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The War in Iraq
Thoughts on losing the high ground

We're losing the moral high ground in Iraq

[5-24-04]

From an e-mail circulated by Larry Spalding, Florida Legislative Director for the ACLU of Florida, posted here with his permission.

I attended two interesting meetings this week. One had a predominantly liberal audience, while the other was exclusively conservative - except for me. I was undercover. Actually I was invited by a conservative friend and enjoyed myself but I was careful to stay away from discussing politics at the dinner table.

But politics, particularly the deteriorating situation in Iraq, was the topic of critical interest almost every place I went during the week. Liberals, rather than gloating over the president's falling approval rating, seemed genuinely distressed by the daily news reports of torture at the hands of US soldiers, the death of innocent civilians, and the accidental bombing of a wedding party in northern Iraq. How do we extricate ourselves from this mess? Conservatives too exhibited discomfort over the news from Iraq but, for the most part, they continue to rally round the president. There was, however, one local indication that there are cracks beginning to form in the conservative wall.

A prominent local Republican, admittedly a moderate transplant from the Midwest, told me: "That's it! I've had enough. I'm fed up with justifying the war in Iraq to skeptical friends, family and acquaintances. I cannot bear watching good arguments for the intervention shrivel before my eyes. And most of all, I'm livid that the moral case I have been making has been utterly undermined by the actions of our own troops." I sympathize with my friend's lament.

We, as Americans, cannot simply console ourselves that Saddam's torture was worse than our torture. Of course it was, but that does not make ours less repulsive. We did not go in to liberate the Iraqis on the basis that we would electrocute them a little less painfully than the previous lot. We went in to establish human rights and the rule of law, or so I thought.

And what have we done instead? Killed, beaten or mortally shamed hundreds of Iraqis, many of them innocent. Even if they were all guilty, sexual assault and humiliation are not in the penal code of any civilized Western nation, certainly not the United States of America.

And if those pictures shocked us in America, just think what effect they must have had in the Arab world. What could better endorse the Muslim view of the West as morally corrupt and decadent than that pyramid of naked male bodies gloated over by a grinning woman?

We are told that there is worse still to come by Donald Rumsfeld, purveyor of Western values to the Middle East and the man who never got round to reading his own general's report on prisoner abuse because it was "too long."

I always thought the war was a mistake. Nonetheless, for a time, I was taken in by the more idealistic of the neo-cons who claimed that military action could cut a swath of democracy through a brutally autocratic region. Well, maybe it could have done. But not while the two men at the very top -- Bush and Rumsfeld -- had already shown their disregard for prisoners' rights by setting up Guantanamo Bay. Do not want to be bound by the US Constitution or to abide by those inconvenient Geneva Conventions? Fine. Pretend you are in Cuba instead.

With that example, it is not surprising that American soldiers on the ground thought they could get away, literally, with murder. These "terrorists" had already been deemed lesser human beings by their ultimate superiors.

And those superiors tacitly endorsed what was going on by taking little action even when they knew what was happening. The Red Cross started complaining to US officials about prisoner abuse more than 14 months ago, but most of the complaints went unheeded. Nor, it seems, was the torture an aberration. The report says that these abuses "went beyond exceptional cases." This was, apparently, "standard operating procedure."

Inexperienced young soldiers, traumatized by their comrades' death, will always be tempted to seek revenge. They will refrain from doing so only if their commanding officers are adamant that such behavior will not be tolerated. This message seems not to have reached Lynndie England and her crew.

But it categorically should have. Of all wars, this was the one in which our side had to behave absolutely properly. Unlike the first Gulf War, this was a conflict that was deeply contentious. Our moral high ground was already disputed even before our soldiers decided to hurl themselves off it.

And if we now know of the torture that should never have existed, where on earth are the weapons of mass destruction that were the original justification for this war? "Believe me," said George W. Bush before the invasion, "once we get our people in there, you will see what Saddam's been up to."

