The United States Should Stay Out of Syria

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Syria

No one can legitimately deny the brutality of the Assad regime in Syria. This is not atypical of many of the Middle Eastern states where ancient customs of absolute rule are slow to die. Some people, left and right, are calling for the United States to become involved in the Syrian conflict. This would be a mistake, even if it involves indirect help to the rebels.

The danger in any revolution, as George Orwell recognized in his book, Animal Farm, is that the end result of a revolution may be a government as repressive or even more repressive than the previous government. Are the Islamists who seem to be the majority of the rebels willing to set up a state that respects human rights? One would have to be naive to believe that. If the rebels win, Syria might get lucky and have a moderate Islamist government like the one in Turkey, if such governments can truly be called “moderate.” If the rebels are hard-line Islamists, then the state of the people in Syria may be worse than it would have been under Assad. One should be careful for what one wishes.

It is not in the national interest of the United States to become involved in the Syrian conflict. It may be in the national interests of Israel or Turkey to be involved, but the United States should allow the Syrians to fight their war and let the results be what they will be. Any military aid, or worse, sending special forces units (who may be there already–who knows?) or regular combat troops would be a disaster. The United States would gain little if anything and lose a great deal given the stress that the U.S. military is already under in Iraq and Afghanistan. Make no mistake about it, the “drawdowns” do not end U. S. military operations in those nations.

Corporations that make money off the welfare-warfare state will support intervening in Syria, but the unholy alliance between the United States government and large defense contractors helps the companies more than it helps the United States. Evangelical Christians, for all their good points, too often approach Middle Eastern politics thorugh the lens of a naive dispensationist premillenialist interpretation of the Book of Revelation. They strongly support American military intervention in the Middle East, believing that such is a part of prophecy being fulfilled.

Suppose the U.S. did get involved in Syria and a radical Islamist regime hostile to the United States was the result. The intervention would surely be said to cause more harm than good. War is a destructive force and often has unintended and bitter consequences that politicians do not invision from the safety of their air conditioned and heated offices. The United States should only go to war when the national interest is at stake. The claim of advocates of force that we would be fighting for human rights is a ruse since there are many countries with brutal dictators in which the United States does not intervene. The long tentacles of the Neoconservatives and war Democrats have slithered into the highest levels of U. S. foreign policy making. Congress needs to stand up to them and not fund unnecessary interventions into the internal battles of other countries. Both presidential candidates agree with the war party’s philosophy. That is unfortunate, for whatever the outcome of the November election, the United States will have a president who desires to continue the warfare/welfare state and its unnecessary interventions into disputes that are none of the United States’ business. If Israel or Turkey want to intervene in Syria–or Iran–that is their business. It is not our place to fight others’ battles for them.

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The United States and “Evil Enemy States”

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Deutsch: Philip George Zimbardo in Warschau, P...

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There has always been a strand of Puritanism in American thought that survives in part as a Manichean division between good and evil. Rather than seeing the United States as a mixture of good and evil, many Americans see it as “the good guy” in the world with no major faults. Individuals who disagree are labeled as “unpatriotic,” told to “go to Russia,” or are called “America-haters.” Although I do not deny that there are individuals and groups of people who hate their country, not every critic of American practices hates the United States. Nor is someone who points out that there is much good in countries considered to be enemies of the United States, such as Iran. Many Americans want an overpowering, evil enemy state because many Americans are more Manichean, believing in sharp lines between good and evil, than they are Christian. Christianity recognizes that no being created by God is totally evil–traditionally, since evil is a lack of good, and thus a lack of being, a totally evil being could not exist. If Americans of all stripes are honest with themselves, they will see that they are capable of great evil. Philip Zimbardo, the Stanford psychologist who ran the Stanford Prison Experiment, showed how “good” people can turn evil when they have great power (as prison guards) over others (in this case, students who played the “prisoner” role). He notes the power of situational factors that can lead to a good person torturing and even killing innocent human beings.

