Wednesday, May 10, 2006

My, uhm, thoughts on politics... I think.

http://www.liquorsnob.com/George-Bush-Toast.jpg
I have been very hesitant to throw my political opinions around these days because I'm not sure I can come up with a concise statement that sums up my thoughts. I know that I'm not happy with the way things are going... gas prices through the roof, death tolls in Iraq still rising, genocide in Sudan, etc, etc. These are difficult times, and I don't envy any politician who has to weed through the media, special interest groups and a polarized and divided country.

Having said that, I am disturbed by what seems to be a lack of understanding among Americans about the history of the Middle East and the conflict we are currently engaged in. Islamo-fascism is an insidious religious philosophy akin to that of Hitler, Stalin and Mussolini. In my opinion, it's even worse because it uses religion to justify its violence and oppression. The situation in Sudan, Africa is a prime example.

If you'll recall, Khartoum, Sudan, the capital of the country, is the place where the events of 9-11 were planned by Osama bin Laden and others. It has long been a hot bed of terrorist activity. Sudan is currently the location of the first genocide of the new millennium. As it stands, more than 300,000 people have been slaughtered, and more than 2 million are displaced from their homes. All of these events are being carried out by Islamic fundamentalists bent on world domination. Ironically, these are the same Islamic fundamentalists who dominate Middle Eastern culture.

All of this makes me wonder what might have happened if we had intervened earlier when Hitler was killing the Jews? What if we could have squeaked into Central Europe and helped change the culture before it was too late?

In many ways it seems to me that we are doing exactly that in Iraq. We're trying to import a philosophy of democracy and freedom into a world that has been infiltrated by the most insidious religious dogma in the history of the world (you'll forgive me if I rank it even higher than Constantine's wrong-headed Christianity that led to the crusades). It's amazing to me that Christianity is still paying for the crusades, yet we never seem to hear word one from Bush-bashing musicians and actors about Islamo-fascism. Where's the outrage?

I will admit that I have a hard time with George W. Bush. He's a terrible public speaker, and seems lost at times in front of the media. I think I'd probably really enjoy a sit down with him at his Crawford, TX ranch, but he's hard for me to take seriously in a public forum. I honestly felt the same way about President Clinton, but for different reasons.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that, although I'm concerned about the direction of our country, I am not going to sit here and bash President Bush for the conflict in Iraq. Something must be done to slow the spread of Islamo-fascism. Is this the right way to do it? I don't know. What I do know is that I would have preferred that my country took measures to change the culture of Nazi Germany before so many innocents had to die. I would still prefer that we take action, regardless of our initial intent, to stop the spread of fundamentalist Islam before it's too late.

Those are my hot political opinions. I struggle with this... I really do. I don't want to be one of those blind Christians who think that Jesus was a Republican, but I don't want to be lumped in with the cocaine and boob-job Hollywood crowd either. I love Jesus, but aside from that I'm not always sure where I stand. Lord, help me get it right.

26 comments:

R! said...

amen brotha!

Doc Savage said...

As a Roman Catholic, I guess I joined that "wrong-headed" group, centuries after your intended target, but I don't take offense even if it's intended (you know I'm tongue-in-cheek, right?) Ha. I liked your recent blog about politics, and, I concur. I can "concur" because I went to law school, Steve. Anyway, this whole politico-religious mumbo-jumbling of Christianity irks me. I know Catholics welded religion and politics back in the day, in front of God and everyone. I gotta think Constantine wanted to "do the right thing" so I gloss over much of history. Shouldn't be a problem at all for a Protestant. Ha. But the point I'm loitering is that today, as Americans, we fault politicians and "government" for taking prayer out of the schools and for trying to take God out of everything, including the pledge. See the irony dripping from the Protestant-Republican-Rightwing-
Conservative-Family focusing pulpit? I only include "Protestant" in retaliation, and it is only meant to stir righteous indignation and the proverbial "pot," because, in all sincerity, it is a 21st century Christian dilemma (Catholic and Protestant).
My own opinion is that Jesus, had He wished to make a political splash, would have spent more time doing so. He seems to have ignored it altogether. Genius. Nothing a politician hates worse than being ignored. Paul didn't seem too concerned about government either, except to preach to those in politics. Neither of them tried to use politics to change religious/spiritual landscapes. Likewise, neither of them tried to use religion/spirituality to change political landscapes. Which begs the question: why are we Americans so engulfed by religion as a means to change politics/government? Is it really for the spread of Christianity? And even if it is, what separates us from Constantine? Our dilemma is an American one, not a Christian one. We have some pretty ironic/paradoxical/hypocritical ideals, I think. And that's not just the Democrat in me talking, either.

Doug said...

Oh, Steve. I completely disagree with what you're saying but I defend to the death your right to say it.

Steve Hayes said...

Doug,

I also defend to the death your right to say that you disagree.

With what exactly do you disagree? Trust me, I have absolutely no interest in arguing with you, but I would like to know. I'm certainly not above being wrong on this. Like I said, it's a real struggle for me to sort all of this out. You're opinion might help me understand more clearly what we're facing.

Steve Hayes said...

Doug,

Thanks for not holding back. I really do appreciate your comments. I've done a lot of soul searching since my original post, and I think you make some good points. I also disagree (suprise!) with some of your conclusions. Let me address a few of them.

First off, you conclude that the invasion in Iraq was "illegal." In light of the intelligence that was available at the time, and in light of the fact that Democrats (including Hillary Clinton and John Kerry) and Republicans voted to send troops into Iraq, I find it difficult to understand how your conclusion holds water. I agree that the invasion was based on faulty intelligence, but it's not like Bush just decided to go in without congress's overwhelming approval. There's nothing illegal about that.

The only difference between Bush and those who voted to go to war is that they have the luxury of changing their mind when it is politically convenient.

Secondly, I think you underestimate the philosophy we're dealing with. Mohammed himself was a warrior who led over 70 raids during his lifetime. He was not a man of peace, and those who follow his fundamentals will produce chaos and disorder. Fundamentalist Islam doesn't need "the West" or anyone else to stir them to world domination. That's like saying that the evil Jews caused Hitler to become a fascist. When you follow a religion, you follow its leader. In this case, its leader endorses brutal violence against all who believe differently.

Now, I'm not saying that all Muslims believe this way, but I'm also not saying that this is an "extreme" view of Islam. If Islam is followed literally - if its logical outworkings are realized - it is a very dangerous and violent religious philosophy. I would say that the majority of Muslims in the West don't believe this way, but in the Middle East this is a way of life.

As far as forcing democracy is concerned, you might be right. This is my greatest struggle. Democracy is not in the vocabulary of fundamentalist Islam's mindset. The Suni's and the Shi'ite's will probably battle in a brutal civil war, and this will turn into another Vietnam for the United States.

Not sure that I have any good answers here. I truly believe that whether or not we've officially declared war on Fundamentalist Islam, it has declared war on us. We either sit on this like we have done with China and Korea and hope that it never turns into a full fledged global conflict, or we enter that world and open pandora's box. I don't think either option is a real good one.

Now, about Jesus. Jesus is transcendent. He says some things in one place that make the Focus on the Family crowd gasp (like when he told his mother and brother that he didn't know them, and when he defied his parents by running away for three days without telling them where he was), and he defies the democrats and hippies by speaking in exclusive terms about heaven and hell and making bold moral statements. Jesus is kind of like a tax deduction: everybody wants to claim him. To you he's a liberal; to James Dobson he's a conservative. To me he's my savior, and his grace covers my limited understanding of who he really is.

Amazingly, Jesus rose above the classifications of his day. He defied the politicains (Pontious Pilte), and confounded the religious (The Pharisees). He spent time with people conservatives would never approve of (prostitutes and lepers), and reached out to those whom Democrats would have protested (tax collectors and Centurians).

Good try, Doug, but I think viewing Jesus as a liberal or a conservative is wrong. Jesus is holy, which means that he is "other." The minute we try to claim him as one of us, he does something that doesn't fit into our paradigm. That's one of the main reasons why we're still talking about him.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I don't expect us to see eye to eye, but I do feel better knowing that we can discuss freely and openly. Regardless of where we part ways politically, I think our friendship has definitely progressed! I'm truly happy about that.

doug said...

Steve, I’m really glad that you’re open-minded about this, and that you’re willing to listen to opinions that you may not agree with. In this highly charged political climate, that’s all-too rare.I guess the first thing I disagree with is the premise that our presence in the Middle East is in any way diminishing the problems brought on by Islamic extremists. Make no mistake, our illegal invasion of Iraq, our interference in the conflict between Palestine and Israel, and our isolationist and careless international policies have created far more angry extremists than Osama could have ever dreamed. Your analogy between Nazi Germany and the death and destruction in the Middle East seems like a good one until you realize that we (the West, not just the U.S.) are one of the main sources of fuel for the spread of Islamo-fascism. As for our eventual justification that we invaded Iraq to bring democracy to the Middle East in a region that has chosen theocracies for thousands of years is worse than absurd and has cost thousands of lives and billions of dollars. Madeline Albright recently said that imposing democracy is an oxymoron. Great quote. I’m really glad you don’t want to be one of those who believe that Jesus would have been a Republican. I’d like to pause here to make a distinction between Republican and Democrat, and conservative and liberal/progressive. Jesus cared about the downtrodden, the poor, and the needy. He was anti-establishment and a rabble-rouser. He was, in short, a hippie. Does anyone think these values fit the modern neo-con movement? Has Bush shown a single one of these values? Jesus was a liberal.

