Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Election and The War

September 11, 2008

It has seven years ago today that we saw people pouring out of the tall office buildings that surround the church after the bombing of the twin towers in New York and the Pentagon in Washington. Life has gone on. We invaded Afghanistan with wide public support and to initial effect in our pursuit of Al Qaida and Osama bin Laden. We then (perhaps without learning the lesson of Hitler’s opening of the Russian front in WWII) turned our energy and attention to Iraq and the rather sickening sight (at least in retrospect) of Colon Powell seeking to have his Adlai Stevenson moment at the United Nations showing the world the perilous threat of Saddam’s Weapons of mass Destruction. I presume that there were many in the administration in those days who believed, on balance, that such weapons either existed or were close to coming into existence. We now know, of course that they didn’t exist and that there were clearly a number of intelligence reports over a period of time that made that case but which were (willfully?) ignored by senior politicians in England and America. Even before that came to light it was hard to get a sense as to why we were really in Iraq. There were plenty of (shifting) rationales but I never heard a compelling reason for taking the extraordinary step of America and its allies (notably England) being the aggressors in a massive war. We knew than and know more now about the young policy types from the Nixon administration (Wolfowitz et al) who were now senior enough to try and put their theories to the test. I remember asking journalists Judy Woodruff and Ray Suarez in a meeting with some Episcopal clergy in 2003 why they thought we were really in Iraq and their answers added up to saying that no one really know but that our political leaders were clear ‘believers’ that the invasion was the best thing we could be doing. I wanted then, and I want now, leaders who will do better than that in the matters of life and death with which they deal.

I opposed this war (in contrast to the first Iraq war and our invasion of Afghanistan) on moral grounds. But we lost some parishioners from All Saints’ in those days allegedly because I did not speak out forcefully enough against it. My own view at the time was that railing against a war that was underway was tilting at windmills and that the best we could do was pray that something good could be brought out of this terrible thing. Maybe Iraq post-Saddam could be a better and more free place for those who live there. I was skeptical of the talk of ‘nation building’ and skeptical about how self serving were our motives where oil was concerned, but maybe something good could be brought out of this war. Later I learned that we could join the great spiritual tradition of lament and we put together a service of prayer for peace, (basically music and silence with some written meditations) which I still use in my own prayer. (Our recent performance of Karl Jenkins’ The Armed Man was a direct result of that desire to find ways to lament the war.

That is the same view I have taken with every subsequent morally questionable decision (including, most recently, ‘the surge’ of troops being sent to Iraq even as our allies continued to bail.) it appears that this last one has brought about a measure of quiet or at least been a catalyst for some Iraqi Sunni people to find the backbone to resist the radicals in their midst who would keep going the cycle of violence and bloodshed. I remember the criticism that the then Archbishop of Canterbury took from Margaret Thatcher and others for reminding the British nation of their need to repent during a service of thanksgiving at the end of the Falklands war in the 80s. He did not buy into the jingoism and political capital that was being claimed as a result of ‘victory’. I give all credit to General Petraeus and our troops under his command for their part in bringing about a reduction in violence, but Iraq is still a long way from ‘peace’; and claims of ‘victory’ (such as we have heard from the G.O.P.’s V.P. nominee in recent days) in the face of all the bloodshed of the long years past, is not something that makes sense to me.

I’m delighted that eight thousand or so of our troops will be coming home and not replaced before Christmas. I’m happy that there is some chance of our escaping a long term entanglement of large numbers of troops with some possibility of being able to leave a relative degree of stability even if it does not last very long. And I hope that we will have a President committed to getting the rest of our troops out of Iraq in short order. I hope that General Petraeus or someone with his kind of tactical vision can take command in Iraq where it seems we will need to be for quite a while longer if there is really a meaningful way to deal with Al Qaida if that idea has any meaning.

1 comment: said...

I commend to readers of Geoffrey's blog a remarkable new book by the journalist Ron Suskind called "The Way of the World." Suskind creates parallel narratives around the lives of more than half a dozen people -- from a prisoner in Guantanamo, to President Bush, and others.

The coup in the book is Suskin's uncovering of this development: Several months prior to the start of the war, the head of the British Secret Service met with his counterpart in Iraq, who told him that Iraq had no WMDs, no plans to build and use nuclear weapons. Iraq wanted its neighbors to think this was happpening so they would think twice before taking on Iraq.

This astonishing development, unchallenged as far as I know, was ignored by the American and British governments. And you know what followed.

Mark Siegel