Posts Tagged ‘McCain’

General David Petraeus is set to testify before Congress today, and he’s expected to again try to put a positive spin on a war effort that’s utterly failing to meet the goals set by its backers. While intelligence assessments show that tactical moves on the ground in Afghanistan have failed to fundamentally weaken the growing insurgency, Petraeus expected to offer “a mostly upbeat assessment today of military progress.” Petraeus’s Potemkin village tours of Afghanistan for visiting dignitaries may have “impressed” people like John McCain, but Defense Intelligence Agency head General Ronald Burgess rains all over the progress talk with the sobering news that the casualties inflicted on the Taliban have caused “no apparent degradation in their capacity to fight.”

As if to underline Burgess’ point, a suicide bomber blew himself up outside a recruiting station for the Afghan Army, killing at least 35 people in northern Afghanistan on Monday.

Despite the assurances from the administration, the military and their think-tank allies, the massive troop escalations of 2009 and 2010 have failed to reverse the momentum of the insurgency or protect the Afghan population from insurgent intimidation and violence. From today’s L.A. Times:

A report March 2 by the British Parliament’s foreign affairs committee concluded that despite the “optimistic progress appraisals we heard from some military and official sources … the security situation across Afghanistan as a whole is deteriorating.” Counterinsurgency efforts in the south and east have “allowed the Taliban to expand its presence and control in other previously relatively stable areas in Afghanistan.”

“The Taliban have the momentum, especially in the east and north,” analyst Gilles Dorronsoro of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace told the committee. “There is no change in the overall balance of power, and the Taliban are still making problems.”

While the Taliban maintained momentum in 2010 and early 2011, the escalation strategy backed by Petraeus failed to protect Afghans from violence as promised, with 2010 being the deadliest year of the war so far for civilians.

One of the most hawkish of the Petraeus backers in the Senate, Senator McCain, is working hard to set the bounds for acceptable debate in Congress, but he, like the counterinsurgency campaign, is failing:

“I expect certainly some skepticism on both sides of the aisle,” McCain said. “I don’t see any kind of pressure to withdraw immediately.”

McCain only sees what he wants to see, apparently. A Rasmussen poll conducted March 4-5, 2011, found that 52 percent of likely voters want all U.S. troops brought home this year, with more than half of those wanting them brought home immediately (31 percent of likely voters). In January, a USA TODAY/Gallup poll found that 72 percent of Americans want Congress to act this year to speed up troop withdrawals from Afghanistan (including 86 percent of Democrats, 72 percent of independents, and 61 percent of Republicans), with 41 percent strongly favoring such actions. And despite McCain’s efforts to blot it out, there is, in fact, a resolution being offered before Congress “calling for Obama to withdraw U.S. forces from Afghanistan either in 30 days or no later than Dec. 31, 2011.”

Petraeus and McCain can try to spin this all they want, but the fact is that the counterinsurgency gamble failed, and the American people want our troops out, pronto. Nobody buys the counterinsurgency propaganda anymore, and the more these guys trot it out, the more damage it does to their credibility.

If you’re fed up with this war that’s not making us safer and that’s not worth the cost, join Rethink Afghanistan on Facebook and Twitter, and join your neighbors for a Rethink Afghanistan Meetup in your hometown.

Thursday marks the sixth anniversary of the U.S.’s military assault on Iraq. The occupation continues today, although President Obama recently stated his intent to withdraw our forces:

Let me say this as plainly as I can: by August 31, 2010, our combat mission in Iraq will end….And under the Status of Forces Agreement with the Iraqi government, I intend to remove all U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of 2011.

The endpoint outlined by the president will come five years after public opinion turned solidly against the war.

It will have taken the anti-war movement in the United States more than five years to make the official policies match the will of the people. That should be a glaring warning to our movement: online petitions and rallies on the Capitol lawn are insufficient to change policies in a timely way. The policymakers in our country manage orderly dissent very well.

That’s not a critique of the powerholders; it’s a critique of us. The function of the incumbent is to manage dissent. Our job as peacemakers is to make dissent unmanageable.