Steve Hayes said...

For those of you trying to keep up with this thread, Doug's last post was originally intended to come before my last post. Doug edited his post, and I can't figure out how to put it in the proper order. Sorry!!

Doug said...

Steve, I’ve really enjoyed this, too. We may have to agree to disagree in the end, but I think there’s still room for common ground here.

I say that the invasion of Iraq was “illegal” because we went to the U.N. for approval, and when we didn’t get it, we went to war anyway. In his rush to invade, Bush chose to rely on faulty intelligence even though there was a preponderance of evidence that Iraq had no WMDs. I’m not saying that he conclusively knew, but he told the U.N. weapons inspectors to stop their inspections and get out because he was going to start bombing. Bush didn’t want to know.

As for getting the blessings of Congress, Kerry was very clear that he, like so many others, voted to give Bush the power to go IF ALL OTHER AVENUES FOR RESOLUTION WERE EXHAUSTED. We now know conclusively, thanks to the Downing Street Memo and his reaction to Joseph Wilson’s findings (Bush outed his CIA operative wife, Valerie Plame) Bush abused the power he was given. It’s easy to second guess after the fact, but this was abuse, pure and simple. So, is that illegal? Not technically, no. Perhaps I should have stuck with morally reprehensible.

I don’t claim to understand Mohamed or his teachings, let alone his followers, but I want to clarify something. In my post I said, “We are one of the main sources of fuel for the spread of Islamo-fascism.” In response to that you said, “That's like saying that the evil Jews caused Hitler to become a fascist.” You changed my meaning from “helping to spread” to “create,” which is completely different. You can’t honestly think that our invasion of Iraq and our swaggering demeanor in the world community hasn’t exponentially expanded the spread of radical fundamentalist Islam, do you? I don’t see how that could even be argued.

Now, about Jesus being a liberal. You’re absolutely right that I’m imposing a modern label to a man who lived in a very different time. But today’s conservative leadership (this is not about you personally) keeps trying to find new ways to help the rich instead of helping those who really need it. No Child Left Behind has been under funded from day one, all the tax breaks are going to the wealthy (or at least upper-middle class), and just about the only budget cuts the Bush administration has made is to cut social programs for the poor. Don’t even get me going on the massive, record-breaking debts we’re racking up.

Conservatism is about stopping and even reversing change. There is a saying that conservatives worship liberals long dead. Did conservatives embrace the change brought on by Martin Luther King? Rosa Parks? Malcolm X? Susan B. Anthony? Abraham Lincoln (A liberal Republican)? Of course not! Of course, they do now.

The 2004 campaign turned into a platform of “family values,” which was code for gay marriage. There’s always a code that makes things sound more palatable. Conservatives rallied to stop the spread of gay marriage, but it’s an inevitability, and in a few decades conservatives will decide they loved the idea of inclusive (rather than exclusive) marriage all along.

I think Jesus loved the poor, thought that God loved and wanted to include everyone, and would never turn his back on everyone. These are not conservative values, are they?

Forgive me if I’ve rambled on, but we both obviously feel strongly about our positions on this. I think you’re such a good person that I refuse to believe you’re really a conservative. I think that deep down, you’re a bleeding heart liberal, just like your cousin.

-Doug
Titan415@hotmail.com

Spyder said...

Join me! Join the Dark Side! Join the Dark Side Stevie!

Steve Hayes said...

Doug,

I am really enjoying this conversation! I used to get so frustrated talking politics, but this is just plain fun. I think it's because I don't think we're as far away from each other as it might seem.

I too am troubled by the conservative agenda. It's a shame that more isn't done for those who struggle and are oppressed. It's very frustrating to me that Republicans aren't more concerned about the problems that plague the poor and down trodden. I had hoped for more when Bush ran on a platform of "Compassionate Conservatism."

"Family Values" is a hollow mantra when you fail to properly value those who are truly suffering. I see the hypocracy in the conservative agenda, and it bothers me greatly. Out of control spending, catering to big business, lack of moral character, and the list goes on. It's very troubling.

What is also very troubling to me is the hypocracy on the other end of the spectrum. Liberals talk a big game about "tolerance" and "inclusivity", yet they speak in condesending tones and are quite intolerent of anyone who thinks differently. Heaven forbid that someone might think that unborn babies shouldn't be aborted or that homosexuality might actually be shed in a negative light in both the Old and New Testaments. If you believe those things, you're dismissed as a religious wacko with a narrow mind. If you think war is justifiable, liberals, who are perfectly fine with the mass extermination of the most innocent and defensless people on earth (the unborn), will tag you as a blood thirsty psychopath.

Is it any wonder why the 2004 election map looked more red than than a ripe Fuji Apple?

Crap, I don't really know what I'm trying to say. I do have a bleeding heart for those who struggle. I pastor at a church that has called the bluff of modern Christianity and has focused on the basics of loving people and serving those who need it most. Those are the values that Jesus displayed, and - you're right - the conservatives have dropped the ball in many of these areas.

When it all comes down, I don't trust politics. I don't trust Republicans, and I don't trust Democrats. Democratic policies don't seem to be truly helping those they claim to help and Republican rhetoric has grown tiresome and shallow. I'm worn out by all this junk, and I think we can all do so much better.

At the same time, I don't think Hillary Clinton is the personification of evil, and I refuse to believe that George W. Bush is anything but a good ole' boy who really wants to do some good things (although he might be a bit in over his head). They are people who have very difficult decisions to make, and they're bound to screw it all up sometimes. They should get as much grace as the rest of us.

I don't really know where to go from here. I guess I should stop rambling and go to bed. I'll try to address some of your other concerns tomorrow.

I'm still having fun with this!

Steve Hayes said...

Doug,

I feel like I'm losing momentum on our conversation about politics. I love it that we're speaking freely and getting a better feel for each other, but the subject matter is tiresome to me. That's probably because I've lost a lot of faith in the political system, and have little hope that either party will faithfully address the problems Americans face with any real success.

I'm normally a very optimistic person, but I don't place much faith in a system dominated by a vicious partisan culture. Again, I'm not sure how to bridge the gap, but I think it begins with conversations like ours.

It's interesting that we both used Jesus as our model of proper thinking and action. I'm encouraged by that because I truly have faith in him, and am convinced that if we seek to follow him in humility, we will not be led astray.

I don't have all the answers to the current political dilemma. Never will. I'm trying my best to recognize that and come to these problems with a willingness to reexamine and learn new things. As you said earlier, that probably makes me progressive.

However, I also want to recognize that there are such things as timeless truths that are, by nature, exclusive. In other words, something cannot be red and not red at the same time. Culture dictates our context, but timeless principles exist that transcend culture. I would hope that those truths would never be compromised by cultural trends or political pressures.

We've now moved from politics to worldviews, and that's a whole new ball of wax. I've enjoyed this a great deal, but I'm not sure that there is any resolution for some of our differences. I'm still very open to hear from you on these things, and I trust that we will be even more free in the future to share our thoughts. That's progress of the highest order. It's nice to have a working relationship with you, my friend. Thanks for the banter.

Doug said...

Steve, yeah, I feel it too. You and I will remain pretty far apart politically and in matters of faith, but I've really enjoyed this. Thanks for opportunity to talk reasonably with someone who doesn't share all the same views.

I'll keep checking in on you, and I hope we can continue the dialog on a variety of topics.

-Doug

ryan said...

As a waaaaay late (and waaaay long) reprise of this banter, let me add a few thoughts...

1. Part of the disconnect we have when honest people from different sides of the aisle try to talk politics is the huge load of misinformation with which we come to the discussion. Part of that is just the nature of cavorting with the enemy. (Yes, liberals are the sworn enemies to all things holy and American, which, incidentally, are synonymous.) But a big part of it also is the splintered, broad, repetitive and shallow avenues through which we get our information about the world. Let me give you an example – probably a bad one, but the first one that comes to mind.

A while back, a friend of mine forwarded me an email with a story about a philosophy professor at a Midwest college (I think the names, dates, etc. were included in the story, but I forget them). In the story, the professor was “proving” through logic to his class that God doesn’t exist. One incredibly bright young student in the back of the room (always in the back) asked some leading questions to which the professor gave answers scripted perfectly into a logical trap in which the student caught the now-humiliated professor in his own logic misproving his point. I think the punch line was something like, ‘Well, then, professor, according to your logic, you don’t have a brain.’ My friend sent me this along with an note saying he “wished he could have been there” or something else that made me think that he really believed that this happened and that, somehow, a mighty blow had been struck against the evil of atheism and the world was a better place.
I couldn’t go quietly. I emailed him back and told him that I didn’t believe the story was true and that, in fact, I had received forwarded emails with similar stories with the exact opposite ending in which the liberal/atheistic/gay/evil/whatever person was the “winner”. (I cavort with the enemy too so I sometimes get to read their mail). My friend was aghast and I think a little offended.

