Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Woe Be Unto the World Because of Offenses

“For better it is to contend with vices than without conflict be subdued by them. Better, I say, is war with the hope of peace everlasting than captivity without any regard of deliverance. We long, indeed, for the cessation of this war, and kindled by the flame of divine love, we burn for entrance on that well-ordered peace in which whatever is inferior is for ever subordinated to what is above it. But if (which God forbid) there had been no hope of so blessed a consummation, we should still have preferred to endure the hardness of this conflict, rather than, by our non-resistance, to yield ourselves to the dominion of vice.”

- Augustine of Hippo – 426 A.D.

After I posted yesterday’s piece I got an interesting comment from someone named “Jay.” Speaking for liberals and Democrats, he apologized for:

“Inflicting the ongoing wars, the broken economy, high gas prices, global warming, massive government corruption, and all the other misfortunes of a completely Republican controlled government.”

Then, in a fit of rhetorical fury, he took me to task in fine far-left fashion:

“Hope that makes you feel better. Lord knows you wouldn’t want to actually place blame on the masters you really worship.”

My first thought was to correct Jay’s assumption that I am a Republican. I have almost as many issues with the Republican Party as I do with the Democratic Party of my youth. Upon further reading and thought, though, I saw his comment as an opportunity to make myself clear on some of the issues he mentioned. I’ll begin today with what I believe is the moral case for the amalgamated wars we are now involved in (the war on terror, the war in Iraq, and the war in Afghanistan). While each has its distinct elements, taken together they are parts of a whole. Thus, from this point on I will discuss them under the umbrella of the war on terror.

I have supported our effort in this war from the beginning. Beginning on September, 11, 2001, continuing into the October, 2001 war to liberate Afghanistan and the March, 2003 liberation of Iraq, right up to the present day, I believe that we were morally justified and morally right to do what we did.

I realize that I may now hold a minority point of view, but I’m not troubled by that. There have been significant minorities throughout history –Joshua and Caleb, the abolitionists and Abraham Lincoln, or Winston Churchill, to name a few. I believe that positions of great import should be decided on their merits, not whether they are popularly held.

Most Americans seem to be aligned on the worthiness of two focal points in this war. They believe we’re morally right to pursue a world-wide war against Al Qaeda and that our invasion of Afghanistan was equally moral. It’s obvious that Iraq is the one point that has deeply divided us as a people.

There are several objections that have been raised against our involvement in Iraq. Some believe that diplomacy wasn’t allowed to take its course. Some object because one of the reasons stated for our involvement, weapons of mass destruction, have thus far not been found. Some object because of the loss of American life. And, some object because they believe Iraq as it was under Saddam was better off than Iraq, with its current civil strife and terrorism, is today. I suspect there are even some who object simply because they hate George Bush.

I’ll answer all but the last of the objections. That one is too trivial and silly to demand a response.

Was diplomacy given enough time? That, it seems to me, begs the question. It assumes that diplomacy would have eventually achieved the world’s objectives without military intervention. If I were to ask “How much time?” the answer would always come back, “Until it works.” Saddam saw this and manipulated the world skillfully, pulling the diplomatic strings in any direction he felt served his aims. He did so for over ten years, making the international diplomats arrayed against him look like absolute buffoons.

Could diplomacy have worked? I don’t know. It’s clearly impossible to know now whether or not it would have worked with Saddam Hussein’s regime. History has taken a different course.

The most persistent claim against our invasion of Iraq is that weapons of mass destruction have not been found. Since we haven’t found them, the argument goes; our involvement was unnecessary and morally wrong. It further assumes that the argument the Bush administration made to get us into Iraq was invalid for that reason. No weapons of mass destruction equals no valid argument for going to war. The problem with the argument is that it wasn’t the only reason, nor, in my mind, was it the principle reason. I’ve spoken with lots of people about the moral case for war and about every time those against our involvement in Iraq argue that there was no moral case for war because George Bush never made a moral case. Every time I hear this argument I’m reminded of the Soviet cosmonaut who asked the following questions as he orbited the earth – “Where is God? I don’t see him out here in space. Where is He anyway?” That’s about what this thread of the anti-war argument amounts to. Its proponents, like the cosmonaut, haven’t seen the moral case expressed; therefore they claim it doesn’t exist. What they refuse to see is that the President actually did make a moral case for invading Iraq. Where were they when he talked about Saddam’s brutality and torture chambers? Where were they when he spoke of gassing of the Kurds in northern Iraq and the systematic attempts to totally eliminate the Marsh Arabs of the south? There was, and is, a moral case for the invasion of Iraq!