The saga of Cindy Sheehan, which was a microcosm of the relationship between the larger anti-war movement and the powerholding elite in this country, transformed her lone, principled and powerful voice for the human cost of war into a political force, which was then co-opted by Democratic elites, marginalized and ultimately discarded once it lost its utility. The same dynamic happened in the larger political world over the same time period: Democrats took power in Congress in 2006 on the rising tide of anti-war sentiment in America and used it in part to take the White House in 2008, only to marginalize the anti-war movement in the policymaking process.

To keep the occupation going as long as politically possible, powerholders framed the debate on withdrawal as “responsibility vs. irresponsibility.”

During the 2008 presidential race, Republican powerholders portrayed proposals to end the occupation as “irresponsible” and raised the spectre of genocide:

“[We] cannot consign Iraqis to genocide that would follow reckless, irresponsible and premature withdrawal,” McCain said in his speech to the World Affairs Council.

Democratic powerholders responded to this with some wily framing of their own. Portraying themselves as moderates situated between Republicans and get-out-and-get-out-now anti-war activists, Democrats adopted a frame of “responsible redeployment.” This frame draws an unspoken contrast with advocates for “irresponsible redeployment,” i.e. the principled anti-war movement on the Capitol lawn. This movement to slow-walk an end to the occupation succeeded in marginalizing advocates for immediate withdrawal by appealing to the same nightmare scenarios as the Republicans. Then-candidates Obama and Biden pushed for “a responsible, phased withdrawal,” but cited “potential genocidal violence within Iraq” to stave off calls for a faster end to our occupation.

The outcome of these combined framing efforts was to paint the anti-war movement as “irresponsible,” bordering on “pro-genocide.” Today’s message is “we can’t end the Iraq war any sooner because we’re concerned about civilian casualties.” That’s an interesting new development, considering that powerholders, suddenly so concerned about civilian deaths in 2008-2009, were deaf to that very same concern voiced by members of their own parties back in 2002, including U.S. Rep. Lynn Woolsey:

I believe that a decision to invade Iraq would be a terrible mistake: The President’s single-mindedness threatens the lives of thousands of American soldiers and Iraqi civilians, ignores international law, disregards our Constitution, and undermines our fight against terrorism.

These same policymakers, suddenly so concerned about civilian casualties, do not even count the civilian dead:

In the evenings, women in black gather at Umm Fatin’s house to remember the dead.

Each family in the four neighboring houses in Tahrir, a former Sunni insurgent stronghold in Baqubah, has lost loved ones to bombings or shootings. Yet these deaths and countless others have fallen under the radar of the Iraq war. Nobody keeps an accurate tally of Iraqis killed because nobody knows.

As the Iraq conflict approaches its sixth anniversary, the number of American troop deaths – more than 4,250 – has been meticulously logged by the US military. Yet analysts are no closer to knowing how many Iraqi civilians have been killed, and they acknowledge a credible death toll will probably never be recorded.

Our national politicians take on a deformed version of responsibility, meticulously avoiding responsibility for actual civilian deaths (which we “regret” but always with caveats) while claiming the policies that cause civilian deaths are necessary to prevent more civilian deaths. This tension led to a now-famous exclamation from Muqtada al-Sadr, after then-Defense Secretary Rumsfeld said we would not interfere with a potential civil war in Iraq :

…US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said last week that the US military would not intervene in an Iraqi civil war, leaving that to Iraqi forces.

‘May God damn you,’ Sadr said of Rumsfeld. ‘You said in the past that civil war would break out if you were to withdraw, and now you say that in case of civil war you won’t interfere. ‘”

This dynamic continued to play out during the “surge.” The military claimed the surge brought a reduction in violence, despite clear evidence that a brutal civil war and ethnic cleansing concluded right as the new troops hit the ground, leading to a drop-off in violence (which tends to happen when one group slaughters their opposition). But despite the fact that our occupation did not take responsibility for stopping this real civil slaughter, powerholders want us to stay as long as possible so we can be responsible for stopping a hypothetical slaughter.