My point is that when we live in different media worlds and talk with our friends in the same “camp” then we start to develop one-sided ideas about what’s going on in the world. This is even true in mainstream media. In college I did a little research on media bias and that experience, coupled with several years as a reporter taught me this: there’s no coordinated, Hollywood-funded, smoky-back-room-planned media bias in America. There is, of course, bias with any reporter. As much as we put a high value on objectivity (sometimes, in fact, to our own detriment), no human or collection of humans is completely unbiased. (I’m joined in that belief by the great British journalist and author GK Chesterton).

So driving home from work tonight, I may listen to the news on WBAP in which a reporter covers a story about a tax plan that is, he might say, “based on a progressive tax scheme which has some local business owners saying they’ll have to hire more illegal aliens in order to pay for basic business supplies.” Then say the WBAP reporter goes on to quote a local business owner and his story follows the projected effects of the proposed tax plan on working middle class businesses.

Also tonight, one of my liberal friends drives home listening to All Things Considered. And let’s say that another reporter there files a story on the same tax plan. He also says it’s “based on a progressive tax. But some in Washington are crying foul over the plan saying that it includes too many exemptions for the rich.” Then, the NPR reporter interviews a Democratic politician saying that the tax plan is unfair and empirialistic and Republicans don’t care about poor people.
On our way home, my friend and I meet for a drink and I say, “Did you hear about the president’s tax plan?” and he says, “Yeah, it’s a tax on the poor.” And I say, “No. It’s a tax on business.”

Anyway, whether it’s spam or TV (but not newspaper. Newspaper is the only virtuous news medium) we get different news depending on the circles we run in and who we listen to. And all of that gives rise to misunderstandings and unsubstiated claims like Doug made: "All the tax breaks are going to the rich." I know everyone who repeats that says, "Well, I heard it on NPR" or some such. But if I ever ask anyone for the source, they're dumbstruck. If you ask for actual numbers, they go cross-eyed.

2. One of the reasons people think that Republicans favor the rich and neglect the poor is because many Republicans vote against government programs to help the poor. But one doesn’t follow the other. The misunderstanding here comes from different worldviews. Conservatives don’t trust government programs to help the poor. They would rather help the poor via donations to private organizations that are aligned with their beliefs or with which they’re familiar or that are more transparent in their spending. Liberals, on the other hand, tend to see government as the great equalizing harbinger of good will. And they see Republicans’ desire for lower taxes and less spending as an abandonment of government and, therefore, of our fellow man. Whether they think in these terms or not, that stems from a humanistic worldview that says, “we’ve got to do for ourselves. We are good people. All bad is the result of circumstances that we can change. It is up to us to create a better society, a cleaner, healthier, purer world. We just have to try harder (and get rid of the Republicans).  All of this leads to my third point:

3. Republicans – and especially the Religious Right – look really, really bad when they insist that government is wasteful and not the way to help the needy but then we don’t get off our butts and help the needy ourselves. If we’re going to hold to these ideals of minimalist government and compassionate communities/churches, then we’re going to have to step up when it comes to helping the poor. Churches have got to pour their hearts into education, mentoring, neighborhood revitalization, business assistance, housing, transportation, and all the other dirty, nuts-and-bolts stuff that poor people have to deal with. I get real excited thinking that some day our church people will have forgotten about Sunday School curricula and comparing retreat centers and will know the ins-and-outs of Foster parenting, getting assistance from FEMA, Section 8 housing, and credit repair.

I know, of course, that there are thousands of compassionate Christians out there who give selflessly of their time and money just the way I’m talking about. And maybe there’s more than we know about because, in seeking to be Christlike, they’re also quiet about their benevolence. But it seems to me that the American church as a whole could spend a lot more time in soup kitchens and a lot less time in class.


Finally, one bit of less-balanced analysis: It always irks me when I see someone blast Republicans for wanting to cut programs to help the poor, and in the same breath blast Republicans for the budget deficit. Don’t they see the irony there?

Doug said...

Hi, Ryan. I’ll ignore the “liberals are our enemies” crack as silly and hyperbolic and try to salvage a dignified conversation from it.

Allow me to start where you ended: “Finally, one bit of less-balanced analysis: It always irks me when I see someone blast Republicans for wanting to cut programs to help the poor, and in the same breath blast Republicans for the budget deficit. Don’t they see the irony there?”

You seem to think that cutting funding to social and educational programs is the only way to save money. Keep in mind that our current government is doing this while at the same time providing billions of dollars of tax relief to the oil companies, big business, and, yes, the wealthiest among us. We’re also spending billions on wars in Iraq and Afghanistan—two countries that many Americans now erroneously believe had something to do with 9/11. We attacked Afghanistan because we didn’t like their government (which we put in power to resist the Russians) anymore. We needed a scapegoat, and the country the attacks seemed to have been planned in seemed like as good as any. Do you have any idea how much good have been done for our nations poor? I recently saw a bumper sticker that said, “How come there’s always money for war but never any for education?” A fair question.

If you think my tax cut information is untrue or biased, then you must not side with the rest of your Republican brethren who freely call this “Trickle-Down Economics,” and not “Trickle Up.” The idea, popularized during the Regan era--the only president in our history (until Bush) to double our national debt in the first four years of his tenure—was that if you give tax breaks to those making over $100,000 a year (mostly Republican) they’ll spend more and put it back into the economy, which helps everyone. Sounds great on the surface, but our nation’s poverty rates have gone through the roof while the wealthy have managed to simply amass more wealth. It happened with Regan, and it’s happening now. Have we learned nothing at all?

You also say that “liberals are the sworn enemies to all things holy and American, which, incidentally, are synonymous.” I’m sure this is more of that silly hyperbole, but I’ll bite. The idea that holy and American are synonymous leads me to believe that you’ve not been paying attention. Bush’s legacy—if nothing else—will be what the political world is calling “The Bush Doctrine,” which is one of preemptive war. This is unprecedented in the history of our country. We have never been the aggressors, and have always been seen (by most of the West, if not the world) as the good guys. In case you haven’t noticed, we’re now reviled by the rest of the world, and have been kicked off the Human Rights commission in the U.N.—an organization we helped found—for our inhumane treatment of “Enemy Combatants” among other things. Libia has a seat at that table and we don’t! We have secret prisons, we’re engaging in sanctioned torture, we’re holding people without any recourse or due process, and we’re gathering phone records on our own citizens. And these are the things we know about. What else is being done in the name of “freedom”? This is Bush’s legacy. Holy? Really?

Your point about Christians needing to be more Christ-like is a good one. In recent years I think many Christians have been lead astray by a president who gives lip-service to Christian values and then does the opposite. Six years ago, many people were hopeful that “Compassionate Conservative” was not an oxymoron. Well, our president sure isn’t one, but it sounds like you might be, and I know Steve is, I think that’s great.

This isn’t really about Republicans and Democrats, this is a power struggle between what you see as Godless liberals and virtuous conservatives. I see things differently, of course, but I’m finally growing up enough to see that most people are basically good, and there are a lot of really smart people who don’t agree with me. Like most people I can’t imagine how that could be, and yet there it is. But there are issues that we all really need to get our hands around and get fixed.

Yet another bumper sticker (great sources of thought-provoking wisdom, I’ve found) says, “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.” When will the good people of this country realize that we can no longer afford to pretend that our actions won’t have international consequences? We’ve now painted ourselves into a corner from which we may never escape, and certainly not without our share of bumps and bruises. Everything that’s happened in the past six years has cost us dearly in terms of money, lives, credibility in the world and, worst, our identity. The time for isolation and national jingoism is over. We’re part of a world community now and it’s time to face that.

Ryan, it’s time to wrest control back from those who have twisted your real values into a legacy of hatred, greed, protectionism, isolationism, and an unstable economic future with crushing debt that will be handed down to your children. Liberals aren’t the enemy, and neither is the rest of the world, it’s those who are speaking for us that have led us here.

Steve Hayes said...

I don't want to detract from what I'm sure will be a great discussion between Doug and Ryan, but I do want to address something that Doug said that is important to how all things - not just political things - are viewed. I touched on this in one of my earlier posts, but Doug really brought it out in his. It is our worldview; the overarching philosophy by which we view the world around us.

It sounds like Doug comes from a worldview that is heavily influenced by secular humanism. This philosophy had become a dirty word for many in the evangelical Christian community. It entails a very optimistic view of humanity and believes that humanity, in general, is good and can accomplish life's best.

I am heavily influenced by a mixture of reformation theology and evangelical Christianity. Those paradigms tell me that humanity is both noble and depraved. Because humanity was created in the image of God (imago dei) there is a divine nobility present in all humans. But because of the fall of mankind through the sin of Adam, all humanity has been infected with a "sin nature" that causes mankind to royally screw up.

