Monday, June 30, 2014

The Mess We Created in Iraq, A Reality Check!

Iraq is a mess.  Our mess!  Was it worth taking down Saddam Hussein?

The mess that we made of Iraq just won’t go away and we can’t seem to clean it up.

Can anybody really be surprised?

The Bush administration had it wrong from the beginning.  We are still paying for Bush’s great miscalculation!  (Note: I’m being way too generous by calling it a miscalculation.)

No succeeding president, Republican or Democrat, could have saved our nation from this perturbing headache that Iraq has now become to us—this thorn in the flesh, this pebble in the shoe, this gnat in the eye that Iraq is to us.  Thorn, pebble, gnat, whatever it is, it plagues us and is sure to become a swelling infectious wound in our nation’s body, sensitive to the touch, full of pus, eventually needing cutting, cleaning, and suturing.

Here’s the trump card argument: we don’t want to have sacrificed our military’s finest, men and women alike, for nothing.  What a waste that would be!  The sacrifice of our young must not be allowed to be an empty one.  But what if it was destined to be so from the beginning?  What if that is the very point?

It is true.  We should never needlessly sacrifice our young.  Going to war is a nation’s call for its young to make the greatest sacrifice of all, the surrendering up of one’s life for one’s country.  This is why we should never have preemptively struck at Iraq in the first place.

WE started it!  We bigheadedly and arrogantly thought Iraq would be a cinch to take care of.  We thought it would be a quick, in-and-out job.  How ever-so wrong we were!  With the benefit of hindsight, we obviously see how ridiculously simple-minded and naïve we were to have thought so.

But there were those who didn’t need hindsight, they foresaw the inevitable.  Do we remember?  There were some who vehemently warned against pouncing on Iraq with a preemptive strike?  Do we remember how the naysayers were talked down, ridiculed, laughed at, and accused of being unpatriotic?  Basically they were told to shut up—with an accusatory “you’re either with us or against us” attitude.  It would seem that the same people who shouted down the naysayers back then are the ones who are now saying that Obama is mishandling Iraq and perhaps is even the cause of this present day mess Iraq is in.

Reality Check!

1.    The cause of Iraq’s present day mess is President G. W. Bush’s decision to declare war against Saddam Hussein with a preemptive strike, naïvely believing that it was only about taking-out Saddam, having no exit plan, and having no understanding of the volatile and complex dynamics between and within the Iraqi people—social, political, historical, cultural, religious, etc.  He opened a Pandora’s Box, bringing chaos and disorder to Iraq, which perhaps only a demigod could restore.  That is, G. W. Bush effectively assured failure for any president following him, to bring peace and stability to Iraq afterward.

2.    No amount of military might and striking power, as exercised by the US, will effectively subdue all the Iraqi people to do our bidding and force them to pursue our preferred outcomes.  We may be “the most powerful nation in the world,” but we are in no position to dictate to the Iraqi people and call their steps, as if we could have them dance to our every tune.

3.    The Iraqi people, of whatever side they fall on, understand our true motive for being in Iraq at all.  They know that we are really only there because of their oil reserves.  That is our deepest and truest national interest in Iraq.  We want cheap safe and uninhibited access to their oil.  Because of that, we want them to form a government that will “favor” the U.S. for negotiating profitable business deals in that direction.  That’s the outcome we would like to dictate and command.

4.    The Iraqi people also clearly see our greatest weakness.  We, the American people, have grown tired of this war.  We can no longer stomach the constant sacrificing of our young for the sake of a foreign people in a foreign land, with a foreign agenda—oil fields or not.  Yet, we still want that oil, so we are caught between a rock and a hard place.  We are there with a lukewarm heart, pursing a very selfish interest, with a growing dislike for their climate and all that that climate entails.  Thus, Iraqi special interest groups (religious, political…, whatever), know that time is on their side.  They have to live there, we don’t!

5.    And finally, we have our own internal political fighting going on, which contributes to further instability.  Instead of uniting to find the best solutions or to make the most advantageous decisions possible for resolving our dilemma in Iraq, our politicians are themselves busy playing politics.  Our politicians are more interested in internal division, more concerned with scoring political points against their political opponents, by what they say and do, than they are in actually cooperating and working together in a unified way to clean up and resolve the Iraqi mess—for they don’t want to give their political opponents any credit for a job well done, of any kind, at any time, in any situation, including the situation in Iraq.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Christians Are Not Good People, they are Forgiven People--Moving in the Right Direction

Many people, especially the non-religious, are appalled when they see an avowed Christian doing wrong or catch them in a scandal.  The first word that comes to mind is: Hypocrite!