Obama’s election represented a partial victory for the anti-war movement in the United States, and we should celebrate that. But as our official policies set a course toward ending this murderous misadventure in Mesopotamia, we should keep the historical account of powerholders’ motives honest. And as our powerholders slow-walk the end of one war while intensifying another, the anti-war movement must take a hard look at our own tactics to prevent being hamstrung like this in the future.

We owe that much, at least, to the dead.

This year, some Christians (myself included) expressed a discomfort with voting for either of the mainline candidates for the presidency of the United States, and not for the typical reasons – abortion, gay marriage, prayer in schools, etc. Some of us felt – and continue to feel – not just that the candidates differed with us on important issues (for me, it was the use of violence in conflict), but also that something about the modern presidency and our potential participation in electing someone to it was somehow at odds with our Christian faith. Glenn Greenwald’s post at Salon might help explain why.

Glenn writes, in part:

As I wrote a couple of weeks ago (see the last few paragraphs):  if I could be granted one small political wish, it would be the permanent elimination of this widespread, execrable Orwellian fetish of reverently referring to the President as “our commander in chief.”  And Biden’s formulation here is a particularly creepy rendition, since he’s taunting opponents of  Obama that, come Tuesday, they will be forced to refer to him as “our commander in chief Barack Obama” (Sarah Palin, in the very first speech she delivered after being unveiled as the Vice Presidential candidate, said of John McCain:  “that’s the kind of man I want as our commander in chief,” and she’s been delivering that same line in her stump speech ever since).

…Worse, “commander in chief” is a military term, which reflects the core military dynamic:  superiors issue orders which subordinates obey.  That isn’t supposed to be the relationship between the U.S. President and civilian American citizens, but because the mindless phrase “our commander in chief” has become interchangeable with “the President,” that is exactly the attribute — supreme, unquestionable authority in all arenas — which has increasingly come to define the power of the President.

…Whether deliberate or not, the chronic assignment to the President of this title is a method for training the citizenry to conceive of our political leaders, especially the President, as someone whose authority is naturally and desirably expansive and absolute.  He’s supreme.  It converts civilians into soldiers and Presidents into supreme rulers.  It’s no surprise that this is the shape our government has now taken; this phraseology both reflects and helps to enable the transformation of the President into an unaccountable, virtually omnipotent figure.

For a Christian like myself who views Jesus’ anti-violent statements such as those in the Sermon on the Mount as part of the essential core of his message, this militarization of the popular concept of the presidency causes great concern already. But the problem, while it includes this concern, runs far deeper than that.

The words “repent and believe” figure prominently in Christian writings, not least because they were words Jesus used: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” [Mark 1:15] The words have come to mean a kind of personal renunciation of a vice or sinful habit. One “repents” of a habit of swearing, of drinking, of perusing pornography, etc. But the words mean much more. They include a political connotation. To demonstrate the wider connotations, N.T. Wright writes in Jesus and the Victory of God (p. 250-253) of Josephus’ use of these phrases:

Josephus has gone to Galilee to sort out the turbulent factionalism there.  A brigand chief…makes a plot against Josephus’ life. Josephus manages to foil it. Then, he tells us, he called [the chief] aside and told him

‘that I was not ignorant of the plot which he had contrived against me…; I would, nevertheless, condone his actions if he would show repentance and prove his loyalty to me. All this he promised . . .’

‘If he would show repentance and prove his loyalty to me.’ The translation is accurate enough, but could have just as well have been rendered ‘if he would repent and believe in me‘. Josephus is requiring of this [chief] that he would give up his brigandage, and trust him (Josephus) for a better way forward.”

Regarding Jesus’ use of the same verbage, Wright writes:

“…this repentance seems to have little to do with the official structures of the Jewish system.  True repentance, it seems, consisted in adherence and allegience to Jesus himself…Jesus…was acting as a prophet of Jewish restoration, speaking on behalf of Israel’s god, summoning the nation, in view of impending judgment, to repent of its nationalist violence, and offering to all those who did so the promise that they would emerge as the vindicated people of Israel’s god.  Those who refused, by contrast would be faced with devastating judgment in the form of a national disaser.”