The main difference in these two worldviews, aside from the clear Christian roots of one and the obvious secular roots of the other, is the way each view mankind. Humanism holds out hope for the basic goodness of humanity to win out, while reformation-evangelicalism does not place its hope in fallen humanity to ever be able to solve the problems the world faces.

Humanism rightly recognizes the unbelievable achievements of humanity, particularly in the last 50-60 years. reformation-evangelicalism properly addresses mankind's striking propensity to be infiltrated by power, greed, lust... you know, the big seven.

Not sure where I'm going with all of this, but I do think it's important to recognize the beliefs that form the basis of our views on life.

For the humanist, humanity is the hope of the world. For the reformation/evangelical, Christ is the hope of the world. Intersting to see where all of us stake our claim.

OK, I'll let you boys finish hashing this thing out. This should be fun!

ryan said...

Hey Doug-
Thanks for the response. The first and most important thing I want to say in response is that, yes, several of the comments in my first post were meant to be hyperbole. I like to poke fun at my Christian brethren who tend to get this mindset that anyone who isn’t a card-carrying member of the Christian Coalition is the antichrist. The sad thing is that Christians have such tainted reputations that I can say something as ludicrous as “Patriotism = Godliness” and people don’t think I’m being sarcastic. I certainly DON’T classify people as Godless liberals or virtuous conservatives. And I DON’T think that liberals are the enemy. In fact, if there is one thing that I’m learning it’s that people are just people. Period.

I want to take up some of the specific issues you mentioned (taxes, war, etc.) but while I’m on the subject of people, I think it will help to delineate what the informed Christian worldview has to say about the human condition. That is this: people are just people. We are incredible, beautiful, complex, mysterious, flawed, unique and wonderful creatures. The Bible says that we, alone in creation, carry the unique spark of the Divine and yet we carry it in “jars of clay” – fragile, imperfect vessels. Thus, we can have a scene play out such as did on Sept. 11 – such noble compassion and courage displayed on the same day as such depravity and evil. Both the heroes and the terrorists on 9/11 were people. Just people. They were born with the same innocence and given to the same errant nature. My view of the human condition is messy and awe-struck. And I think we’re all in this together. So I can identify – or at least should be able to identify – with all people. I can find common ground with Michael Moore and George W. Bush and be honest about both. I can also disagree with both. I think both of those guys are honestly doing what they think is best for the country. I’m not saying that there aren’t or have never been people whose motives weren’t pure – who didn’t abuse their power for personal gain. And I’m not saying that neither of those two guys have done the same. But I don’t think Michael Moore just makes incendiary films for the money or the fame. And I don’t think that George W. sent troops to the Middle East because he “wanted a war.”

So now that we’re on war, let’s dive in: I’m not above saying that we’ve made military and intelligence mistakes since 2002. (Can you say WMD?) But I have yet to really hear a cogent argument for what should have been done instead or what ought to be done now. Mostly, what I hear from opponents of the war is: “This hurts. I don’t want to do it anymore.” But, like you said, “We’re part of a world community now and it’s time to face that.” In fact, your last post decried the evils of “protectionism” and “isolationism” which is exactly what we avoided when we sent troops to Afghanistan. For us to pretend that we can hide behind our oceanic borders (isolationism) or toothless U.N. sanctions would have been disasterous. No one argues that. So most everyone agrees that we had to take action on the world political/military stage. But apparently, some think we should have done it differently. But I don’t hear them saying how we could/should have done it. What I hear from Cindy Sheehan and other anti-war folks is, “My son died for Iraqi freedom. I want my son back because I care more about my son than a stable Iraqi government.” That is completely understandable coming from a mom. I can’t say I wouldn’t feel that way if it were my kid who died. But I can say that military decisions aren’t made on those terms. It’s why we don’t negotiate with terrorists. It’s why fathers don’t command their sons in battle. For centuries, it’s been understood that heads of state and military leaders have to make choices with their soldier’s lives. The goal, in any war doctrine, is to sacrifice the fewest amount of your own soldiers’ lives to protect the largest number of citizens’ lives. No matter what decision we make here, we’re dealing with people’s lives. There is no get-out-of-jail-free card here. Which, again, leads us back to our views on humans. We live in a fallen, messed-up world. There will never be a safe, evil-free, happy world until Someone more powerful and less fallible than us makes it so.

A final thought on Iraq: in the last month or two, the stories I read about Iraq use more and more words like “vote”, “debate”, “lobby”, “parliament”, “government”, “election”, “meetings”, etc. I’ve even read the word “demonstration” a time or two. Sure, there are plenty of stories about violence and there are still American soldiers losing their lives (although, increasingly, the attacks are against other Iraqis). But I’ve noticed that Iraq’s biggest issues now have to do with democratic representation and fair treatment of minorities. Iraq has a government that elects officers, holds open meetings, and debates issues. It’s stumbling through its first, meager steps toward dealing with religious and political disagreements within its borders through votes, not violence. Shi’ites and Sunnis are suddenly concerned with how many votes they have in Parliament which just might distract them from how many guns and martyrs they have in the streets. Before it stablizes, Iraq might wind up in an all-out civil war. We did.

As for our American identity, America has never been one to make its decisions based on the world popularity of those decisions. (See July 4, 1776) We could certainly be more popular among world governments and that would save us a lot of trouble and probably some lives in the short term. If that were our goal, we would do a LOT of things differently. Where were the opponents of the war and the concerns over our “credibility” on Sept. 12, 2001? Those cries have gotten louder only as the task has gotten harder.

Ok, now that I’ve probably completely ticked you off, let’s go on to other issues…

Budget: Yes, I realize that cutting social programs is not the only way to decrease spending. There are zillions of places to cut spending. But I just think the national budget is not a genuine debate. No one is really concerned about the deficit; they just throw it out for shock value. It seems more impressive to say, “The conservatives want to spend money on the military when we can’t even pay our debt,” than to say, “Conservatives want to spend money on the military.” No one really wants to pay off our debt – at least not when it means cutting spending on their pet projects. Everyone just wants to cut spending on what’s important to someone else.

Taxes: I’m not naïve enough to believe that our tax code is in good shape or even entirely fair. But neither am I naïve enough to believe that the rich aren’t paying their share of our country’s expenses. In fact, the rich pay more than their share. That’s because we have a progressive tax system. I saw a statistic on the news a few months ago that broke down what percentage of the nation’s spending was paid by people in different income levels. People who make more than $150,000 per year pay a ridiculously-high percentage of the national budget. It’s something like 50% (please don’t quote me – it’s been a while since I saw this program. I think it was John Stossel on ABC though if you want to dig for it.) People who make more then $75,000 pay another huge chunk. People who make less than $50,000 per year pay a miniscule percentage of the budget. Now, keep in mind all the factors in that: 1) each percentage of the budget gets increasingly valuable to the taxpayers as you go down the scale – it’s harder for 1 million plumbers to pay one percent of our budget than for 1 million CEOs to pay it. 2) there are more poor than rich so the burden is spread out more. 3) If there was a flat tax, then each American would pay the same amount for every dollar that he/she made so every segment of that chart (people who make more than $150,000, people who make $75,000, etc.) would look the same. Everyone pays the same percentage of their income. But of course, we know that’s not right. Poorer people pay a smaller percentage of their income and they seldom escape from any of it. Rich people pay a larger percentage of their income and are able to escape some of it through shelters, deductions, etc. But to think that the rich don’t pay their share is uninformed. Every write-off and every deduction is based on an expense. It’s debits and credits. When people say that the rich can “afford” to write something off, they don’t realize that they’re saying that the rich person incurs an expense in order to avoid paying a tax. They don’t just avoid paying the tax at no cost. When you “write off the car, not the kid”, you get a tax break but it costs you a car. Financially, you’d be better off keeping the car and paying the tax. Again, I’m not about to start feeling sorry for all the taxes Bill Gates has to pay. But I’m saying when we get beyond one-liners and start to look at details, the issues are seldom as cut-and-dried as people think.

Passion: I admire your passion on these issues. I tend to be good at playing “devil’s advocate” and insisting that things will work out. I don’t tend to get really passionate about politics, etc – at least not as much as I used to. I think, as if you haven’t heard this before, it has to do with my worldview. A man I admire a great deal taught me that there are two things on Earth that will last forever: God’s word and people’s souls. So other things – politics, career, taxes, even war – don’t seem as important to me. Maybe they should. Sometimes I think I could use a little more passion in my life. I’ll keep reading your posts.

Doug said...

Hi, Ryan. I’m really pleased that you’re so open-minded and realize that although two people have different viewpoints about things, both can have valid points. Most Conservatives think Michael Moore is the Devil himself, and most Liberals think Bush is malicious and stupid. Well, I disagree with Mr. Moore as often as not, and I think Bush is neither mean nor stupid. Sounds like we have room for common ground.

Your views about the wars we started in Afghanistan and Iraq are pretty common, actually. I’m not going to bother to quote you; you know what you said. But if I may paraphrase, you’re saying that it’s easy to criticize a decision that turned out to be bad, but no one had an alternative to going to war. It should come as no surprise that I disagree with that.