Reinhold Niebuhr recognized that groups are capable of great evil just as individuals are, and Zimbardo’s work showed this to be the case. Nation-states are groups of people, and in any group unethical practices can arise that lead to people doing things that are evil under group pressure. No nation is immune to this. Was the Soviet Union an “evil empire,” as President Reagan affirmed? I would say “Yes,” with the qualification that there was good even in the old Soviet Union, and evil in the United States of America. In the War between the States, Generals Sherman and Sheridan engaged in the first modern war (with Lincoln’s endorsement)–both these generals and President Lincoln believed that war should be engaged against the civilian population. The brutality with which federal troops put down the anti-draft riots in New York as well as Sherman’s March to the Sea are evidence of the results. The United States Army was brutal in the Philippines war in the early part of the twentieth century, mowing down men, women, and children. The United States Army Air Corps engaged in the saturation bombing of Tokyo in March 1945, and of course Hiroshima and Nagasaki were destroyed by atomic bombs. President Roosevelt placed thousands of Japanese-American citizens in internment camps. In the Vietnam War, the United States dropped more tonnage of bombs than it did in the whole of World War II. The atrocities and torture in Iraq and Afghanistan (and in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba) are well known–torture has not been totally eschewed as the official policy of the United States, and the U.S. still sends prisoners to other countries to be tortured. Civil liberties, from the genocide of the American Indians to the mistreatment of the Irish, the Chinese, and of African-Americans, have not been uniformly honored in the United States. Does this mean the United States is an evil country? I do not think it is as evil as a totalitarian society such as the old Soviet Union or China under Chairman Mao, but it does mean that the notion of the United States as the paragon of virtue and (during the Cold War) the Soviet Union as the epitome of evil is a Manichean view that does not reflect the good and evil mixture found in all nation-states.

President George W. Bush held a simplistic, Manichean view of the world that many Americans eagerly followed. Saddam’s Iraq was an evil state, and the good United States was obligated to attack the evil state (at first for the alleged but missing “weapons of mass destruction” and then to “save the Iraqi people from Saddam”). Americans’ hubris was expanded by its view that it was the hero country liberating the Iraqi people from a Satanic dictator. Now Iran is the enemy, and the Neoconservative war cries are loud–and Americans are buying into the new lie as well. Yes, Iran’s president holds an evil position in his denial of the Holocaust. Nothing can justify his views, nor his support of the radical religious groups that have held the country hostage since the Iranian Revolution of 1979. However, Iran also has a working democracy, unlike many other states in the region, including states the United States supports. Israel has a vital interest in what Iraq does, and if Israel wants to defend its vital interests militarily, that is Israel’s task, not that of the United States. However, the Neoconservatives are appealing to American Manicheanism and demonizing Iran as the new “evil empire.” Hopefully Americans will see that all people are “fallen,” as well as all nation-states, and any positing of “We good, they bad” is misleading and leads to unnecessary wars and bad foreign policy decisions.

Bush Still Doesn’t Get It

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Official photograph portrait of former U.S. Pr...

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Former President George W. Bush is out of hiding and into the limelight again as he promotes his new book. From the interviews I have read, there isn’t much new that redeems his poor performance as president. One positive is that he appears to question (just a little) the wisdom of the “Patriot Act.” And he admits that pushing belief in Iraq’s “weapons of mass destruction” was a mistake. How many people died for that mistake?

Bush admits his mistake in not foreseeing the economic crisis. He and his advisers ought to have seen the mortgage crisis coming. Either someone did not warn Mr. Bush who should have warned him or he ignored the warnings he did receive. In either case, it was the Administration’s almost complete deregulation of the banking industry that allowed financial institutions to make so many bad loans–the government policy of forcing banks to loan to the poor does not, by itself, explain the extent of the crisis. Mr. Bush bears some responsibility.

Despite appointing two excellent Supreme Court justices, overall, Mr. Bush’s presidency must go down as an abysmal failure. The good he did was outweighed by two wars, excessive defense and excessive domestic spending, and the collapse of the economy. His dependence on Neoconservative advisers such as Vice-President Dick Cheney virtually destroyed his presidency. Sadly, Bush still doesn’t “get it.” Perhaps one day he’ll swallow his ego and take more responsibility for the damage he did to the United States and to other countries.

Mr. Bush is unapologetic on torture, claiming that waterboarding gave the United States and Great Britain some useful intelligence. Thus Mr. Bush still supports a practice that is now almost universally acknowledged as evil and barbaric. Unfortunately his successor hasn’t closed the door on torture–so the post-911 madness of America continues.

Bush gives his policies credit for there being no more attacks on the U.S. before the end of his term as President. This reminds me of a story (from Ann McGovern’s book Ghostly Fun) about a man who hired a wrinkled old witch holding a broom outside his front door. His wife, horrified, asked him why. His reply: “To scare the elephants away.” His wife said, “But there aren’t any elephants around here!” Then her husband says, “See! It works!” There are too many causal factors that could have prevented a post 9-11 attack for Bush to give himself credit. But this is one president who has no problem with failing to restrain his ego.

Apparently Mr. Bush had asked the Pentagon to draw up war plans for Iran. Thank God that war did not materialize, though I would not put it beyond Mr. Obama to start one. Iran is years away from developing a nuclear weapon. Unlike Israel, it has signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. And although I find Iran’s president to be morally reprehensible, that does not justify war with Iran. Mr. Bush, consistent with the neoconservatives, rarely found a war he didn’t like.