To paraphrase Wright’s overall point here, Jesus’ call to “repent and believe” was a call to abandon violent nationalistic agendas and to trust him for his agenda instead. Christ redefined the boundaries of the new Israel around one criterion: you were part of the people of God to the extent to which you gave Christ your total functional loyalty.

With that in mind, consider again Greenwald’s concern about unthinking use of the phrase “Commander in Chief” that saturates modern discussion of the U.S. presidency, a position at the top of a relationship between civilians and leadership where “superiors issue orders which subordinates obey,” with the President more and more being associated with “supreme, unquestionable authority in all arenas.” Much of the excesses of the Bush Administration tilted in this direction: illegal wiretapping of citizens, executive-directed torture, etc. With the help of this creeping “Commander in Chief” paradigm and a compliant or, at best, nominally resistant Congress, the presidency during the Bush years grew fully into itself, capping a long, steady, constant growth of the role of the chief executive into the role of, as Gene Healy put it,

soul nourisher, a hope giver, a living American talisman against hurricanes, terrorism, economic downturns, and spiritual malaise. He—or she—is the one who answers the phone at 3 a.m. to keep our children safe from harm. The modern president is America’s shrink, a social worker, our very own national talk show host. He’s also the Supreme Warlord of the Earth.

The kind of loyalty we’ve taken to giving the President via the “Commander in Chief” paradigm creeps ever closer to the kind of loyalty Jesus asks of his first-century hearers, that is, total functional loyalty. The mocking descriptions by Republicans of Barack Obama as “The One” during this election cycle barely concealed the fact that their preferred “Commander in Chief” paradigm plays a foundational role in pushing the modern concept of the presidency into messianic proportions. Or, one might say, it grows into Octavian proportions. The role the modern president now fills in national life, together with the kind of loyalty he/she increasingly demands, leads many Christians to think twice before participating in a national sacrament intended to usher in an every-four-years American Eschaton.

John McCain campaigned almost entirely on his fitness to fill the Commander-in-Chief role, but the candidate I ultimately voted for bears just as much guilt for pushing this expasive view of the presidency.  Again, Healy:

“Barack Obama has done more than any candidate in memory to boost expectations for the office, which were extraordinarily high to begin with. Obama’s stated positions on civil liberties may be preferable to McCain’s, but would it matter? If and when a car bomb goes off somewhere in America, would a President Obama be able to resist resorting to warrantless wiretapping, undeclared wars, and the Bush theory of unrestrained executive power? As a Democrat without military experience, publicly perceived as weak on national security, he’d have much more to prove.”

Greenwald’s post answers Healy’s rhetorical questions:

“…the natural instinct of political officials — especially new arrivals determined to achieve all sorts of things — is to consolidate, not voluntarily relinquish, extant political power.”

The challenge of an Obama presidency will be to overcome a euphoria at the end of the Bush era. That euphoria will be our worst enemy if it lulls us into complacency. It’s conceivable that those who opposed the worst excesses of this administration will be so overcome with relief at the election of “our guy” to the post that they will want to give him his head to get things done rather than push him to relinquish over-inflated power that comes with the office.  But true support for this president, for the change he campaigned on, will be measured in tough love. Once he takes office, he must find himself hemmed in and checked on many of the paths open to his predecessors. He must be enveloped in a vocal, demanding social movement that loves the ideas he represents enough to resist his grabs for the levers that this administration and this Congress have left within his reach. Obama, for his part, to borrow a pairing from Mother Teresa, will have to be “faithful” to his ideals rather than avail himself of all available means to be “effective.”