The bar is raised.  Believers are expected to live by a higher standard, and rightly so—to a degree.

Becoming a Christian, believing in Christ, declaring one’s self a committed follower of Jesus, does not make one suddenly become good.  What it does do is it puts one on a lifetime journey toward change, correction, and transformation for the better.  There are setbacks.  There is stumbling.  There are failures and relapses into old destructive (sinful) habits and attitudes.  It is not a straight unbroken diagonal line leading upward.  Hence the declaration, “by GRACE have I been saved!”

The premise of Christianity is that we are all, each and every one of us, broken and needy, imperfect and sinful people.  In short, we are morally and ethically handicapped.  The Apostle Paul put it this way: “And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.  I want to do what is right, but I can’t.  I want to do what is good, but I don’t.  I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway.”  (See Romans 7:18-20.)  Sound familiar?  It should.

It is the reason why we need a Savior.  Cancer will not heal itself.  It needs to be cut out or zapped with radiation and medication to attack and destroy it.  It needs a great healing power to cure it.  And it takes time.  So it is with respect to the healing of our souls.  We cannot heal ourselves.  We cannot make ourselves become good by our own power.  We need the grace of Christ’s spiritual healing power to enable us and cure us.

It may be a bumper sticker cliché, but it is deeply true: Christians are not perfect, just forgiven.  Christians begin with a basic admission: “All is NOT well with my soul!  I have faults and failures, moral weaknesses and flaws that I cannot correct with my own power or by my own strength of will or mind.  I need to be rescued.”  In comes Jesus.  “God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:17).  To be saved is to be forgiven, that is, to escape final condemnation for one’s sinful failures.

The salvation experience is but a starting point, the beginning of a lifetime journey.  The journey is one of growing in righteousness (sanctification), working out one’s salvation in one’s personal life—changing, correcting, transforming, renewing for the better.  But it is a struggle, and not an easy one at that.  “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling,” says the Apostle Paul (Philippians 2:12b).  The easy way is broad and open, says Jesus, the narrow way is difficult and hard, which few apparently are really willing to take.  (See Matthew 7:13-14.)

Thus, Christians are not necessarily good people.  But we are people willing to admit that we have a problem, that we are in fact our own worst enemies, and that we need a Savior to help us escape our own self-destructive (sinful) ways.  We do wrong.  We Christians are NOT perfect, and we are more than just merely forgiven.  We Christians are intentionally growing in our awareness of sin in our lives and in our willingness to correct and change the error of our ways.  The next time you see a Christian fall into moral failure, remember, it is by the grace of God that any of us can truly become better people in the first place.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Putin, Hitler, God, and the Question of Legitimacy

It was a paradise camp.  That’s what they wanted the Red Cross to believe.  It was what the camp creators wanted the world to believe.

In reality it was a concentration camp.  And it was no better than any of the other concentration camps which the Nazis had created for the Jews, and other “expendables” that were put on their so-called “sub-human” list, destined for final disposal.

But this particular one was being showcased:  “Theresienstadt” concentration camp in Czechoslovakia.  The International Red Cross was coming for a visit.  The Nazis cleaned up the camp, planted flowers, painted the buildings, and then showcased old and young alike relaxing and enjoying themselves, supposedly having a good ole time.  The Nazis even made a film of it, to show how well the Jews were being housed and nicely cared for.  It was a mask.

It’s called propaganda.

Why do governments and their leaders go to such great lengths to cover up the truth, to mask reality, to mislead casual observers and deceive intentional prying eyes?  They want legitimization and justification to defend their own evil and unconscionable actions.  That’s why.

In the start of World War II, when Hitler invaded Poland, he claimed that Polish Germans, or Germans living under Polish rule, were being mistreated, abused, and oppressed, even unwarrantedly slaughtered and killed.  This was his justification to invade Poland, a way to make his invasion legit.

This is why Putin’s words and actions are being compared to Hitler’s actions, which led to the outbreak of World War II.  Is not Putin doing the same, same tactics, same heated verbal condemnation, with his rhetoric against the Ukrainian government?  My cynicism tells me that it is the same.  Putin is seeking legitimization and justification for his own unjust and unconscionable actions by pretending that it is the Ukrainian government that is the real threat to peace, not him.  It’s an age old tactic.  And the more outrageously ridiculous are these tactical assertions, the more loudly and emphatic they are made.