Some argue that the cost in American lives is too high. They often cite the number of American combat deaths, which is now over twenty-five hundred. While it’s clear that any life lost is a tragedy, it doesn’t answer the moral question. You see, Iraq isn’t about mathematics; it’s about moral principle, about what free men must all too often do to confront evil in the world. I can only imagine what those who make this argument would have said to the Lincoln administration about the staggering loss of life during the Civil War or to the Roosevelt administration as the astronomical losses incurred liberating Europe and the Pacific mounted. The truth is, as tragic as the loss of life in any morally justified conflict is, it’s principle, not mathematics that truly matters.

The argument against invading Iraq that most offends my moral sensibilities is that the people of Iraq would be better off if we had left them in Saddam’s clutches. It’s hard for me to imagine someone would actually make this case, but some have. Like the previous argument, it’s rooted in the notion that the cost of liberation is too high, and that the previous state of enslavement would be preferable to the current state of life in Iraq. If these folks had lived during our Civil War or its aftermath I’m afraid they might be making the same argument. Four years of bloody inter-Nicene war had taken its toll on the nation. Hundreds of thousands had died. The war, which had begun as a test of states’ rights, had found its moral purpose and center in the Emancipation Proclamation. Lincoln rightly saw that the war’s purpose was to liberate a portion of America’s human community. That’s what the Civil War was all about; that’s what breathes so much meaning into it today as we see it through the prism of close to a hundred and fifty years of history. Would today’s anti-war advocates really try to argue that Jim Crow and the carpetbaggers, the Klu Klux Klan, segregation, job discrimination, and all the other roadblocks to full freedom and inclusion that followed the war invalidated the sacrifices made to liberate America’s African-American community? That seems to be the application of their argument – that African-Americans would be better off as slaves now because the post-war trials were too high a price to pay for their freedom. That’s about as offensive as an argument gets.

In the spring of 1865, a little more than a month before his death at the hands of an assassin, Abraham Lincoln put the case for the war that had just ended in its proper moral context. His words were both poetic and prophetic, reaching through the ages to shed light on the meaning of freedom and sacrifice:

“It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces; but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered -- that of neither, has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. “Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh.” If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offences which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove; and that He gives to both north and south this terrible war, as the woe due to those by whom the offence came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope -- fervently do we pray -- that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said, “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

I believe we must continue on the course we embarked on five years ago. Freedom is under assault and we have a moral duty to respond. I realize that there have been dark days behind us and that there will be dark days to come. I cannot say, nor can anyone else, how long it will take to see the task through. But, I can say with certainty that the cause we are engaged in is just.

I don’t believe that my position establishes me as a Republican lackey, no more than Joe Lieberman’s position on Iraq establishes him as a lackey of the Bush administration. In the days ahead I’ll be responding to the other questions raised. Perhaps then Jay and his fellows on the left may be able to see that I’m not what they make me out to be.

Technorati tags for this post:

Abraham Lincoln



The war on terror


Mike Dillon said...

I don't have anything to add, your argument is right on, and obviously very well thought out. I just wanted to say that I have been troubled by the utter disdain that those like "Jay", who claim to be liberal, have towards people that oppose their viewpoints. Like you, I have had several discussions or debates about the war with people who are like minded and those who believe our efforts in the Middle East are "immoral and misguided". Those that are in opposition to our efforts seem to have at least one thing in common, they hate the viewpoints of those of us who believe in what we are fighting for. What's more, not only do they hate our ideas, they seem to also hate us for holding these beliefs. They also seem to have what I call a superiority complex. Not only do they hate us for our beliefs, they believe that we are inferior for not agreeing with them. I've also noted, that like "Jay" they have no real arguments to support their beliefs, just hatred and empty rhetoric. For people who purport to be so liberal, I am dumbfounded as to why they absolutely refuse to even recognize that opposing opinions have at least as much validity as theirs. To me, that seems far less liberal than conservative.

James Fletcher Baxter said...

The most obvious characteristic of today's 'liberal' is that he is not liberal - but, collectivist and totalitariantly intolerant of any adverse opinion.