With a compliant Congress eager to shore up its dismal approval ratings and what looks to be a true electoral mandate shaping up, any hope for a governing policy of “presidential restraint and re-balancing” might be a pipe-dream. That’s why it’s absolutely essential that Christians keep Jesus’ words and example firmly at the center of their politics over the next months. The role of the presidency in national life and the kind of loyalty demanded by the office and by “presidentists” will compete with the role Christ demands in each of our lives. Obama’s platform not only plays into this expanded role (as does John McCain), but it also contains a substantial amount of nationalistic violence and brigandage in Afghanistan and around the world.

No matter if you vote or to whom you give your vote, give your loyalty to Jesus. Then, get ready to lovingly resist the demands of Caesar to render unto him things that belong to God.

Here it comes.

Election Day is Tuesday. The race for the White House reached its final advertising crescendo on Thursday with a massive ad-buy by Senator Obama’s campaign on major primetime networks — half an hour of prime time television. The whole world holds its breath.

For what?

What do we wait for?

The end of the Bush era. The end of the Era of Katrinas and Bail-Outs. The end of al-Qaida. The end of the war in Iraq, that hitherto invulnerable monster we started but could not stop.  The end of all wars.

Hiding behind the President’s dismal approval ratings is the overlarge elephant in the room: we did this.  All of us. We elected President George W. Bush. Twice. We installed a jingoistic Republican Congress to aid his policies. We elected a Democratic Congress unable to stop him. We took out bad mortgages. We sold bad mortgages. We bought them from ourselves.

We watched a city drown, eyes glued to televisions but hands glued to remote controls, not outstretched to help.

We tortured, and we defended it.

We did this. We did it all.

So what do we wait for?

We wait for a time when we can look ourselves in the mirror and not feel like this. We want forgiveness, and we want to forgive ourselves.

The obstacle: we always get what we ask for. We asked for these last eight years. We asked for war after the towers fell. And in four days, we will get what we ask for again, and we still ask for the wrong things.

We get it partially right: we ask for new blood, for the expulsion of corrupt officials, for public structures that work. We ask for better judgment from our leaders. We ask for optimism, and we ask to be inspired.

These are good things to ask for.

But these are not all we ask for.

We ask for a reshuffling of conflicts to more lethally hate an enemy. We ask for continued economic and military dominance of a planet choking to death on our freedom from want.  We ask for safety, for power, for glory.

If we keep asking for these things, we will get them. They will taste like bitter ash in 2009 the same as they did in 2008 and in 2001.

The earliest of Christian writings speak of the three things that rise from ash, that persist, that do not fade: faith, hope and love. Hope is the word of the hour. We’re asking for hope. I even voted for hope.  But we’d be better off asking for the greatest of these, love.

Love can do what bullets cannot. Love can end these wars. Love can defeat evil. Love can bring freedom. The state apes an ability to do so, but it cannot. The violence of the state is God’s strategy to cause the works of the enemy to frustrate themselves. Though the civil religion thunders from a thousand pulpits tomorrow, it is an empty echo. As much as the state would like you to believe that it can defeat evil, that it is the “last, best hope of Earth,” its power pales before, kneels before, love. God is love.

Regardless who wins — although it’s probably safe to assume Obama will win — the next four years will not be about our chosen president saving us from ourselves. The next four years must be a constant struggle to save the president from the path we’re setting him on via a landslide vote for an agenda that, at least in part, commits us to killing more of our enemies, rather than loving them.

Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s. Render the rest unto God. Senator Barack Obama (D-Ill.) has my vote. But Jesus has my loyalty.

The Religious Right sees the writing on the wall and is not happy about it.  From the AP:

Terrorist strikes on four American cities. Russia rolling into Eastern Europe. Israel hit by a nuclear bomb. Gay marriage in every state. The end of the Boy Scouts.

All are plausible scenarios if Democrat Barack Obama is elected president, according to a new addition to the campaign conversation called “Letter from 2012 in Obama’s America,” produced by the conservative Christian group Focus on the Family Action.

…Steve Strang, publisher of Charisma magazine, a Pentecostal publication, titled one of his recent weekly e-mails to readers, “Life As We Know It Will End If Obama is Elected.”

Strang said gay rights and abortion rights would be strengthened in an Obama administration, taxes would rise and “people who hate Christianity will be emboldened to attack our freedoms.”