The curious thing to me is that the tactic should be used at all.  Any reasonable person that has any common sense can see what is really going on.  Putin is the real threat to peace and stability in the region.  Putin is the guilty one.  He is clearly the aggressor.  It is very obvious that he wants to expand Russia’s geopolitical territory and power.  But, why the pretense?

Few humans are willing to face, let alone admit, the bold naked truth about themselves with respect to motives and actions and their consequences, whether as great leaders or as minor players in a street-corner gang of thugs.

But here’s the thing.  If atheists are correct and there is no God, then Putin has all the right in a godless, secular, purely naturalistic evolutionary survival-of-the-fittest world, to do what he is doing.  Go for it!  If he and the Russian people can outwit and outsmart other great nations and peoples, and expand his own power as well as increase his peoples’ prosperity while doing so—is this not simply living according to the dictates of evolutionary development—may the strongest, shrewdest, most powerful and successful people survive and grow!

But that’s what makes the façade of legitimacy so puzzling.  It reveals the deeper truth of human nature, the evidence that there is a God.  We fundamentally believe in truth, justice, goodness, and rightness.  A purely naturalistic evolutionary universe has no care of such things.  For it has no spirit or consciousness or mindfulness in order to care.

The larger universe of atoms, matter, energy, and molecules and elements, cares little for life as we know it; it would not care if life on earth goes extinct or if this world lasted another billion years or just one more year.  The world is, after all, nothing more than the accidental outcome of active nuclear forces at the atomic level.

In that light, what is truth?  What is justice?  What is love?  What are we to make of compassion, or mercy or goodness or beauty, or pain and suffering or loss and defeat?  Nothing; absolutely nothing!

Without God, all is fair game and Putin has nothing to lose—to do his best to get the most, and to use any method and means to make it work.  He really need not even maintain the façade of pretending to be innocent victim or so-called defender of abused Russians in Ukraine, while doing so.  The universe certainly doesn’t care.

Only, we DO care.  Why?  Because: we humans fundamentally believe in a moral universe.  Hence, to claim legitimacy, Putin must at least pretend to be on the side of justice, goodness and truth.  As it turns out, we humans function as if the universe does care.  That is, we humans effectively function as if there is indeed a moral and righteous God, a God to whom we will all eventually be held accountable.  Hence, the life, teachings, and person of Jesus, the Christ, is very much worth your attention!

Monday, June 9, 2014

The Question of Bergdahl and the new Ugly American

Recently Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s release has been getting a lot of press attention.  The circumstances of his disappearance and capture have come into question.  He may not be the hero that one might have initially thought he’d be.  Indeed, he might even have been a deserter, possibly gone AWOL when captured.  They say, “He must be held accountable.”  Making things worse, deep seated political interests, during an election year, will no doubt complicate due process, for his freedom was negotiated, trading him for Five Taliban militants that were released from Guantanamo Bay (Cuba).  Many questions are yet to be answered.

But there is a story within the story that I fear may get lost with respect to Bergdahl’s actions.  As usual we are seeing simple “black and white,” all-or-nothing reactionary comments.  For example, those who believe that Bergdahl did wrong, want him disgraced.  They really don’t care about the why-and-wherefore of his actions.  If he did wrong and is guilty, he must pay the price for it.  End of story.

They don’t want to listen to the deeper truth, perhaps the more important truth that all Americans should give attention to.  What might Bergdahl have been trying to say?  And is it worth our hearing?  Apparently Sarah Palin believes that Bergdahl is full of “horrid anti-American beliefs.”  Others believe that Bergdahl may even have been a Taliban sympathizer.  Why?

Is it because Bergdahl dared to be honest and penetratingly critical about our behavior in Afghanistan?  Is it un-American to be able to say, “This is wrong and should NOT be done!”?  Apparently, in an email addressed to his parents, Bergdahl says things like, “I am sorry for everything,” adding, “These people need help, yet what they get is the most conceited country in the world telling them that they are nothing and that they are stupid, that they have no idea how to live.”  And, after further describing some horrible events he witnessed, he concluded his thought with the following words: “The horror that is America is disgusting.”

Does Bergdahl have “horrid anti-American beliefs,” or is he simply refusing to become dehumanized by the demands of our American war machine?  Is he a Taliban sympathizer or does he simply embrace fundamental respect for human life and human need?

For the sake of argument, let’s say that Bergdahl had gone AWOL.  And let’s say that he did so in direct protest to what he felt were wrongs being done by our American forces in Afghanistan.  Okay, then he’s guilty and he must pay the price.  If he is indeed a deserter then he should in fact receive the due penalty for desertion.  No excuses should be used to mitigate his punishment or the consequences of his military misconduct as a soldier.

