12 August 2010

Afghanistan and Iraq, cynicism and revival

The Russian president's recent visit to Abkhazia (less smoky than Moscow, I'm sure) and the stories about the Russian missiles being based there are sure to exacerbate the USA/Russia "reset" debates (examples: pro; con) in Washington and elsewhere.

Many commentators and insiders (example, again via "Scraps of Moscow") point out that Abkhazia has an identity separate from Georgia (as does Ossetia), that the history of all of these lands is interwoven with Russia, and that Georgia may have lost one or both of them for the foreseeable future.

What does this have to do with Afghanistan? Bear with me. Most of these commentators see Georgia and its "lost" territories primarily in terms of Russian-USA and Russian-European relations. Their main questions: what do the various configurations and resets portend for the various balances of power and strategic dilemmas (terrorism, Iran, etc)? There's no lack of scolding Russia, on the part of both pro-resetters and skeptics alike, for its imperial agendas and blunt power tactics. In the meantime, I keep looking at the map, and keep wondering at the USA leadership's constant assumption: Russia's agendas for hot spots on its own border are constantly deprecated, and its missile placements criticized, while we have every right to invade and occupy countries halfway around the world, build enormous bases, assassinate undesirable figures using remote-control planes, and send training missions costing billions of dollars to train fighters whose main problem seems not lack of fighting ability but motivation. Not that I approve of everything on either side, but as a patriotic American, the USA's sanctimony grates especially hard on my nerves.

Last night I finally saw the amazing movie The Road. As father and son walk their way through a post-cataclysmic land, with two bullets--then one--left in their pistol, the unnamed son keeps asking his father, "Are we (still) the good guys?" Who in our government, in our nation, has the capacity to ask this same question with any sense of urgency and efficacy? How exactly will we know the answer?

In both Iraq and Afghanistan, the USA has scheduled departure dates. In Iraq's case, it's the date for the removal of all combat forces (contractors, too?). In Afghanistan's case, it's only the beginning date of the departure, already hedged with escape clauses because the honest truth appears to be that, beyond continued experimentation at incredible expense, there is no clarity on the way forward. (To paraphrase Churchill, never in the field of human conflict was so much spent by so many to fight so few.) However, the formula for a repeat engagement is clear:
  • a claimed threat to USA security--too urgent to await international consensus or dispassionate analysis
  • pundits (including those with ties to the military or allied think tanks) ready with rhetorical kerosene
  • politicians who probably know better but are afraid of being painted as not patriotic enough
  • a divided church, distracted from primary allegiance to the Prince of Peace and from a constant vigilance against new threats to peace
  • contractors eager to build more bases, provide more logistics, and keep more of the gears of military intervention out of public sight
  • undisciplined fiscal processes that allow wars to be funded 100% on credit
  • a constant bias (despite our present defense secretary's own laudable protests) in favor of military over diplomatic responses.
How do we begin countering this recipe for permanent war? For myself, I first have to fight against passivity and cynicism--the voices that say "it's no use," "the military-industrial-mass media complex will get what it wants" and "there are no good guys." Cynicism is spiritual poison, whereas what we need is a spiritual revival. The revival I yearn for is one where Jesus-hearted people rise up winsomely wherever they may be, and according to their individual spiritual gifts, begin together to spread the word that:
  • genuine good guys have the capacity to question their own decisions, their own motives ("are we still the good guys?"), even when their reputations as intellectuals or as patriots might be questioned
  • when we focus creatively and persistently on universal human needs rather than transient zero-sum advantages for ourselves, we will find collaborators in every culture, every society, even in the midst of our perceived adversaries
  • we are not frightened; even if terrorists come, drone planes fly, S-300's are launched, there is no force more powerful than love focused in prayer
  • the Pentagon cannot count on Christian taxpayers' money to fund permanent war
  • we will confront, argue, dispute, agree, disagree, get angry, forgive, ask forgiveness--in short, we will relate to conflict in all the ways that humans inevitably do--but we will not kill, because Jesus has told us not to, and that's that.

Friday PS: See this New York Times editorial: "The State of the War." Notice how thorough and detailed our remote control of another country must be in order to meet our "powerful national interest" and avoid "enormous damage" to our "moral and strategic standing"--we must supply generators here, get rid of unwanted presidential relatives there, and always, impose exquisitely composed lists of "benchmarks." Is this a sustainable way of being on this planet? Can a few thousand highly motivated fighters always hold us hostage this way? Most intriguing of all to me is the suggestion that we cannot afford to lose this struggle, but at the same time, we should be ready to negotiate a deal with the Taliban, with "...clear red lines: Taliban leaders must forswear all ties to Al Qaeda and accept the Afghan Constitution, with its protection of women’s rights." Interesting how many billions of dollars, and how many soldiers' and civilians' lives we'll risk for an outcome that could be so fragile and temporary.

These two items brought me back to my years of working for Friends World Committee. First, the Quaker Youth Pilgrimage visited Camas Friends Church (and also my own meeting, Reedwood). Has it really been more than a quarter century since I was the FWCC staff person assigned to the Pilgrimage? (Well, yes.) The New York Times article on "Slumdog Tourism" reminded me of my first experiences of seeing communities in poverty while working for Right Sharing of World Resources. Of all the memories that come back to me from those visits, the strongest are not those of the poverty itself--the evidence of having too little of everything, the complete lack of a safety margin in life, the rickety improvised shelters, and so on. I remember (1) flowers; (2) feeling like an intruder--wishing I could either stay or flee, anything but just saying "Hello; and by the way, whose fault is it you live like this?"; (3) a child clinging to me and a mother begging me to adopt him.

An "opti-mystic" overview of Anne Rice's resignation from the Christian church (but not from the body of Christ). Not entirely unrelated, maybe: strippers turn tables on church.

Sappho on the new Kenyan constitution.

Bill Gates on the Internet and the traditional university. And Google is not selling out the Internet.

U.S. Federal Election Commission sued for not explaining decisions

A remarkable blog by a remarkable artist.

More remarkable art: amazing Chicago photographs by Vivian Maier (thanks, Chicago Reader).

Blues don't get much more unenlightened than this, but what a groove! (JP Soars and friends, with Terry Hanck on saxophone). Re-enlightenment here; I look forward to discussing this article in a class.

How much more music like this can we love and still be the good guys? ...


Bill Samuel said...

To answer one of your questions, the Obama Administration has allocated a huge sum of money to increase contractor forces in Iraq as he removes many with U.S. uniforms.

On the Election Commission, it is a planned farce. It is composed solely of people with critical conflicts of interest. They represent the two parties which have all the problems - major fundraisers, etc. It's the foxes guarding the chicken coop. It's hard to see how anything short of nonviolent revolution could result in a meaningful democratic system in the U.S.

Jeremy Mott said...

Johan, you have my agreement on these matters. I can well remember
how angry Americans were when Russia, by using Castro and his forces as their proxies, took over
Cuba. How would Americans feel if
Russia, or China, allied itself with Canada, or Mexico, or even the
Dominican Republic or Venezuela?
It seems that any big and powerful nation thinks it has a
"right" to govern its little neighbors.
Jeremy Mott