Palin’s Prayer

Readers will know I am not the biggest fan (to put it oh so gently) of Sarah Palin, but she did (imo) get some unfair treatment re: her prayer–erroneously interpreted/reported as saying that the Iraq War was clearly ordained by God.

Here is the full quotation of Palin’s (h/t Poulos):

Pray for our military. He’s [her son] going to be deployed in September to Iraq. Pray for our military men and women who are striving to do what is right also for this country, that our leaders, our national leaders, are sending them out on a task that is from God; that is what we have to make sure that we are praying for.

I also agree with James that Palin’s later invocation of Lincoln’s quotation that we should not proclaim that God is on our side but hope that we are on God’s side is definitely a rationalization/justification after the fact (even if it is not totally without some grounding in the quotation.

She was unfairly characterized by saying that she invoked the Iraq War as a divinely ordained task. Rather she was praying that it hopefully was.

And here is where theologically I have some serious problems–even with what she did mean. I haven’t yet seen this point explored, but I think it is worth examination.

Namely why is the thing we must be praying for that they are being sent on a task from God? Why not say what we must be praying for (if one must be praying for anything in this or any context) is that the soldiers heading to the front not get killed, maimed, or psychologically wounded for life? Why not pray that they be spared (as much as possible) the horrors of war? Why not pray that civilians and the innocent not be killed?

Why not just simply pray they be safe???–again assuming a worldview in which prayer has an efficacious place.

Why that they have to be sent by their leaders on as task divinely blessed?

It’s all a little too purpose driven prayer for me.

I mean what would be the consequence if we learned that they had been sent by leaders on a task that is not from God? Would our troops become instantaneously evil beings? To dip my toe in the psychological waters (and then quickly remove it), why is it so central to her that this be a divinely ordained mission? If it were, would that assuage the conscience? Would it scrub all the God-awful brutality and violence intrinsic to a war?

To sound a little Feuerbachian for a second–does the prayer say more about our needs than God’s?

In traditional Christian morality, in the case where the army is sent on an “un-godly” mission, the leaders are held more gravely responsible for the sin than those in say an army. [Though of course they always have the option of not fighting, so to the degree they have such a choice AND the war is deemed unethical/contra God’s will, then soldiers are held responsible. By the same token though someone like me who is a US citizen is still in part responsible for the sin. Since the government represents me. That I opposed the war is fairly meaningless in this context–I’m still on the hook.]

As an important side point here, the Iraq War was declared by The Catholic Church and the bodies of the malinline Christian Churches to not meet the requirements of the Just War. So if you put any trust in the ability of those bodies to correctly interpret (however much humanly possible) the will of God (assuming of course there is God or a god)–and in this case I think they were obviously right–then her son was sent on a mission not from God. [I believe her church supported and proclaimed divine legitimation for the war, so that claim is not without opposing theological views].

Is there no forgiveness for those who fight in an unjust war? What do we pray for if we come to believe that they aren’t on a leader-led mission marked by divine approval….what then?

Even more radically and perhaps terrifyingly (in the Calvinist sense of the Holy Numinous Other) the prayer Jesus taught was that “God’s will be done.” Maybe she should just pray that God’s will be done and not that our actions be according to God’s will. What if, invoking a tradition out of the Hebrew Prophets, God’s will was judgment upon the nation? [I did say this was a foray into some dark territory].

In the end the question is always what kind of God is one praying to me as much as what one is praying for? I wonder what kind of God Palin has in mind–who/what does she think is on the receiving end?


The Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) the Bush administration was pushing hard to get signed by the end of this month to leave in a place a military-diplomatic framework amenable to their view of a longer term US occupation (er “presence”) in Iraq is now officially done. Must read article from Karen DeYoung in WAPO on the subject here.

The same new resolve (so argued) by the US pro-occupation right in the Iraqi Army’s recent operations in Basra, Sadr City, Amara, Mosul is the same resolve that is causing him to call for an end to the US presence and refusing to sign a SOFA without a timetable for the withdrawal of US troops (and no permanent bases) both of which both the President and John McCain oppose.

[Extra Credit: Look for McCain to begin parroting the new right-wing talking point that this turn of event proves that we have won–the government is standing up!!! While likely continuing to send signals that he will take his own counsel on troops numbers–i.e doesn’t matter what the Iraqis think on the subject.]

While the US post-Baathist/Saddam war in Iraq failed on numerous fronts–failing to predict and/or deal with for 3 years the insurgency, jerry-rigged and failed electoral process, failing to prevent ethnic cleansing & civil war, the humanitarian disaster/refugee problem–this is the first major attack at the nerve center of the occupation by a more united Iraqi resistance.