…Among the claims:

  • …A series of domestic and international disasters based on Obama’s “reluctance to send troops overseas.” That includes terrorist attacks on U.S. soil that kill hundreds, Russia occupying the Baltic states and Eastern European countries including Poland and the Czech Republic, and al-Qaida overwhelming Iraq.

These hysterical Nostradamus-like prognostications continue the worst of the Religious Right’s tendency to ignore not only the facts,

A stark assessment of terrorism trends by American intelligence agencies has found that the American invasion and occupation of Iraq has helped spawn a new generation of Islamic radicalism and that the overall terrorist threat has grown since the Sept. 11 attacks

but also the core of Jesus’ teachings:

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. …Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely* on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. ‘You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” 39But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you…

‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” 44But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? 47And if you greet only your brothers and sisters,* what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

The “Letter from 2012” made me giggle occassionally, mostly because of the palpable sense of fear from the Religious Right, not of an Obama presidency, but of the dissolving relevance of their voice in the evangelical community. In the best of these parts of the letter, the authors offer a not-too-subtle excoriation of those darn young people who dare to screw up everything the Right worked for:

The 2008 election was closer than anybody expected, but Barack Obama still won. Many Christians voted for Obama – younger evangelicals actually provided him with the needed margin to defeat John McCain – but they didn’t think he would really follow through on the far- Left policies that had marked his career. They were wrong.

Vigorous writing omits needless words, so I’d offer this as more consice phrase to replace the above:

Stupid, naive, diaper-wearing Christians voted for Obama. Smart, mature evangelicals voted McCain.

What’s prompting this hysteria? Simply put, reality:

(Ventura, California) – Unless a dramatic shake-up of the electorate occurs in the next two weeks, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is poised to win the November 4th election by a comfortable margin. A new survey from The Barna Group, exploring the voting preferences of registered voters who are likely to vote in the upcoming election found that Sen. Obama has a 13-point lead against Republican John McCain (50% to 37%).

One of the surprising insights of the research is the significant inroads Sen. Obama has made among the Christian community, particularly compared to 2004. In fact, among born again voters there is a statistical dead-heat: 45% plan to vote for Sen. McCain, while 43% expect to cast a ballot for Sen. Obama. Even if Sen. McCain were to sweep the 10% who are undecided born again voters, he would fail to reach the 62% who rallied for President Bush in 2004.

As my previous post shows, I have plenty of very serious concerns about an Obama presidency. But the polling data in this election shows me something I can celebrate without hesitation: the Religious Right can no longer claim to speak for my faith. That’s good news.

Horse Race Roundup

Posted: October 6, 2008 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,

Lots of Dead People Could Change the Dynamic!  ZOMG!

Can it just be over already?  Seriously, what a thought:

John McCain needs a game-changer to win the U.S. presidential election. He’s not going to provide it himself, and Barack Obama won’t give it to him.

The Arizona Republican’s best chance for a turnaround is a national security crisis over the next four weeks that somehow persuades swing voters that his experience and credentials are essential…

— Pakistan’s new government is toppled. Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, with supportive elements in Pakistani intelligence and the military, get a stronger foothold in the nuclear-armed nation.

— India, which already accuses Pakistan of complicity with terrorist attacks on the country, launches a cross-border attack on its longtime enemy. The Afghanistan regime of Hamid Karzai becomes even shakier. Chaos reigns in one of the most dangerous places on the planet.

— The Israelis, using new intelligence that Iran’s nuclear program is more developed than expected, make preemptive strikes against some of those facilities. A weak American president is unable, or unwilling, to stop it.

America at War

The Iranians are convinced this is an American-Israeli plot. Using their Hezbollah allies, they plot asymmetrical retaliations against the U.S. anywhere they see an advantage. America is at war with Sunnis and Shiites.

— Terrorists strike at the U.S. Eight years after the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, al-Qaeda struck on 9/11. These diabolical minds could figure that after the financial crisis, another attack would be devastating psychologically.