The reason is obvious when we realize that they are humanists who worship self and elitist masters of 'the masses.' Additionally, they lack a value system that rises any higher in principle than their 5 o'clock shadow. Rejecting God, they worship human opinion (especially their own) as a 'scientism,' and revere neutral(?) mediocrity as a standard of 'the good.'

Since all life is an I.Q. Test of choice-making, we have a clear idea of the fallacy of their effort.(I've never heard of an I.Q. Test that was not a test of choice-making ability, including written. If you have let me know.)

Liberals are socialists and humanists. They have no way to anticipate the results of their choices. In conserving the wisdom of the Founders, we do.

In aligning ourselves on the side of human Freedom we align ourselves with the God of creation and His stated plans for our future. Amen

semper fidelis

James Fletcher Baxter said...

"I should think that if there is one thing that man has
learned about himself it is that he is a creature of
choice." Richard M. Weaver

"Man is a being capable of subduing his emotions and
impulses; he can rationalize his behavior. He arranges
his wishes into a scale, he chooses; in short, he acts.
What distinguishes man from beasts is precisely that he
adjusts his behavior deliberately." Ludwig von Mises

"To make any sense of the idea of morality, it must be
presumed that the human being is responsible for his
actions and responsibility cannot be understood apart
from the presumption of freedom of choice."
John Chamberlain

"The advocate of liberty believes that it is complementary
of the orderly laws of cause and effect, of probability
and of chance, of which man is not completely informed.
It is complementary of them because it rests in part upon
the faith that each individual is endowed by his Creator
with the power of individual choice."
Wendell J. Brown

"These examples demonstrate a basic truth -- that human
dignity is embodied in the free choice of individuals."
Condoleeza Rice

"Our Founding Fathers believed that we live in an ordered
universe. They believed themselves to be a part of the
universal order of things. Stated another way, they
believed in God. They believed that every man must find
his own place in a world where a place has been made for
him. They sought independence for their nation but, more
importantly, they sought freedom for individuals to think
and act for themselves. They established a republic
dedicated to one purpose above all others - the preserva-
tion of individual liberty..." Ralph W. Husted

"We have the gift of an inner liberty so far-reaching
that we can choose either to accept or reject the God
who gave it to us, and it would seem to follow that the
Author of a liberty so radical wills that we should be
equally free in our relationships with other men.
Spiritual liberty logically demands conditions of outer
and social freedom for its completion." Edmund A. Opitz

"Above all I see an ability to choose the better from the
worse that has made possible life's progress."
Charles Lindbergh

"Freedom is the Right to Choose, the Right to create for
oneself the alternatives of Choice. Without the possibil-
ity of Choice, and the exercise of Choice, a man is not
a man but a member, an instrument, a thing."
Thomas Jefferson


James Fletcher Baxter said...

Until the oppressors discover that wisdom only just
begins with a respectful acknowledgment of The Creator,
The Creation, and The Choicemaker, they will be ever
learning but never coming to a knowledge of the truth.
The rejection of Creator-initiated standards relegates
the mind of man to its own primitive, empirical, and
delimited devices. It is thus that the human intellect
cannot ascend and function at any level higher than the
criteria by which it perceives and measures values.

Additionally, such rejection of transcendent criteria
self-denies man the vision and foresight essential to
decision-making for survival and progression. He is left,
instead, with the redundant wreckage of expensive hind-
sight, including human institutions characterized by
averages, mediocrity, and regression.

Humanism, mired in the circular and mundane egocentric
predicament, is ill-equipped to produce transcendent
criteria. Evidenced by those who do not perceive
superiority and thus find themselves beset by the shifting
winds of the carnal-ego; i.e., moods, feelings, desires,
appetites, etc., the mind becomes subordinate: a mere
device for excuse-making and rationalizing self-justifica-

The carnal-ego rejects criteria and self-discipline for such
instruments are tools of the mind and the attitude. The
appetites of the flesh have no need of standards for at the
point of contention standards are perceived as alien, re-
strictive, and inhibiting. Yet, the very survival of our
physical nature itself depends upon a maintained sover-
eignty of the mind and of the spirit.

It remained, therefore, to the initiative of a personal
and living Creator to traverse the human horizon and
fill the vast void of human ignorance with an intelli-
gent and definitive faith. Man is thus afforded the
prime tool of the intellect - a Transcendent Standard
by which he may measure values in experience, anticipate
results, and make enlightened and visionary choices.