While Bush, almost alone in his cocoon, continued to believe that a long term occupation would lead Iraq to become the beacon of democracy to the Middle East/world thereby securing his future standing in history as a late-redeemed figure (a la his hero Truman), the Iraqi government’s stance puts an end to his vision for Iraq.

It is the opening scene of Act IV of the Iraq Drama. [I=the Invasion II=The Insurgency/Gov’t III=Surge IV=Post-US draw down, i.e. “the training wheels coming off.”]

For the inside story on who was behind this new pressure, look to none other than (one of the best in the business) Gareth Porter.

And if there is any doubt who holds the power in Iraq, read this:

The statement by Rubaie came immediately after he had met with Sistani, thus confirming earlier reports that Sistani was opposed to any continuing US military presence.

The government takes its orders from the moral authority (and political power) of a cleric. I.e. Clearly it is a theocracy definitionallly (predicted by the value memetics of the country prior to invasion)

And this–Silly Bush Tricks are for Kids:

The Bush administration has had doubts in the past about the loyalties of those two Shi’ite groups and of the SIIC’s Badr Corps paramilitary organization, and it maneuvered in 2005 and early 2006 to try to weaken their grip on the Interior Ministry and the police.

By 2007, however, the Bush administration hoped that it had forged a new level of cooperation with Maliki aimed at weakening their common enemy, Muqtada al-Sadr’s anti-occupation Mahdi Army. SIIC leader Abdul Aziz al-Hakim was invited to the White House in December 2006 and met with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in November 2007.

As has been argued on the pages of this blog (and elsewhere) the US army was always in a militia on militia fight and was being used by the other militias for their own internal fights and never had anything to do with the US objectives for the region or ideas concerning governance/alliances. With the possible October parliamentary elections, Maliki and SIIC needed the US to help them defeat Sadr. The US having learned in the Gaza Elections that the “bad guys” would win (i.e. Sadrists) decided to ditch the pretense to fair elections and use the interim period to undercut the Sadrist movement, politically under the guise of a military-only operation.

Though even in this round of intra-Shia fighting, Maliki went with the Iranian brokered “ceasefires” with Sadr. (Ceasefires in quotes because fighting continued during the peace time). This was, as Porter demonstrates, against Gen. Petraeus’ plan to link publicly the Iranians to funding for Sadr and a larger full scale assault on the Sadrist movement.

Maliki knowing the terrain better knew I bet that such a full out attack on Sadr would only have further undermined his own parties (and his allies) chances. Their plan seems to have been some deals to gain security in some strongholds, open up some markets, and try to pull a “win the hearts and minds” strategy for electoral success. As well as undermine the capacity for Sadr and his movement to run their campaign unencumbered.

Nevertheless though Moqtada’s party may be suffering some setbacks, he is achieving his goal–ending the US occupation. His cagey embrace of the street and politics–weekly rally protests against the US occupation–and playing the role of persecuted minority for religio-political truth (in the tradition of the great Shia martyr Husayn) has put the pressure on both Sistani and Maliki to take this hard line. Even in (partial) defeat, Sadr is winning.

So now the Bush administration has been double-crossed by the other Shia parties and surprise–the two political parties funded by and started in Iran side with Iran over the US. What are the odds? Who would have seen that coming?  This is why Obama shrewdly got both Petraeus and Crocker to admit in their last Senate testimony that Iran would always have influence in Iraq and any attempt to eradicate it as a definitional plank for victory in Iraq is/was self-defeating lunacy.

All of which all of course would make for the thinking person a laughingstock of the new right wing meme that this is a sign of victory–given the cost of US dead and killed, the perfect outcome this entails for Iran and its ascendancy to regional hegemon, the massive debt the US has now bankrolled to install an Iranian-puppet regime, and the loss of international support over the mission, as well as the resurgence of al-Qaeda in Pakistan and the deterioration of Afghanistan as a result of the near absolute focus on Iraq.

But of course admitting such isn’t going to happen of course. Their entire dream (more like hallucination) of imposing some order has been unmasked.

Obama has to come out swinging on this one.  Force McCain into the corner–what does this mean for his policy?  The Iraqis clearly want a timetable–will he give one?  If not, is he simply going to keep US forces in Iraq against the will of the majority of the US populace AND the majority of the Iraqi populace AND the Iraqi government?  Not to mention the Legislative Branch of the US.