The horse race mentality of presidential elections disturbs me to no end. We’re not above reducing catastrophic events that cost human lives down to factors affecting our contest-of-the-minute.

Change = Finally Doing What We’ve Been Doing

John McCain’s new ad seems to indicate that he wants you to think that Obama is anti-military, wants you to discount the murder of non-combatants, and then worry only about the safety of U.S. troops. For the record, Obama is pro-militarism in many respects (which causes my discomfort with him), wants an escalation in Afghanistan that would result in many more non-combatant murders, and does care about the safety of U.S. troops. McCain also makes a ridiculous misstep in the “change” narrative, seeming to promise a “change” from…having to hear Obama talk and having to tolerate Congressional votes that fail to change the status quo. Apparently, the “Change” that “Is Coming” means finally doing what we’ve been doing, without the (weak) dissent.

The aptly named Alliance Defense Fund (presumably concerned with defending the alliance of Republicans and conservative churches) convinced several pastors to risk serious financial consequences for their congregations by “speaking about politics” from the pulpit, meaning they will act as surrogates for the McCain campaign and use scripture to do it. Here’s a sample:

“I’m going to talk about the un-biblical stands that Barack Obama takes. Nobody who follows the Bible can vote for him,” said the Rev. Wiley S. Drake of First Southern Baptist Church of Buena Park. “We may not be politically correct, but we are going to be biblically correct. We are going to vote for those who follow the Bible.”

Drake was the target of a recent IRS investigation into his endorsement last year of former Arkansas governor and Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee. In the end, Drake was cleared.

Readers of this blog and anyone who knows me personally will know that I believe Jesus’ teachings are inherently, intensely political, so if pastors want to talk about politics from the pulpit, they should, because in the end that forms the majority of what they should be talking about. What astounds me is the extent to which the church allows the kingdoms of the world to define for them what “political” means, and how we fall so quickly into the groves of the prevailing political ideologies that may or may not have anything to do with Christ in anything but cosmetic ways.

Politics can be defined as “the often internally conflicting interrelationships among people in a society.” Jesus had quite a lot to say about politics, including no small amount of material on violence and the proper responses to it. Jesus had quite a bit to say about how we are to manage the often conflicting relationships between ourselves and our brothers and sisters, with special emphasis on how we relate to the weak, the vulnerable, and the marginalized. So when I see pastors risking consequences to talk about “politics,” I feel like I should be encouraged.

But, I’m not.

All indications are that this will be a conservative-orchestrated campaign event, wherein pastors will push for support of McCain or at least for detraction of Obama. While the Alliance Defense Fund says the point of all of this is to push the feds into stripping the churches of their non-profit tax-exempt status and thus allowing for a lawsuit on free-speech grounds to establish a precedent, I suspect the true goal will be accomplished immediately: having a bunch of Christian leaders stand up and denounce a particular political candidate at a time politically advantageous to another candidate.

What bothers me most about this stunt is the narrow view of “biblical” being shouted out by the pastors involved. “Biblical” is often a euphemism for a certain perspective on the biblical texts that reflects a political / social ideology, not vice versa. In this case, “biblical” will mean that Obama is pro-choice, pro-inclusion, etc. etc. But will John McCain and Obama be equally criticized for their “unbiblical” stances on the use of violence in conflict? Jesus has something to say on that issue, something very, very forthright. And money, too…no, what I imagine will emerge will be a way of talking about liberalism or conservatism, Republicanism versus Democratic-ness, cloaked in a thin veneer of Christian language and symbolism.

I’d suggest that good starting points for our standard of “biblical” politics would be here and here.

First, a meditation on the nature of whom Christians are called to imitate, emphasis mine:

This is a great mystery: that the one before whom every knee must bow should become a human being, who would kneel to wash the feet of fishermen and tax collectors — and of the one he knew would betray him.