Mr. Bush did considerable damage to the Republican Party; it is only because of the ineptitude and radical ideas of President Obama that the Republicans gained so many seats in Congress this year.

The Fundamentalist Obsession with Bible Prophecy

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The Prophecy

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“Just surfing,” I found an odd site on the web called bibleprophecy.net which sells a book called The Late Great USA: The Coming War with Iran. Some readers may remember similar nonsense being written by prophecy-obsessed Fundamentalist Christians during the First Gulf War. More rational Christians may consider such views harmless–“Let the Fundamentalists play games with prophecy.” The problem is that these Fundamentalists vote and tend to support warmongers for public office. And when some politicians themselves believe nonsense and support the United States attacking Iran due to Bible prophecy, their views do become dangerous.

I must confess I was the same way as a child–I was fascinated with the prophetic books and believed that the worsening conditions in the world showed that Bible prophecy was being fulfilled in front of my eyes. Although I was never a Premillennialist, I still tried to find parallels between Bible prophecy and present-day Israel that did not involve Premillennialist theory. I accepted the “continuous historical method” of interpreting the book of Revelation, believing that it was an almost chronological foretelling of future events.

Of course I was wrong-headed, since the prophetic books of the Bible were meant to communicate with people of their own day. Prophets were not as much foretelling as warning God’s people that unless they repent, God would use their enemies to destroy them. And the apocalyptic books such as parts of Ezekiel, Daniel, and Revelation were meant to comfort Jews or Christians facing persecution with the knowledge that God would destroy their persecutors. The symbolism of prophecy is well-understood by scholars. The symbol “666” as the symbol of the beast is seven minus one–with seven being the perfect number for ancient Jews, “6” was imperfect or flawed, “seven minus one,” so that “666” refers to evil times another important number, “three.” The idea is that “666” refers to ultimate evil. We can interpret that evil in terms of today’s evils, but to argue that the number refers to one specific person is a flawed interpretation.

To use Bible prophecy as an excuse for supporting war is theologically and morally reprehensible. In addition, an obsession with prophecy as predictions of present events takes Christians’ minds away from amending their lives and becoming more Christ-like. There is a certain perverse fun in discussing whether the beast of Revelation refers to Iran or to China, or whether Armageddon refers to a final war between the United States and China (or whatever enemy becomes the obsession of the day). But Christians should pay more attention to the prophetic books’ warnings to amend their lives. They should take comfort that God is in control and trust in Him. Focusing on prophecy at the expense of more important things is sinful. Using prophecy to support killing of one’s fellow men is evil.

The Push for War with Iran–Please, No More Warmongers!

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Iran

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The push by both parties in Washington for war with Iran is the continuation of the insanity that began with the invasion of Iraq. No watchdog agency believes that Iran has the capacity to make nuclear weapons at this time, nor will it have that capacity for a number of years. This is not to say that Iran is not considering making nuclear weapons as a counterweight to U. S. involvement in the region. Even if it did gain nuclear weapons, it will not be the only country in the Middle East with nuclear weapons–Israel has quite a few, and Israel did not sign the nuclear nonproliferation treaty (Iran did). It is ironic that the United States effectively destroyed Iraq as a counterweight to Iran, with a pro-Iranian government now in power in Baghdad, and not wants to extent its aggression into Iran. The stupidity of American hubris knows no bounds.

Do those people in Congress consider the risk of strikes against Iran? American troops in Iraq would become more vulnerable, and the United States itself would most likely be subject to Iranian-instigated terrorist attacks. Wars are costly, and in a time of massive budget deficits wars only compound the nation’s debt. The cost to the civilian population of Iran would most likely be as high or higher than the cost to the civilian population of Iraq.

The war in which the United States is most active, Afghanistan, is a quagmire. Although the casualty figures are not nearly the level of the Vietnam War, they are bound to rise. If only the United States had followed the initial CIA plan of sending small units into Afghanistan to hunt for Osama Bin Laden and his cohorts, the conflict would have been limited to the police work it should have been in the first place. Now Iran is a larger country than Afghanistan with more resources, including military resources. And if the United States were to destroy Iran’s formal military, it could engage in an effective guerrilla war for decades. The war party could argue that an attack on Iran would be limited to air strikes, but does anyone believe that the war could be contained to air strikes or that air strikes could destroy Iran’s entire nuclear program.

It is long past due time that the American empire unraveled itself and formed a more humble foreign policy without the endless wars that drain U. S. resources and result in hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths as well as thousands of deaths of U. S. servicemen and women. It is not too late to change for the better. One way to change is for both conservatives, moderates, and liberals who oppose endless wars to put aside their differences in other areas for the moment to find candidates who oppose the endless war machine of the military-industrial-government complex. Each political party needs to clean house on this issue–lives depend on it.