Most Americans wanted to believe him. And we waited. And waited. And conservatives counseled patience to their fretful liberal friends. Iraq is huge, they reminded us. Think how hard it would be to find a small truck of anthrax. But we are still waiting -- and it is more than a year now since George W. Bush declared the war was won.

Maybe Saddam sent his weapons to Syria before the conflict. Maybe he destroyed them. But you would think, by now, that we would have discovered what happened to them. Enough money has been offered to scientists, enough experts in the Iraq Survey Group have combed the country. And what has turned up? Nothing.

I do not dispute that President Bush genuinely believed in their existence before he sent this nation to war. All the intelligence agencies were telling him that Iraq still had WMDs. He did not cynically mislead the nation, but he might have read the intelligence reports, hedged as they always are with caveats, through a more skeptical lens. He wanted to go to war and he heard what he wanted to hear.

Saddam also brought the war upon himself by failing to account for the weapons that he used to have, in breach of UN resolutions. But the end result is that we invaded a nation, at great cost to human life, that was little threat either to its neighbors or to us.

So supporters of the war, like my conservative friends, are left only with the morally threadbare argument of ends and means. They, as do I, passionately hope that Iraq ends up a better place. They, as do I, pray that democracy takes root there, that the country does not fragment, that al-Qaeda does not find the nation as friendly a base for its operations as Afghanistan used to be and may well become again. Obviously we cannot pull out now, at least not without an exit strategy which we seem to lack. The US started this war, so we must finish it. We must do our best to bring peace and democracy to Iraq. We may achieve it -- or, more likely, we may not. But even if we do, I shall continue to believe that President Bush sent this nation to war on unreliable intelligence, and that his administration has conducted its aftermath in a manner that casts shame on America and the values we profess to represent.

And is it not usually dictatorships, rather than democracies, which like to claim that the end justifies the means?

 

 

GA actions ratified (or not) by  the presbyteries   

A number of the most important actions of the 219th General Assembly are now being sent to the presbyteries for their action, to confirm or reject them as amendments to the PC(USA) Book of Order.

We're providing resources to help inform the reflection and debate, along with updates on the voting.

Our three areas of primary interest are:

bullet Amendment 10-A, which would remove the current ban on lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender persons being considered as possible candidates for ordination as elder or ministers.

bullet Amendment 10-2, which would add the Belhar Confession to our Book of Confessions.

bullet Amendment 10-1, which would adopt the new Form of Government that was approved by the Assembly.
 

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Some blogs worth visiting

PVJ's Facebook page

Mitch Trigger, PVJ's Secretary/Communicator, has created a Facebook page where Witherspoon members and others can gather to exchange news and views. Mitch and a few others have posted bits of news, both personal and organizational. But there’s room for more!

You can post your own news and views, or initiate a conversation about a topic of interest to you.

 

Voices of Sophia blog

Heather Reichgott, who has created this new blog for Voices of Sophia, introduces it:

After fifteen years of scholarship and activism, Voices of Sophia presents a blog. Here, we present the voices of feminist theologians of all stripes: scholars, clergy, students, exiles, missionaries, workers, thinkers, artists, lovers and devotees, from many parts of the world, all children of the God in whose image women are made. .... This blog seeks to glorify God through prayer, work, art, and intellectual reflection. Through articles and ensuing discussion we hope to become an active and thoughtful community.

 

John Harris’ Summit to Shore blogspot

Theological and philosophical reflections on everything between summit to shore, including kayaking, climbing, religion, spirituality, philosophy, theology, politics, culture, travel, The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), New York City and the Queens neighborhood of Ridgewood by a progressive New York City Presbyterian Pastor. John is a former member of the Witherspoon board, and is designated pastor of North Presbyterian Church in Flushing, NY.

 

John Shuck’s Shuck and Jive

A Presbyterian minister, currently serving as pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethton, Tenn., blogs about spirituality, culture, religion (both organized and disorganized), life, evolution, literature, Jesus, and lightening up.

 

Got more blogs to recommend?

Please send a note, and we'll see what we can do!

 

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