phrasing ‘a root cause’ which provided a vague link to the first four points has vanished. Note also that the reasonable ‘a roadmap’- committing us to some plan - has been replaced by ‘the roadmap’, commiting us to one particular plan that had already fallen by the wayside by 2003. The ambiguous ‘enforced by the international community’ is gone, but the equally impractical ‘guarantees’ has appeared. It is hubris, again, to say the international community can ‘guarantee’ a good outcome.]

Point six, version 1:

6. Second, we should refocus the world’s energies on the greatest threat it faces- networks of suicidal terrorists. The international campaign against terrorism has succeeded in identifying and apprehending suspects, freezing financial assets and isolating terror networks. But it is danger of being disrupted, both by acrimony and by lack of attention, as the world focuses on the impending conflict with Iraq.

[Ping! (That is the hyperbole meter going off.) There is no supervillain poised to destroy all major Western capitals with weapons of mass destruction. ‘Networks of suicidal terrorists’ are only a symptom of the greatest threat the world faces, the ideological vacuum and general gormlessness at the heart of Western Civilisation (sic). Jim Wallis has failed to engage with the ‘draining the swamp’ metaphor:

‘Prime Minister, the greatest public health problem Southern Italy faces is malaria, which everyone knows is spread by mosquitoes. Our campaign against mosquitoes has succeeded in squashing billions of mosquitoes. But it is in danger of being disrupted, both by acrimony and by lack of attention, as your government focuses on draining the Campagna marshes...’

The networks of suicidal terrorists of which Jim speaks require only two things to flourish: (1) an ideology that leads them to despise the godless West, and (2) a belief that the West is not only despicable, but weak and vanquishable. So long as these two things persist, there will be an inexhaustible supply of terrorists, and all our stupid infringements of civil liberties will avail us naught. We cannot directly address the terrorist ideology, we can only affect their perception of us. ‘Draining the swamp’ hence means ‘stomping on leaders who have thumbed their noses at the U.S. and the U.N. since forever’. I recognise that this is a debatable argument, and might not be working out so well in practice, but the only thing that a war on ‘terror’ can really mean is a war on ‘the perception that we are gormless losers’.]

Point six for Tony:
Reinvigorate and sustain international cooperation the campaign against terrorism, rather than having it disrupted by a divisive war against Iraq that intelligence officials believe will likely lead to further attacks.

[I have just realised now after having written the thing that I have no real desire to rehash the invasion of Iraq again, so I should have kept looking for something else to write about from Jim’s book. Perhaps I should just quickly post something else, in a weaselly effort to avoid discussion of the weak points in my arguments...]


Marco said...

I don't know - Give me the porridge to read any day.

Nato said...

"There aren’t any psalms full of exhortations for the Israelites to rise up against their oppressors; there are lots pining for the coming of a Righteous Ruler who will show their oppressors what for. (NB: You should check this for yourselves, since I haven’t re-read the Psalms for a couple of years and may be talking through my hat)"

You are correct, with perhaps the exception of Psalm 137, where the identity of the "he" in verses 8-9 is not made clear (but given that God is normally clearly referred to as God, the conclusion is at very least strongly implied that humans are involved):

1 By the rivers of Babylon we sat
and wept when we remembered Zion.

2 There on the poplars we hung our

3 for there our captors asked us
for songs,our tormentors demanded
songs of joy;
they said,
"Sing us one of the songs of

4 How can we sing the songs of the
LORD while in a foreign land?

5 If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
may my right hand forget its
skill .

6 May my tongue cling to the roof
of my mouth if I do not remember
you,if I do not consider
Jerusalem my highest joy.

7 Remember, O LORD, what the
Edomites did on the day Jerusalem
"Tear it down," they cried,
"tear it down to its

8 O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to
destruction, happy is he who
repays you for what you have done
to us-

9 he who seizes your infants and
dashes them against the rocks.

Fairly graphic imagery.

If you want a reading list for getting the most out of the Psalms (and allowing them to get into you), I am happy to supply my top list.

It's amazing what a few sound hermenutic principles can do to one's reading of these poetic prayers. :-).

Nato said...

PS good on you for persisting with your perceived porridge.

I've read Wallis mainly as a critique of the sloppy fundamentalist right theology/theocracy view of the world.

Whether I agree with his personal recommendations (abbreviated or otherwise)to political leaders, I applaud anyone willing to point out the lack of emperor's clothing.

Dr. Clam said...

You know, I almost included a bit in my first post on 'God's Politics' that would have cited that Psalm. You might have noticed I trimmed all the biblical citations from Jim Wallis' introductory credo when i reproduced it, as I believe you can justify just about everything by selective ciation, e.g.:

We believe that heeding the Divine call to slay the historical oppressors of Israel in Mesopotamia is a moral issue. Has the candidate promised to kill every man, woman, and child in Iraq, down to the lizards? (Psalm 137:9)

Nato said...

Hermenuetics 101: anything, taken out of context, can be used to form a pretext :-)

Will attempt your reading list in the coming weeks (quid pro quo)!