On September 11, 2001, we were attacked by a few men, who were radical Islamic extremists. We were NOT attacked by countries or governments. I’ve often thought of our decision to retaliate for 9/11 by ousting two governments and killing thousands as similar to nuking Michigan off the map because a man from there killed a family in California. What?! These two countries didn’t attack us but we, in our blind thirst for vengeance, demanded retribution for pain and suffering. Whether the places we bombed had anything to do with it seemed to matter little.

You could say that Afghanistan sponsored terrorism and Iraq was a place run by a bad man. Unfortunately, neither of these things distinguishes either country and put them in a category with much of the Middle East, including our “friends,” Saudi Arabia. What about China, North Korea, Cuba, Pakistan, Libya, Iran? Why didn’t we attack any of them? They had as much to do with 9/11 as Iraq did, and most of them actually do have WMDs.

We attacked countries we knew we could beat to make the American people feel better. There, we did something.

You also said some hopeful things about the future for Iraq. Among the many, many reasons Bush trotted out for choosing to bomb the life out of the country headed by the man who “tried to kill my dad” was that bringing democracy to the Middle East could spread freedom in the region. I maintain that imposing democracy is an oxymoron, but if this catches, it would only be a good thing. The real question is, did we have the right to decide that for them? No matter what your intentions, do you have the right to do what you think is best, consequences be damned? Do the ends always justify the means? I think you know what I think.

Finally, on this topic, you said, “Before it stabilizes, Iraq might wind up in an all-out civil war. We did.” No, we chose to assert our independence from what we saw as an occupying force, England, with what we now call a revolution, but could just as easily be described as an insurgency. We were Iraq in that scenario except that we really did belong to England at the time. Theirs was a perfectly legal occupation. Our Civil War came almost a century later and was, for the most part, about slavery (those pesky liberals at work again). History can use as many coats of white wash as it wants on that, but that was the main issue.

You haven’t ticked me off at all, Ryan. What you’ve done is given me a chance to address the things that are dividing my country right now. You seem a decent, caring man, and I sense that you’re the type who listens to others and often takes a little piece from each side to create what you believe to be a balanced position. I wish everyone were so open.

-Doug

ryan said...

Doug-
Those are excellent points. You're completely right about us not being attacked by any nation or distinguishable foe. That's, I think, the biggest reason this war has been so difficult, no matter what your opinion of it. The terrorists have changed the rules. Used to be that armies prepared for something of an organized battle against organized enemies – other armies. And the soldiers on both sides wanted to keep their lives. Sept. 11 changed that in two ways - the armies aren't identifiable. They don't wear uniforms and travel in groups and pledge their allegiance to their god or country in the open. And secondly, they don't intend to keep their lives. Not only was that a shift for war, it was even a shift for terrorists! You remember that before 9/11, terrorism meant hijacking a plane or taking a hostage and then making demands and hoping to get out alive. On 9/11, there were no demands made, and no efforts for the attackers to survive. This is a whole new kind of attack such as we've never, ever dealt with before and I think, even five years later, we're still not sure how to deal with it.

But your point still stands - we fought Iraqi military personnel and it wasn't the Iraqi government who attacked us. I know our invasion wasn’t a direct response to 9/11. There were some UN resolutions involved, etc. But, really, Iraq had taken no military action against us when we invaded them. Saddam was just “bad”. As, like you say, are many Middle Eastern (and for that matter African, Asian, and South American) dictators. So that point is valid and conservatives really have nothing to say in response to it.

As for “imposing democracy” and whether that’s “fair” or “out of place”, I don’t know where those rules are written. Since Attila the Hun, nations have always done whatever they darn well please when it comes to foreign affairs. That’s why they are called “sovereign” nations. Even now in the age of the U.N. and post-WWII, nations still have relatively few “laws” to follow in regards to how they treat other nations. And now in the “new world” and “new economy” it’s even more so. We can’t say that anything outside of our borders is none of our business. And we can’t say that what happens inside our borders is none of someone else’s business. Our world has changed not only in terms of how wars are fought and terrorists operate, but also in terms of its “size” and “flatness” (see Thomas Friedman’s book). People our age around the world see themselves more as world citizens than they ever did before. Trade, communication, politics – all cross international borders more freely than they ever have before. So China’s labor laws affect Wal-Mart’s prices which affect millions of jobs which affect our America’s labor laws which affect taxes. Russia’s new poverty affects its oil trade with Arab countries which affects America’s political relationship to Russia. Not that all this interweaving didn’t happen before, but more and more people from more and more countries see more and more at stake in the politics and economies of nations not their own. What am I trying to say here? I don’t really know except that I don’t find it a valid argument to say that it’s “not our place” to try to establish democratic peace on a country we occupy. Democracy, I believe, has proven itself the most fair and good form of government ever devised. I think we have every right to “impose” it on a country we have conquered and now occupy. In fact, it’s gracious of us to do so. We could just set up our own government, seize Iraq’s wealth and natural resources, and make it a U.S. territory! (Pleeeeeease don’t think I advocate that.)

The real problem with democracy in Iraq will come from the Iraqis. Thomas Jefferson said that democracy will only work for a moral people. I don’t know if Iraq is ready for democracy. When we finally step back from that country, it might go downhill real fast. The behavior of the people there just mystifies me. I don’t know the culture and so I don’t understand, for example, why the proper response to everything – from a bus bombing to a cricket match – seems to be jumping, shouting, and throwing rocks. Maybe a new generation will rise in the Middle East that isn’t led by the likes of Saddam Hussein and Yasser Arafat and who might see that rioting and bombing hasn’t proven an effective way to deal with problems. As for America’s part in that: I think that the leaders of the new Iraqi government and, for that matter, the leaders of radical Muslim sects around the world, understand that we’re willing to go to great lengths – to cross oceans and topple governments – to protect our borders, even if there’s not a clear “paper trail” to those governments. Whether we went about it the right way or not, you have to admit that Osama or any other terrorist will think twice about trying an attack like 9/11 again. For one, they’ll have a lot harder time organizing it because of our increased awareness of threats. But also, when they ask for, or offer to buy, help from anyone else in the world, those people will be much more reluctant to assist.

OK, enough blabbering for today. We should capture all these posts and make a book out of them or something. I just checked – we’re up to 8,000 words already!

Doug said...

Ryan, I actually think this would make an excellent book. I’m not sure I’ve seen a book that covers both sides of this debate, and I know I’ve enjoyed participating in it.

It’s been a while since you posted your last response to me, so I’ll include the statement of yours to which I’m responding as I go.

RYAN: As for “imposing democracy” and whether that’s “fair” or “out of place”, I don’t know where those rules are written. Since Attila the Hun, nations have always done whatever they darn well please when it comes to foreign affairs. That’s why they are called “sovereign” nations. Even now in the age of the U.N. and post-WWII, nations still have relatively few “laws” to follow in regards to how they treat other nations. And now in the “new world” and “new economy” it’s even more so. We can’t say that anything outside of our borders is none of our business. And we can’t say that what happens inside our borders is none of someone else’s business.

DOUG: Let’s be clear about what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about attacking countries who’s lifestyles and governmental styles we disagree with. That goes even beyond the disastrous Bush Doctrine and is a recipe for catastrophic consequences. You’re not advocating “imposing democracy” wherever we choose, are you? You’re not saying that Attila the Hun was right, are you?

As for there being few laws about these things, you’re right. In a world in which every country has different laws and viewpoints, it’s hard to find common ground about what should and should not be acceptable. Also, just about the only unifying body in all of this is the U.N. I’ll be the first to admit that it has not been as effective as I’d hoped, but we certainly haven’t helped matters by ignoring them and not paying our dues (yes, the richest country in the world is behind in its payments). So, we have few laws surrounding invading other countries. Does that make it okay. Why do we have to have laws to prevent us from doing what we know—or should know—is dead wrong?

I would also like to point out that far from saying that things that happen outside our borders is none of our business, I’m the one saying that our isolationism has caused much of this. But the opposite of isolationism isn’t military action, it’s diplomacy and unity with other countries. We have used waaaay too much of the former and waaaaaaaaay too little of the latter in recent years. The idea that we should control the way people in other countries go about their lives is a pretty new one for the U.S., and it makes me really sad.






RYAN: The real problem with democracy in Iraq will come from the Iraqis. Thomas Jefferson said that democracy will only work for a moral people. I don’t know if Iraq is ready for democracy. When we finally step back from that country, it might go downhill real fast. The behavior of the people there just mystifies me. I don’t know the culture and so I don’t understand, for example, why the proper response to everything – from a bus bombing to a cricket match – seems to be jumping, shouting, and throwing rocks. Maybe a new generation will rise in the Middle East that isn’t led by the likes of Saddam Hussein and Yasser Arafat and who might see that rioting and bombing hasn’t proven an effective way to deal with problems.

DOUG: You’re not alone in your confusion, Ryan. It’s almost like they’re all from another country or something. Their culture is very different from ours, as are their values. I’m not sure if anything in their experience could allow them to embrace democracy. They would be unique in their region of the world and that could be a pretty big obstacle for them.

Another thing to consider is that the jump from the culture we had in 1776 to democracy was a slight hop compared to the leap from a dictatorship to democracy. This is going to be huge and, I believe, unprecedented.