Only the unique and superior God-man Person can deserved-
ly displace the ego-person from his predicament and free
the individual to measure values and choose in a more
excellent way. That sublime Person was indicated in the
words of the prophet Amos, "...said the Lord, Behold,
I will set a plumbline in the midst of my people Israel."
Y'shua Mashiyach Jesus said, "If I be lifted up I will
draw all men unto myself."

As long as some choose to abdicate their personal reality
and submit to the delusions of humanism, determinism, and
collectivism, just so long will they be subject and re-
acting only, to be tossed by every impulse emanating from
others. Those who abdicate such reality may, in perfect
justice, find themselves weighed in the balances of their
own choosing.


Guy said...

Phil...You, Mr. Dillon, and Mr. Baxter have laid out my own feelings much more eloquently than I would have been able to. However, there is one though that remains: Those nay-sayers of our involvement in Iraq take the conflict only as an issue unto itself. It is horribly short-sighted on their part not to understand that Iraq (just like Normandy, Iwo Jima, Tarawa, and the Battle of the Bulge were part and parcel of WWII) is only a small part of the larger issue of our conflict with Islamofascism. Once the issue in Iraq is decided,(honest folk can disagree as to whether we are pursuing the right strategy in order to bring about victory)there will be another battle to replace it.

Rob in L.A. said...

I don’t know why I’m bothering to write. I’ve tried corresponding with Phil before, but I don’t think that my arguments were treated respectfully. Still, I just had to make some comments on this post. Phil’s arguments against those of us who don’t like the way this country was mislead into a mismanaged war invites response.

1. Weapons of mass destruction were not the primary reason we went to war.

This is patently false. Bush rushed us to war by equating “smoking guns” with “mushroom clouds.” Other issues were a sideline — at best. Only after no stockpiles of said weapons were found did the Bush administration shift away from WMD to the “liberation” of the Iraqi people as the causus belli.

It has become increasingly clear to me over the years that Bush invaded Iraq primarily because he thought it was a “soft target” — in other words, easy to defeat — and that a successful military operation would restore America’s collective manhood after the “castrating” calamity of 9/11. In the Neocon imagination, a successful invasion of Iraq would then send a message to the rest of the world — especially the Arab world — that the U.S. is not to be trifled with.

As I’ve said before, if Bush’s primary reason for going to war was liberating the Iraqi people then that is the argument that he should have made before March 2003. But that’s not the argument he made. He said that we had to go to war when we did, the way we did, because Hussein already possessed stockpiles of WMD that he was going to use against us at any moment. I suspect that if he had just said that we needed to go to war because Hussein was oppressing his people, a majority of Americans wouldn’t have gone along with him. No matter how noble one’s intentions, it’s hard to have a just war based on a lie.

2. In the years between wars in the Middle East, Saddam Hussein made diplomats look like “buffoons.”

Hussein posed no threat to us. He was contained militarily, and his nuclear ambitions were crushed by the first Gulf War. I fail to see how the international diplomats and weapons inspectors, keeping the region from going up in a needless war, looked like “buffoons.”

3. The Iraq War is to be equated with the Civil War or World War II, and any call for a drawdown of troop levels in Iraq is tantamount to a drawdown of troops in these older conflicts before victory was achieved.

This is the war-apologists’ greatest canard, and they cling to it tenaciously. The Civil war was a war of necessity. World War II was a war of necessity. By contrast, the Iraq War is a war of choice. We did not need to start a shooting war with Hussein (other than military enforcements of the no-fly zones in Iraq). Furthermore, the Iraq War was sold to the American public as a relatively quick and painless procedure with a clearly defined goal: ousting Hussein. Remember “welcomed as liberators”? Remember “the war will pay for itself with Iraqi oil”? Now that facts on the ground have not gone according to the Neocons best-case (and only) scenario, conservatives are castigating the American people for losing patience with a long, drawn-out, expensive, bloody conflict with no end in sight — not the situation we were promised.

4. Liberating the Iraqi people from Hussein has been worth all of the U.S. lives and billions of dollars expended, and anyone who does not support the war is an apologist for fascism.