This lets Obama shift away from McCain’s stupid question about “is the surge working” to the central issue:  the occupation is unsustainable. It has been rejected by both countries populations and is putting stress on the military it can not afford. And leaves untouched the actual culprits behind the attack on the US who continue to pose a threat to US national security, clearly seeking to attack US soil (unlike any actors in Iraq).

Obama can then say he was both right about the not getting into the war in the first place and has been right in his judgment of where strategically the country has to move (draw down Iraq, focus on the Afghan-Pak border region).

Jus Post Bellum

Jean Bethke Elshtain, Prof. at University of Chicago Divinity School, has an intriguing (but I think ultimately misguided) essay in the current World Affairs.  Read it here.

Elshtain discusses an oft forgotten part of the just war tradition:  jus post bellum (justice after the war).  Traditionally just war theory often focuses only jus ad bello (just reasons to go to war, e.g. self-defense) as well as jus in bello (justice/just action in war, e.g. not targeting civilians or civilian infrastructure, not torturing captured prisoners).

For Elshtain taking seriously jus post bellum requires as he sees it:

There will be, for the next decade and possibly the one after that, no substitute for America’s presence and role in regenerating Iraq’s capacity to defend itself. An ethics of exit, with this recognition in mind, points ineluctably in the direction of a careful, long-range, and measured withdrawal of major combat forces from Iraq, rather than any withdrawal in line with the pre-fixed timetables offered on America’s campaign trails.

On a policy front this is along the lines of the Colin Powell Pottery Barn Rule (which whether he actually said it or not, he’s said it now in the common memory which is just as/more important): you break it, you own it.

And there is a part of me that certainly sympathizes with this view, i.e. in some measure of actually thinking about Iraqis and the horrors of their reality.  That’s why I’ve always favored at the bare minimum (a la George Packer) extremely accelerating the rates of VISAs for Iraqis who have helped the Coalition Authority.  Don’t leave them in Iraq.

I also have always believed following the analysis of Michael Ware (CNN) and Thomas Ricks (author of Fiasco) that the US will be in Iraq for 10-15 years minimum.  The question being at what level of troop numbers and for what stated goal/strategy.  And here there is a wide gap between Obama and McCain.  I’m far from convinced this is a good policy, but it’s going to happen seems to me regardless.  Obama has promised no permanent bases which McCain is for, so at minimum that is all I can really vote (i.e. if you think the campaign pledge around all troops out in 16 months is real, think again).

But that being said, there is still for me a whiff of unreality/hubris about the whole piece.  There are moments when the Prof. realizes that this situation is different than post WWII Germany but then tends to back away from the abyss of recognition.

She writes:

Yet there is great unanimity among just war thinkers concerning the U.S. commitment to jus post bellum criteria—namely, the obligation to leave Iraq with something better, or at least not worse, than what went before. How, then, might the just war tradition bear on an ethics of exit? The end of a war must be consistent with the initial argument for conflict as couched in just war criteria—that is, to repair or to remedy a major injustice or act of aggression. Another just cause might be to prevent nigh-certain and massive harm from occurring before it has occurred. But, again, the basic aim of jus post bellum is a more just situation than that which pertained before the armed conflict.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but is this even possible?  While again I sympathize with the moral reflection inherent in jus post bellum, how is this achieved?   The argument from the William Odoms of the world (scroll half way down page) has always been that the presence of US troops is what prevents Iraq (or whatever you want to call the fiefdoms of that region) from reaching some new equilibrium status, however shaky, corrupt, or “minimal” state it might be.  And more disturbingly likely involving more not less violence.

While there are certainly counter points to be made, this argument is not to be dismissed as simply ideological cover for wanting to cut moral responsibility.  It might be based rather on a clear eyed appraisal of what the US can actually do/who actually holds the power (i.e. the militias, including the one we call the government).  And who is simply a negative force (the US Army) and by negative I don’t mean evil but rather only has power to prevent some things from happening but has no influence to effect positively the kind of strategic change it seeks.   i.e. Temporarily prevent more ethnic cleansing/genocide, civil war, and outside powers from invading.  But might have no recourse to build momentum towards a new order, however defined by Elshtain.  No ability in other words to promote political end game scenario, no matter what local deals can be struck militarily or reconstruction wise.  All of which stand on extremely tenuous ground without a larger political context within which to fit them.

Ehlstain spends the rest of the article outlining the criteria of jus post bellum and shows in each case that the US is obligated under said criteria.  These include having a major role in the military conflict, disbanding the army/police and therefore having responsibility for the protection of the citizenry.  I don’t see any illogic in theory with any of those criteria per se and his analysis that the US is bound to them.  But what I am saying is I’m not sure these categories apply in practice (in this case) or rather if they do that there be a separate and currently missing criteria:  feasibility/actual ability to achieve prior criteria.