RYAN: As for America’s part in that: I think that the leaders of the new Iraqi government and, for that matter, the leaders of radical Muslim sects around the world, understand that we’re willing to go to great lengths – to cross oceans and topple governments – to protect our borders, even if there’s not a clear “paper trail” to those governments. Whether we went about it the right way or not, you have to admit that Osama or any other terrorist will think twice about trying an attack like 9/11 again. For one, they’ll have a lot harder time organizing it because of our increased awareness of threats. But also, when they ask for, or offer to buy, help from anyone else in the world, those people will be much more reluctant to assist.

DOUG: Sorry, but I can’t agree with you on that one. We have scuttled a few plots since 9/11, but remember the train bombing in Spain? The bus bombings in London? These were brought to you by people who are mad as hell and they’re not going to take it anymore. They’re pissed, they’re armed, they’re well-funded, they’re persistent and patient, and they have lots of friends in high places who really don’t care what the U.S. might do in retaliation. As you said yourself, they don’t care if they die, and even welcome it if they think it will get them into heaven and the company of 72 virgins. You could argue that they’re nuts, but the one thing they’re not is afraid. There are holes in our security so big you could literally drive a truck through them. Our borders, our ports, our airports—they’re all vulnerable and they know it better than we do.

I hope this finds you well and I hope to hear from you soon. I’m pretty busy these days, but this is the kind of thing I like to make time for.

-Doug

Steve Hayes said...

Ryan said: "We could just set up our own government, seize Iraq’s wealth and natural resources, and make it a U.S. territory! (Pleeeeeease don’t think I advocate that.)"

Doug said: "You’re not advocating “imposing democracy” wherever we choose, are you? You’re not saying that Attila the Hun was right, are you?"

Doug,

It's obvious from the transcript above that Ryan isn't in favor of Attila the Hun style takeover's. His point is that nations have been conquering, or invading, or winning conflicts (or whatever you want to call it) since the dawn of Man, and there aren't many clear cut principles that guide what happens next. He obviously, from his own statement, doesn't buy into wholesale random takeovers.

It's still odd to me how people can conclude that there weren't any reasons to invade Iraq. Just take a look at these quotes from nearly every major Democrat at the time of the invasion of Iraq:
John Kerry - "I believe that a deadly arsenal of weapons of mass destruction in his hands is a threat, and a grave threat, to our security."

Ted Kennedy - "We have known for many years that Saddam Hussein is seeking and developing weapons of mass destruction."

Hillary Clinton - "In the four years since the inspectors, intelligence reports show that Saddam Hussein has worked to rebuild his chemical and biological weapons stock, his missile delivery capability and his nuclear program."

Even foreign governments that opposed Saddam Hussein's removal from power believed Iraq had WMD: Just a few weeks before Operation Iraqi Freedom, Wolfgang Ischinger, German ambassador to the U.S., said, "I think all of our governments believe that Iraq has produced weapons of mass destruction and that we have to assume that they continue to have weapons of mass destruction."

Beyond that, a September 2004 report by Charles Duelfer, who succeeded David Kay as Iraq Survey Group (ISG) head, concluded that Saddam was pursuing an aggressive strategy to subvert the Oil for Food Program and to bring down U.N. sanctions through illicit finance and procurement schemes; and that Saddam intended to resume WMD efforts once U.N. sanctions were eliminated. According to Mr. Duelfer, "the guiding theme for WMD was to sustain the intellectual capacity achieved over so many years at such a great cost and to be in a position to produce again with as short a lead time as possible. . . . Virtually no senior Iraqi believed that Saddam had forsaken WMD forever. Evidence suggests that, as resources became available and the constraints of sanctions decayed, there was a direct expansion of activity that would have the effect of supporting future WMD reconstitution."

Beyond this, Saddam's regime was one of the most sadistic and aggressive in modern history. It started a war against Iran and used mustard gas and nerve gas. A decade later Iraq invaded Kuwait. Iraq was a massively destabilizing force in the Middle East; so long as Saddam was in power, rivers of blood were sure to follow.

In light of all of this, it's baffling to me how Kerry, Kennedy and Clinton are held in such high esteem and Bush in such low contempt. Bush didn't have the luxury of changing with the wind when we found out that Iraq didn't have WMD. Funny how everyone else managed to get off unscathed after reading their quotes.

There are many reasons for those in the Middle East to hate our country. There are also many reasons for them to like our country. Despite being "The Evil West", we have done great things throughout the world. Our country does more to help ravaged nations than all the others combined. Without our economy, the world would go belly up. We have a ton to learn, but we're not as evil as many like to make us.

I'm writing this because it seems to me, Doug, that you are trying to place much of the blame of the world's hatred for the US on the US. While I'm sure we've done our fair share of pissing people off, I think it's really simplistic to blame us for the terrorist activity that we see at work in our world.

Let's not forget that we are the most generous nation in the history of the world, and we've forgiven more debt than you can count. Much of the humanitarian aid in the world is backed by the US. I don't want to give us a free pass, but it's almost like you're blaming terrorist activity on the Bush administration. Terrorism exists because evil people exist... period.

American values and the values of democracy are still the noblest in their true form. Why in the world would you oppose the noblest values finding a home in a part of the world that embraces a value system that is full of the kind of racism that makes our racial tension look like a Walt Disney cartoon? Why is it bad if noble values take root in a part of the world that finds it ok to abuse women? What harm is it if noble values crop up in a place that has been marked by violence and tryanny and religious oppression throughout history? How is this a bad thing? How is it none of our business?

It's true that we can't simply run around conquering and forcing our values on everyone else, but if everyone agrees that there is a threat that needs to be dealt with (see quotes above), what should we do? Should we wait on the UN to issue yet another meaningless resolution to Saddam? Or, in light of the fact that he is known worldwide as a terrorist, should we take him out and put in place the groundwork for a better Iraq? And should we then give up when we find that the groundwork for a better Iraq may take years to become a reality? Why does that suprise us? Did Hillary, Kerry and Kenedy think this would be done in a few months when they made their remarks? Of course not! They knew what we were getting into, they supported it, and then they changed their minds when they realized Bush was an easy political target.

I've been wondering how I really feel about all of this Iraq stuff. What I just wrote is what I really feel. Lobbing shots at Bush is too easy. It's like picking on the kid with the thick glasses in the school yard. Bush is terrible at communicating his plan, and he's not good at thinking on his feet. That said, I don't think he's trying his best to wreck the country, and I don't think he's done anything without a lot of thought. I can't prove that, but I'd like to believe it anyway. I think the democrats have found Bush's weeknesses and have chosen to exploit them to the highest levels (Just as the Republicans did with Clinton and others). That's really what politics is all about. It's certainly not about doing what's right or fair. It's really only about getting the power and moving ahead. I don't think George Bush is a great politician (either that, or he's just plain dumb - which is a possibility!), and I think that's why he's so unpopular with all the professional lip-flappers in DC.

Let me guess... you disagree? Yeah, I kind of figured that was coming. Oh well. At least we have the makings of a possible best seller! Who's going to contact the publisher?

Doug said...

Steve, I think this topic is just about played out for all three of us, not because there’s nothing left to say, but because I think we’re all pretty deeply entrenched in our beliefs. When there’s no more movement left, you’re stuck. You’re clearly frustrated and, if I’m not mistaken, a little upset. I totally understand. These are really tough and very sensitive topics we’re discussing here. But I really do believe that we’ve done a much better job of open and mature debate than most people with such disparate views.

However (isn’t there always a however?), I would like to address your latest post.

Ryan said a lot of things about invading countries, some of which were designed to be sarcastic and silly, and some of which were his genuine beliefs. I chose to answer his true beliefs, while you took his sarcastic comments and attached my real answer. Read his post again and you’ll see what I mean. Before his parody and “Pleeeeeease don’t think I think I advocate that” comment was the section I was responding to. His true beliefs stem from the following statement: “We can’t say that anything outside of our borders is none of our business. And we can’t say that what happens inside our borders is none of someone else’s business.” Please don’t reframe the debate by attaching my comments to statements I didn’t address.

STEVE: It's still odd to me how people can conclude that there weren't any reasons to invade Iraq. Just take a look at these quotes from nearly every major Democrat at the time of the invasion of Iraq.

DOUG: You’re right that John Kerry, Ted Kennedy, Hillary Clinton, and I’m sure many more Democrats “knew” that Saddam Hussein had WMDs. I actually think Colin Powel probably believed it, too. But there are really two questions here:
1) What made them think that?
2) What should have been done about it?

I have learned since joining this discussion that Bush had some people telling him that there were WMDs and “mobile weapons labs,” but that most credible sources were at least skeptical of if not in outright opposition to those assertions. As I said before, Bush chose the reports he wanted to believe. And rather than exploring those two possibilities through the proper channels (the U.N.) he went in with guns blazing.

As for what should have been done about it even if it were true, well, that’s another matter. We’ve never attacked another country offensively before, and there’s certainly no shortage of countries with WMDs. There is a long list that I’m sure you know as well as I do. So if that wasn’t the real reason, why did we go in? We can only speculate about that, but it sure wasn’t prudent.