However, that being said, WE—we Americans and our American armed forces—are not let off the hook.  We now need to look at the hard truth that Bergdahl’s defiant and rebellious actions (if that’s what they were) were trying to tell us.

We’re not innocent.  We are not the quintessential perfect nation with the purist of motives and the best of intentions, with purity of spirit.  In international relations and foreign policy and especially in our military actions, we can be disgustingly proud and arrogant, self-serving and abusive of others.  We can be disrespectful of other peoples, their culture, language, and religion, and cause great, if not irreparable, offense.  In short, we can easily be the “Ugly American.”

We Americans like big, powerful, and successful.  And that’s exactly how we view ourselves.  The underside to this is that we can be abusive with our power, become overly confident with our successes, and our hearts can grow smaller while our egos grow even bigger.

The way we view ourselves is often profoundly different than the way others see us.  This is true collectively speaking as it is individually speaking.  How do we Americans view ourselves in the international scene?  And how do the nations on the international scene actually view us?  And which view is more aligned with the truth?  If we were concerned for truth and aspired to be a better people, I’m sure we’d pay more careful attention to the views that other peoples in the world have about American foreign policy and American global military action on the international scene.  But we’re not and we don’t.

For we always seem to think that we’ve got it just right, and are doing just fine, and are a head above everyone else in the world, as if everyone must learn from us while we have nothing to learn from others.

And, of course, for me to even say such a thing, will no doubt be critiqued as being un-American and having “horrid anti-American beliefs!”  How sad.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Is Obama’s Foreign Policy Too Soft?

Obama’s foreign policy: Too soft, weak, overly cautious, lacking assertiveness, is that what it is?

Have we learned nothing?  Have the wars we started in Afghanistan and Iraq now over a decade ago taught us so little?

It must be sheer political grandstanding: Say anything to make one’s political opponent look bad.  Even better: call him weak and ineffectual on foreign affairs.  Do Obama’s political opponents really think that the US should be doing a lot more saber rattling?  Do they seriously think we should be flaunting more military might and unabashedly flex our muscles against Syria, perhaps also against Putin in Russia, and while we’re at it, why not threaten Iran as well, maybe even China?  Strong as we are (or think we are).

Exaggerating a bit much, am I?  That’s precisely my point.  All this talk about Obama’s foreign policy being too weak, that he’s not showing enough strength of will, that he should be more assertive and demanding and commanding—it’s sheer foolishness and overly exaggerated.

We want brains, not brawn.  We need wise leaders not gung-hoe, shoot ‘m up, “go-ahead, make-my-day” leaders.  Enough of that already!

Stomping around the world with a big stick and an arrogant swag is not what we need or want for an American foreign policy.  We’re leaving Afghanistan this year, more or less; yet, despite all our guns and bombs and mighty military expenditure, we have little to celebrate by way of a victory parade.  Why?  Because: you can kill the body but you can’t kill the soul of a people.

Heart, passion, and Spirit!  That's what counts.  We must consider a people’s defiant spirit, the will to defy and deny any and all foreign interference, which leads to absolute resistance: The will to defend one’s homeland at all costs.  This is what we seem to regularly fail to take into account—whether speaking of Vietnam, or Afghanistan, or Iraq, Iran, Palestine, Russia, or China.  You can kill the body, but you can’t kill the spirit!  Hence, saber rattling serves only to make them more determined, not less so, to defy us and to dare us to do our worse.  In short, regularly flaunting one’s military might, as a standard strategy for foreign policy, is very narrow, short-sighted, and actually quite naïve.

Thus, as a patriotic American, I don’t want to hear any more talk about how America should be showing more strength on the international scene.  I want more wisdom and more respect for international cooperation and diplomacy.

Yes, let us negotiate from a position of strength.  Indeed!  But let us negotiate.  Carry a big stick?  Sure!  But, reserve the stick for emergency purposes only, when all else fails, and for purposes of self-defense only—the big stick should never be used to beat and bully others into submission to our will.

For, as we’ve seen in our own backyard, bullying often results in the creation of an angry and vengeful enemy who will bide his/her time until such opportunity arises to take revenge: in a shooting rampage, for example, killing indiscriminately, guilty and innocent alike.  This truth will just as likely play itself out in the international scene, as it does in any schoolyard.  And we’ve already seen the results at both levels.