The Neocons, especially Dick Cheney, thought that by the U.S. removing Hussein, Iraq would automatically become a friendly, democratic nation. This totally ignored the fact that the country of Iraq is an artificial one, a country created by Britain from dividing up the defeated Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I. In dividing the country, Britain didn’t take into account the various ethnic groups (Sunnis, Shi’ites, and Kurds) who were thrown together mainly by force and who have never really gotten along with each other. I would submit that it was primarily through the force of strongmen like Hussein that the country was kept together at all and did not explode into civil war earlier.

The architects of the Iraq War should have seen ethnic factionalism coming in the wake of Hussein’s ouster. But they did not. I have no confidence that they know what they’re doing. So when they ask me to trust them, I don’t.

Regrettably, the Middle East does not have a tradition of Jeffersonian democracy. If most Middle Easterners were given the chance to vote, I’m afraid that they would vote themselves into a theocracy that would be hostile to Israel and the West. Results of the elections in Iran and the Palestinian territories don’t reassure me (neither did the plebiscite in Algiers some dozen years ago). For all the talk of “liberating” the Iraqis, I’m not at all sure that the results of any election in a post-Hussein Iraq wouldn’t result in a Taliban-like government hostile to the U.S.

I’m not calling for an immediate and precipitous withdraw of U.S. troops from Iraq, but those of us who oppose the war do so for good reason.

Rob in L.A.

Rob in L.A. said...


I also wanted to respond to something that Mike Dillon wrote:

“Those that are in opposition to our efforts seem to have at least one thing in common, they hate the viewpoints of those of us who believe in what we are fighting for. What's more, not only do they hate our ideas, they seem to also hate us for holding these beliefs. They also seem to have what I call a superiority complex. Not only do they hate us for our beliefs, they believe that we are inferior for not agreeing with them. I've also noted, that like ‘Jay’ they have no real arguments to support their beliefs, just hatred and empty rhetoric. For people who purport to be so liberal, I am dumbfounded as to why they absolutely refuse to even recognize that opposing opinions have at least as much validity as theirs.”

This statement simply isn’t true. I’m sure that there are some people on the political left (as there are on the political right) who prefer shouting to reasoned discussion. But that certainly doesn’t characterize all of us. To say that we bring nothing to the table except “hate” is to dismiss our ideas out of hand.

Mr. Dillon misstates the case. We — that is, most of us on the left — don’t hate conservatives for having conservative views; we’re flummoxed that so many conservatives out there believe things that are illogical or demonstrably false.

For example, George W. Bush led America to war with Iraq on the claim that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction that he was going to use against us at any moment; that was the primary purpose for going to war. That is a fact. However, when several months went by without stockpiles of such weapons being found (after Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said that he knew where they were), many conservatives started to change their story and say that WMD was not the primary causus belli.

I remember having dinner with my dad a couple of years ago, after Hussein was overthrown and the threatening weapons proved elusive, and he remarked that America went to war with Iraq primarily because Hussein oppressed his people. Remembering Bush’s behavior in the months leading up to the war, I disagreed with him: Hussein’s oppression of his people was not the main reason for going to war. But while I was making my case, my dad cut me off. He just didn’t want to discuss it. Not wanting to argue with my dad after he had worked all day (he still works even though he’s of retirement age), I dropped the subject, but I was frustrated.

What my dad said was simply not true. I love my dad, but he didn’t have the facts on his side. How, then, am I to respect his opinion? Should you grant the views of someone who believes the Earth is flat (to choose an extreme example) as much “validity” as a cosmologist’s? Not all conservative ideas are as demonstrably false as the WMD issue, but when they are and conservatives cling to them anyway, I get the idea that something more than mere denial is going on.

And as far as “hatred and empty rhetoric” go, I see much more venom and vituperation on the political right than I do on the political left. Where is the left-wing equivalent of Ann Coulter? Maybe someone can point to an obscure blogger somewhere, but I don’t see anyone on the left, with Coulter’s high profile, making her kind of destructive, mean-spirited ad hominem attacks. When I think of liberal commentators, I think of columnists like Jules Witcover and E.J. Dionne: usually temperate people who state their journalism-based opinions in moderate language. Conservative commentators — and they have a much higher profile than their liberal counterparts — usually express their (often dubious) opinions in heated language and inflammatory rhetoric. For example, liberal opinions — however well-argued and fact-supported — are frequently dismissed by conservatives as “whining,” without exactly saying what makes them so. It’s hard to have a conversation, much less a reasoned political debate, with someone like that.

Rob in L.A.