A lot of people think it’s okay that we have now set the precedent that we’ll attack other countries without direct provocation. Let me explain why I think it’s not.

Do you know why it’s okay that we have nuclear weapons and it’s not okay for countries like Iran and North Korea to have them? It’s because we’re the good guys and they’re bat-shit (excuse me) crazy. There’s no telling what they’ll do with those weapons. Well, that used to be what the rest of the world thought, until three years and thousands of lives ago. Most of the rest of the world now thinks that we are in the “Axis of Evil.” Do you see the shift that this one act of aggression has caused? Invading other countries, even if we don’t understand or agree with their culture, is a really bad idea. That is just not our decision to make, and I’m sure we say as much every day when it comes to countries like Libya, Syria, North Korea, China, Iran, and any of a number of African and Central American countries. Ask yourself why we chose to invade Iraq. Why THAT little tiny dot on the map and not any of the others? Are the oppressed people in Iraq somehow more worthy of our liberties than the suffering people in other countries?





STEVE: There are many reasons for those in the Middle East to hate our country. There are also many reasons for them to like our country. Despite being "The Evil West", we have done great things throughout the world. Our country does more to help ravaged nations than all the others combined. Without our economy, the world would go belly up. We have a ton to learn, but we're not as evil as many like to make us.

I'm writing this because it seems to me, Doug, that you are trying to place much of the blame of the world's hatred for the US on the US. While I'm sure we've done our fair share of pissing people off, I think it's really simplistic to blame us for the terrorist activity that we see at work in our world.

Let's not forget that we are the most generous nation in the history of the world, and we've forgiven more debt than you can count. Much of the humanitarian aid in the world is backed by the US. I don't want to give us a free pass, but it's almost like you're blaming terrorist activity on the Bush administration. Terrorism exists because evil people exist... period.

American values and the values of democracy are still the noblest in their true form. Why in the world would you oppose the noblest values finding a home in a part of the world that embraces a value system that is full of the kind of racism that makes our racial tension look like a Walt Disney cartoon? Why is it bad if noble values take root in a part of the world that finds it ok to abuse women? What harm is it if noble values crop up in a place that has been marked by violence and tryanny and religious oppression throughout history? How is this a bad thing? How is it none of our business?

DOUG: I think you’re eloquently echoing the sentiments of millions of Americans, Steve. We don’t understand why they hate us because we’re not being told the real reasons. George Bush said they hate us for our freedom at one point after 9/11, and I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. That’s not just a gross oversimplification, it’s ridiculous, but people bought it. They hate us because we support their sworn enemy, Israel, with money and weapons used to kill Palestinians. Doesn’t anyone ever ask themselves why young people are so angry they’re willing to blow themselves up just to take out a few Isralies? If someone punched you, wouldn’t you, at some point, wonder why? No one seems to be asking any of these questions!

Our economy is huge and powerful, and with that comes a huge amount of influence and even control. Does that make us loved? We’re the rich country that uses its vast wealth and power to get what it wants at the expense of other countries. No, that does not make us loved.

Aaron Sorkin, creator and then writer of “The West Wing,” said that Al Qaeda was the KKK of the Muslim religion. They’re extremist and nut jobs, but they’re also desperate and willing to hurt us in any way possible. Am I condoning their actions? Am I putting all the blame on the U.S. for their desperation? No, of course not. But this conversation has never been about how the West is affecting terrorism, it has been about us. Yes, we’re a big contributing factor. No, we’re not the only one. Yes, they’re behaving badly and should be stopped. No, toppling governments and bombing countries is not a valid way to stop a splinter group of radical extremists.






STEVE: I've been wondering how I really feel about all of this Iraq stuff. What I just wrote is what I really feel. Lobbing shots at Bush is too easy. It's like picking on the kid with the thick glasses in the school yard. Bush is terrible at communicating his plan, and he's not good at thinking on his feet. That said, I don't think he's trying his best to wreck the country, and I don't think he's done anything without a lot of thought.

DOUG: Bush isn’t the kid with thick glasses, he’s the leader of the free world. If he is unable to communicate and execute an effective plan, maybe he shouldn’t be making such important decisions. I’m not sure what good painting Bush as the sympathetic weakling is, but it sure isn’t accurate. We have an obligation to expect a leader, not some Joe Lunchbucket who can’t think on his feet. Why is that okay with you? Why was it okay with a majority of voters in 2004?

Look, you are far from alone in your feelings, Steve. And my right to disagree with you is what makes our country so great. A man named Howard Zinn said that dissent is the highest form of patriotism. We have a right to hold our government responsible for its actions, and I think we’ve really failed to do that. I think you believe we’re on the right track. History may prove one of us right, but this discussion we’ve been having is democracy at its finest.

-Doug

Steve Hayes said...

Doug: "You’re clearly frustrated and, if I’m not mistaken, a little upset. I totally understand. These are really tough and very sensitive topics we’re discussing here. But I really do believe that we’ve done a much better job of open and mature debate than most people with such disparate views."

Steve: I'm really not very frustrated, and I'm certainly not upset. I've enjoyed this thing from the beginning, and I'm still enjoying it! I get a little confused at times, but I've always been a little confused, so no big deal. I agree that this has been a very enjoyable and mature discussion, and I continue to be thankful for that.

Doug: "His true beliefs stem from the following statement: “We can’t say that anything outside of our borders is none of our business. And we can’t say that what happens inside our borders is none of someone else’s business.” Please don’t reframe the debate by attaching my comments to statements I didn’t address."

Steve: Didn't realize I was reframing the debate. That's not my intention. I'm still not sure how I am reframing things. You did specifically address the statement I referenced, and I believe you sensationalized Ryan's views by asking "You’re not advocating “imposing democracy” wherever we choose, are you? You’re not saying that Attila the Hun was right, are you?" It's clear that Ryan used the Attila the Hun example as a historical reference to the fact that nations have conquered other nations for years, and there are no clear cut rules as to how the fallout of such actions are handled. Of course he doesn't believe Atilla the Hun was right, and asking the question seemed to me to be taking the focus off of his point. That's specifically what I was addressing.

And, if Ryan's true beleifs stem from the view that “We can’t say that anything outside of our borders is none of our business. And we can’t say that what happens inside our borders is none of someone else’s business”, I completely agree with those beliefs. In our global culture, how could anyone believe differently?

Doug: "I have learned since joining this discussion that Bush had some people telling him that there were WMDs and “mobile weapons labs,” but that most credible sources were at least skeptical of if not in outright opposition to those assertions. As I said before, Bush chose the reports he wanted to believe. And rather than exploring those two possibilities through the proper channels (the U.N.) he went in with guns blazing."

Steve: I gave you several quotes in my last post, not only from democratic senators, but from German officials and UN inspectors. Who, exactly, are these "credible" sources that you speak of? The fact of the matter is that the French, Russians, Germans, Democrats and Republicans were all looking at the same evidence, and they all came to the same conclusion. That's why Iraq was issued so many UN resolutions against their constantly resurging weapons programs. It's why UN inspectors were uniformly blocked and offered little cooperation for years. The only difference between the US and other countries with the same evidence is that the US decided to take action. The reason that many of the other countries didn't is because many of them were recieving benefits for the oil for food program directly from Saddam Hussein. You have an awfully optomistic view of the UN, Doug, and I'm not sure why.

I'd encourage you to watch the fascinating documentary on the genocide in Rwanda called "Shaking Hands with The Devil." It documents just how incompitent the UN has been at dealing with worldwide crises. The absolute worst offender in the Rwandan genocide was the French (specifically the Belgians). Interestingly enough, Bill Clinton dropped the ball with Rwanda in a huge way as well. Funny how nobody ever talks about the failures of the UN. The only time we side with them is when they are bashing us!

Doug: "We’ve never attacked another country offensively before, and there’s certainly no shortage of countries with WMDs. There is a long list that I’m sure you know as well as I do. So if that wasn’t the real reason, why did we go in? We can only speculate about that, but it sure wasn’t prudent."

Steve: One of the main reasons we attacked Iraq was because they had a leader who was highly unstable and bent on world domination. His actions in the past demonstrated that he couldn't be reasoned with, and was unwilling to cooperate with anyone (the UN included). Other countries such as China, Russia and North Korea have WMD capability, but there are diplomatic in-roads with these countries that allow for negotiations, treaties and general diplomacy. That was not an option with Iraq. North Korea has been a little more difficult at times, but there are diplomatic options still available with them. That is key to this discussion. Why do you think everyone is so up in arms about Iran's possible weapons programs? Because there are no diplomatic options with Iran. Even UN sanctions don't ammount to a hill of beans with them, just like with Saddam.

Doug: "They hate us because we support their sworn enemy, Israel, with money and weapons used to kill Palestinians. Doesn’t anyone ever ask themselves why young people are so angry they’re willing to blow themselves up just to take out a few Isralies? If someone punched you, wouldn’t you, at some point, wonder why? No one seems to be asking any of these questions!"