Moral reasoning in politics minus some hard headed realistic assessments are often well meaning and thoughtful but not always helpful in pinning down what should in fact be done or rather what can be done, often less than the best wished for situation.

For example:

There is a delicate balancing act involved in repairing the political infrastructure of a state that has been the victim of decades of misrule and military invasion. The aim is to restore legitimate authority. If you played a major role in military operations, your degree of responsibility for this goal is enormous. It follows that to abandon the occupied state before this aim has been accomplished would be an act of moral dereliction of the most egregious kind. That is the bottom line of any ethics of exit from Iraq.

Of course the aim is to restore legitimate authority.  Who doesn’t want that?  But Is this aim possible?  Specifically in Iraq.  With is history, its  current political actors, the failed policy of the US in the aftermath of the defeat of the Baathist regime.  If so, how?  What evidence can be pointed to that suggests such?  Or is this a blanket open ended McCain style commitment?  Practically can the US military afford such a situation even if it were possible?

To invoke Thomas PM Barnett for a second, the force necessary to do exactly what Elshtain calls for doesn’t actually exist–what Barnett calls the Dept. of Reconstruction/Systems Administrations Force.  That gap has been filled by the US military, which it is neither designed to do nor capable of doing (no shot at them, that’s their not their job).  Even with the recent surge we see that the gains have been in military (surprise surprise) terms.  Not political.

More into the weeds for a second, the surge has had to align itself/coming to accept the reality of the militia-ization and fragmentation of Iraq.  i.e. The Surge qua tactic actually works against the kind of state buildup Elshtain would like to see.  Unless one militia/one leader seeks a renewed dictatorship (Maliki?) which would violate the principle of not leaving the situation the same/worse than before the war.  Undoing the surge tactic would revive violence (breaking another one of the jus post bellum criteria). So you see the pickle.

Los Papas re: Iraq

Matthew brought my attention to this piece by Michael Novak in the National Review concerning the Pope’s trip to America and what he may say on Iraq publicly.

Matthew tags it as:  “Pope in general rightly against the war.”

In general and I would say on this war specifically as well.

As is well known Benedict XVI like his predecessor John Paul II was opposed to the War in Iraq (and still is).  Novak may be trying to head off at the pass American Catholic conservatives (or Christians generally) who feel torn between the Pope’s anti-war message and their own views on the matter.  Benedict may say some things in his upcoming trip that are directed right at this administration and country on this issue.

Novak makes some decent points:  the Pope should represent peace to the world.  The Pope is not a political player and therefore is not in the same position as say a President/Head of State.  All correct.

But then Novak takes a left and goes down crazy road:

This background is important to grasp, since Pope Benedict XVI will almost certainly judge that he is duty-bound to call for the violence in Iraq to cease. The edge of his words will be felt more sharply here, where he delivers them, than among Al Sadr and his Shia militias, who are now causing so much of the violence in three cities in Iraq. The Shiites militias very much want the Americans will to stop fighting, and to depart.

Yes because the real fruitful comparison is between us and Sadr.  Don’t feel so bad Catholic pro-war NRO conservatives–at least you’re not this guy.  Never mind that Ayatollah-in-training Moqtada would still be playing video games in East Baghdad if it wasn’t for the invasion.  But I digress.

The reason if you didn’t catch it that he singles out al Sadr is that the US has now declared Sadr the real enemy in Iraq and is trying to tie him to Iran as opposed to PM Maliki and his supporters (and therefore the US’) Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council which was trained and funded by Iran.  Yes Mr. Novak is right the Sadr crew does want the US out–hint hint that’s why they are popular and have more power than the Iraqi central government–because they are seen as resisting an occupying army (h/t Juan Cole).

Allright but that aside, you still might think this is a relatively rational/benign-ish piece.  Except for the following.

That is why in 2003 many Americans who believed that the war in Iraq was justified, also believed that it was very good for Pope John Paul II to oppose the war. The pope should not be, and should not even be allowed to seem to be, a proponent of war, especially of a war with so many complex religious tendrils, and with so many centuries of conflicted history…On the record, we are entitled to have confidence in Benedict’s bravery, balance of mind, and concern to do his duty.

Now hold on a second.  I seem to remember….yes hmmm what was it now—oh that’s right:  Michael Novak went to Rome in 2003 to try and persuade then Pope John Paul II to publicly support the WAR!!!  WTF????