Steve: I find it interesting that you fault us for supporting Israel. I wonder how much you really know about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict? Isn't it interesting that the entire Middle East hates one little group of people so much that they constantly try to kill them? There are two sides to the Israel coin, and you've only presented one. Either the people who hate Israel are right, or they're really, really wrong.

Here's the history of the conflict in brief: Judea, home of the Jews in ancient times, was conquered by the Romans and renamed Palestine. Palestine was later conquered and inhabited by Arabs for over a thousand years. The Zionist movement arose to restore the Jews to Israel, largely ignoring the existing Arab population. Following the Balfour Declaration in 1917, Palestine was granted to Britain as a League of Nations mandate to build a national home for the Jewish people. The Arabs resented the Jews coming in to take their land. Led by Grand Mufti Hajj Amin El Husseini, they rioted repeatedly and later revolted, creating a history of enmity between Jews and Arabs in Palestine. Britain stopped Jewish immigration to Palestine. Following the Holocaust, in which 6 million Jews were killed by the Nazis, pressure on Britain increased to allow Jewish immigration to Palestine. In 1947, the UN partitioned the land into Arab and Jewish states. The Arabs did not accept the partition and war broke out. The Jews won a decisive victory, expanded their state and created several hundred thousand Palestinian refugees. The Arab states refused to recognize Israel or make peace with it. Wars broke out in 1956, 1967, 1973 and 1982, and there were many terror raids and Israeli reprisals.

Isn't it interesting what role the UN played in this conflict?

In the 90's, negotiations occured at Camp David and Taba. Israel offered to turn over 97% of the land in the West Bank and all of Gaza, as well as Arab sections of Jerusalem. This offer was turned down by the Palestinians. So, it seems that we have quite a dispute here, and we have chosen to befriend Israel instead of Palestine.

We defend Israel because we believe, according to the UN, that they have the right to some of the land. We support them because their land is also holy to us (you know, the whole Christianity thing?). We also support them because the Arabs have shown an inability to accept compromise and have only responded to this conflict in the most barbaric way: by terrorizing the region with suicide bombers and cheap-shot tactics. Let's be clear, this kind of activity is wrong regardless of the excuses. It is terror, pure and simple, and it should never be condoned.

If someone punched me I would wonder why. When I found out why I would probably either think they had a boguss reason for such an action, or I'd try my best to rectify anything I'd done to deserve being punched. President Clinton did a lot to jump start Israeli/Palestinian relations, and I applaud him for that. President Bush has gone even further with his Roadmap to Peace, and I applaud him as well. This conflict is muddy and deserves our attention. I'm glad that we've seen some compromises made recently, and my hope is that we'll play a huge role in the peace of this region. I think we're presently doing everything we can to help the process. People can hate us for our friendship with Israel, but I think it is a reasonable one. It is certainly not something that I think is a bad thing. Israel has responded harshly to the terrorist activity of Palestine. Maybe they should be asking why they're being punched too!

Doug: "Aaron Sorkin, creator and then writer of “The West Wing,” said that Al Qaeda was the KKK of the Muslim religion. They’re extremist and nut jobs, but they’re also desperate and willing to hurt us in any way possible. Am I condoning their actions? Am I putting all the blame on the U.S. for their desperation? No, of course not. But this conversation has never been about how the West is affecting terrorism, it has been about us. Yes, we’re a big contributing factor. No, we’re not the only one. Yes, they’re behaving badly and should be stopped. No, toppling governments and bombing countries is not a valid way to stop a splinter group of radical extremists."

I disagree with Mr. Sorkin. When terrorist activities are carried out throughout the world, the Arab world rejoices. Terrorist sentiments are shared and validated in the Arab region. Al Qaeda is just one piece of the puzzle. Hamas, the PLF (Palestinian Liberation Front), Abu Sayyaf Group, Al-Jihad, and countless others are known terrorist groups with thousands of faithful followers. They aggressively train and indoctrinate young Arabs and teach them lies about religion and the world. They prey on the weak minded, and there is no possible rationale that could or should justify their barbarism.

Doug: "Bush isn’t the kid with thick glasses, he’s the leader of the free world. If he is unable to communicate and execute an effective plan, maybe he shouldn’t be making such important decisions. I’m not sure what good painting Bush as the sympathetic weakling is, but it sure isn’t accurate. We have an obligation to expect a leader, not some Joe Lunchbucket who can’t think on his feet. Why is that okay with you? Why was it okay with a majority of voters in 2004?"

OK, so the kid with the thick glasses analogy might not have been the best for "W". He's more like the dumb jock competing in a spelling bee. Regardless, he's an easy target. I can remember spending time with your brother in Seatle shortly after Kim and I were married. I made an underhanded comment about Bill Clinton and his moral failures. Dan told me to watch what I said because all of us have made some pretty bone headed mistakes. The difference is that relatively few of us have to be on constant display in front of the world.

It's the same with Bush. He's one man, and I really believe he's doing the best he can. He's not perfect. Why so much ire for the guy? The Presidency used to be something that was the goal of every blue blooded American child. Now it's something I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy. These guys are crucified on a daily basis for some of the stupidest crap. Some of their criticism is warranted, but some of it is ridiculous.

Crap, man, most people thought the same things about Winston Churchill. He was anything but an orator, and who would've ever guessed that a drunk could've been the spokesman for the Allied forces? Jimmy Carter, widely praised for being one of the great humanitarians, was one of the poorest spokemen to ever hold the title.

All I'm saying is that this thing is a machine. It's not all Bush. Why must all you "tolerant" liberals bash the guy so unmercifully? Where's the nobility in that?

OK, I'm finally ready to stop writing! Aren't you glad you don't have to traipse through any more of this drivel?

I love you, Doug, and I appreciate the opportunity to sift through all this "bat shit". I know your heart is for what is best for our country. I really do trust that. In the end, that's all I really care about. You and I can definitely desire what's best together, even if we have different views on what "best" is. Tell your wife hello for me.

Democracy is a wonderful thing!!

Doug said...

Hi, Steve. I’m really glad you’re not upset with me. No debate about politics would be worth that to me—especially one that I feel is clearly going to end in a stalemate.

The fact is that this sort of thing is endless, and rather than bringing us closer to agreement, it would only push us further apart. Eventually, one of us had to have the last political word, and I think it should be you. After all, it is your blog.

One point I will concede is that you clearly know far more about the Israel/Palestine conflict than I do or ever will. I’m not sure I agree with your conclusions (surprise!), but you’ve got me in the historical arena hands-down.

If this accomplished nothing more than to get us talking and sharing our views, it was all worth it to me. I never thought I’d turn anyone to my way of thinking, but it was a great ice-breaker, wasn’t it?

I wish you peace, my friend, and I hope that you continue to post. I know I’ll continue to read.

-Doug

Steve Hayes said...

Doug,

Man, I don't know whether to celebrate or mourn that this conversation has come to an end. I'm relieved, but sad. It's rare that you can have an intelligent conversation about politics that remains mature and void of personal attacks. I'm happy to say that we've succeeded on that front, and that hardly ever happens!

Add to that the fact that we've grown closer as cousins even through our disagreement! That's virtually unheard of!

Like I've tried to communicate throughout this dialogue, I truly believe that you want what's best for our country. I trust that in your heart you are seeking good anwers for our problems, and it's obvious that you are willing to examine your own thoughts and beliefs. It's good to know that we're on that journey together.

I have absolutely loved this, Doug. I'm sorry if I've offended at times, and I know you feel the same way. It's been a pleasure! Feel free to weigh in any time you feel the desire. You're always welcome!

ryan said...

Hey boys-
I know Steve is supposed to have the last word here (feel free to follow up my follow-up, Steve). But since I've been so absent from the discussion for the last few weeks and so much of it has been about some of the stuff I threw out there, I thought I would post one last comment.
In fact, I had a whole page worth of stuff I was writing in a word file as I read through the last several posts, but I think yall are right that it's probably time to stop the merry-go-round so I'll save that stuff.
Just let me say that I, too, have enjoyed this. This has been the most democratic thing I've done in a long time. I think America could stand more of this kind of thing - especially among Joe Schmo citizens, not just among the politicians.
Doug, you're a brave man for hanging in here when you were outnumbered 2-to-1. If you're ever in town, let me know. I'd love to buy you a drink.
God bless you both.
-ryan

clint said...

well...its july 5th and i although you would never catch me wearing red, white, and blue with an awkward american flag ball-cap, i do love my country and being american. i am a christian with my allegiances to a king and a kingdom first and foremost, and after that i am an american. much like steve, i am confused about where to go politcally. i grew up in a conservative republican home and just figured it was right. now that i have been "baptized" to see the light that to be christian does not mean that you have to be republican, i am in between and frustrated because neither the republican or democratic platforms fully satisfy my political views. i enjoyed the hour and a half it took to read through this post and comments. i agree...it was the most democratic thing i have done in a long time. i would like to add that conversations like these are going on in my circle of influences and it is awesome to see people with differing views engaging in conversations that end with handshakes and hugs, not name calling and storming off. in fact, if doug is ever in town, i would be honored to take the three of you all out for drinks.