Whoever those nameless people who thought the war was a good idea and the Pope not supporting it was as well, whoever they are, don’t count Novak in that crowd.  Does dude believe his own BS?

And I do feel badly (slightly) because other than his intense neoconservatism and attempting to equate neoliberal economics with John Paul’s social encyclicals (along with his wing man Richard Neuhaus), his unjust (imo) slamming of liberation theology in Latin America (and elsewhere), I actually have liked some of the books of his I’ve read very much.  Especially his work on human rights, a culture of ethics and transparency, commitment to the public square as a Christian ethic–and yes when not so ludicrously ideological, progress and prosperity in the world.

But he’s an American boomer who had his conversion from his radical lefty days in the late 60s to conservatism and now he’s gone pretty much all the way in the other direction.  Running from often seems to me as much as running towards.  And always nervous about proving his bona fides to the movement conservative crowd–hence a piece like this one seems to me.

And God Most High am I sick of boomer ideology (left and right).

Published in: on April 14, 2008 at 4:42 pm  Comments (2)  
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Clinton Iraq IV


For the other posts in this series, here and here.

For Hillary’s plan, her website overview here and her speech at George Washington University–you have to get about 2/3 of the way down before you get to the issues.  The opening includes her now infamous remark to ducking (non-existent) sniper fire in Bosnia.

Clinton’s plan involves three steps:  1. Bringing US troops home  2.  security stability in Iraq during draw down  3.  Diplomatic surge.

These points are not substantially different than Obama’s.  She calls for the UN High Commission on Refugees and wants to appoint a UN High Commissioner for Diplomacy to the Country, to broker a peace deal.  And will leave a small number of special ops to target specific and possible on-going/future threats (e.g. al-Qaeda camps).

She also describes keeping other countries from coming in and sending aid to the people not the Iraqi government–which is she is otherwise quite harsh on.  Obama’s plan deals with more specifically with a re-write of the Iraqi Constitution which seems wise to me.

Obama’s plan emphases more specifically prevention of genocide, but that is roughly covered in Clinton’s plan under the rubric of stabilization.  So I think its mostly push on that front.

The only major possible difference I can see is the following (from her speech):

In addition to removing American troops from Iraq, I will also work to remove armed private military contractors who are conducting combat-oriented and security functions in Iraq. For five yeas their behavior and lack of supervision and accountability have often eroded our credibility, endangered U.S. and Iraqi lives and undermined our mission. Now, Senator Obama and I have a substantive disagreement here. He won’t rule out continuing to use armed private military contractors in Iraq to do jobs that historically have been done by the U.S. military or government personnel. When I am president I will ask the Joint Chiefs for their help in reducing reliance on armed private military contractors. With the goal of ultimately implementing a ban on such contractors.

Now notice the caveats in that one.  She will work to (that’s guarded perhaps properly so) PMCs who are doing military/security detail.  Ask for help from Joint Chiefs to reduce and have a goal of ultimately implementing a ban.  That’s hedging bets to be sure.

I’m unclear about PMCs.  On the one hand they are unanswerable to any government, which is deeply problematic and undermine the sovereignty of the country.  On the other hand, structurally we are seeing the breakdown of elements of the Westphalian order and they are clearly plugging a gap as well as taking advantage of the modern globalized economic infrastructure.  So I have a hard time seeing a President really cracking down them totally.

What’s unclear is whether outsourced firms that are doing jobs traditionally done by “government personnel” involves non-combatant PMCs.
Lastly, Clinton (along with Obama) correctly want to stop the President from signing a permanent basing operation (illegally it would seem without Congress’ approval) with the Iraqi government.  Bush will likely do that this summer.  Or try to; I’m hoping he doesn’t get away with it.  But given this president’s disregard for the limits of executive power and arrogance, I doubt it.

Published in: on March 27, 2008 at 4:55 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Syria’s Game in Iraq

From the NyTimes:

Syria is encouraging Sunni Arab insurgent groups and former Iraqi Baathists with ties to the leaders of Saddam Hussein’s government to organize here, diplomats and Syrian political analysts say. By building strong ties to those groups, they say, Syria hopes to gain influence in Iraq before what it sees as the inevitable waning of the American presence there.

At the same time that they are aligned with Iran (Shia) and have officially re-instated ties with the Iraqi Gov’t (Shia) and the Kurdistan Regional Government.

Further proof that the US can not continue to act as if it is the only player in the country.  As if Iraq existed (it doesn’t) or if it did, as a separate sealed off country–except of course for Syrians to let in suicide bombers and Iranians to send weapons.

Published in: on October 7, 2007 at 8:58 pm  Leave a Comment  
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