Yet all the while Jesus knew what this humble act would cost. He knew perfectly well what he was doing, and who he was doing it for. Jesus’ simple act of foot-washing is set side-by-side with his knowledge of who his betrayer was, and what he was about to do. Jesus knew that his hour had come, that he was about to be betrayed into human hands by human hands, the very hands that would dip in the bowl with his. Believe me, one thing you don’t want to do is fall into human hands. And yet he stripped himself of his robe, and knelt to wash his disciples’ feet — all of them.

This foot-washing, this humility and love and tangible, physical care for every person, even those who would kill him or have him killed, is the lived illustration of Jesus’ exhortations on the mountainside:

‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” 44But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? 47And if you greet only your brothers and sisters,* what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.’

These are not empty words or platitudes. These are the principles that Jesus lived and died in. This is the path for those who would ‘take up their cross and follow.’ Love. Real, tangible, this-worldly love. Tenderness, concern and humility for the bodies of those who would soon hand one over to the torturing, anti-human domination of the Empire. Perfect, corporeal love that rises like the sun and falls like rain on the evil and the good, the righteous and the unrighteous.

Much has been said lately of the United States being a “Christian” nation, as if the One Body could be subdivided or mapped by political jurisdiction, as if there were any other nation besides the Kingdom of God that could lay claim to the adjective “Christian.” But let me posit a criteria for measuring the Christianity of a given nation.  Rather than measuring how many classrooms display the Ten Commandments, rather than count how many public officials bloviate about being “Under God,” let us measure how well a given nation imitates the God revealed in Jesus, who showed perfect, corporeal love, love that cared about the physical strain and grime on even his betrayer’s tired feet.

We certainly do let the rain fall on the evil and the good…a rain of bombs.

2008 has so far seen a sharp increase (39%) Afghan civilian casualties compared to last year, with this past August having had the highest number of civilian casualties since the overthrow of the Taliban.

BBC News:

…What is especially worrying, says spokesman Rupert Colville, is that every month things seem to get worse.

…[C]ivilian casualties caused by pro-government forces are rising too – 577 so far this year, compared with 477 over the same period last year.

This election year, the most viable “less war” candidate wants to send more troops to Afghanistan, despite warnings against such a move even from a strictly strategic standpoint. The “less troops in Iraq, more troops in Afghanistan” theme which has emerged over the past months (which I, to my discredit, helped push for a time) emerges not even from a strategic framework, let alone a “Christ-like” perspective, but rather from a feeling that Afghanistan is “The Right War”:

In the last month, both presidential candidates have stated they wish to send more troops to Afghanistan. Unfortunately, neither candidate has stated what he sees as the United States’ strategic interests in Afghanistan. Even more dangerous, neither candidate has expressed a strategic framework for the region. Despite increased violence in Pakistan, Musharraf’s recent resignation and the collapse of the coalition government, neither candidate has even commented on how our actions may be feeding Pakistan’s instability. Their determination to send more troops seems to be based on the idea that Afghanistan is the “good war” than on any thoughtful evaluation of the situation.

This feeling of a “good war” arises from the fact that al-Qaida planned their attacks in Afghanistan, and the Taliban regime refused to capture them and deliver them to what was probably a death sentence in the U.S.

Imagine you could travel back in time from where you were on September 11, 2001 to first-century Palestine. Imagine you are late to the meeting. Imagine you arrive in the middle of the foot-washing and butt into line. Imagine that He invites you to sit in the chair and take off your shoes. As you do, you start to tell him what happened. You tell him about the Towers, about the Pentagon, about the Pennsylvania fields. He scrubs between your toes. You tell him you know it was al-Qaida and the Taliban won’t give them up for prosecution and possible execution. (He might give you a long, meaningful look when you mention the death penalty, and maybe he’d absentmindedly rub the soft space between his wrist bones where the nails will fit tomorrow.) As he finishes washing your feet, you tell him your nation has fleets and bombers and computerized weapons that could bring justice to the perpetrators…should you use them, you ask?

Imagine he doesn’t answer, doesn’t say a word – he motions to the next person in line, and starts to wash Judas’ feet.

Much more will likely be said in the next forty-something days in order to get your vote, especially if you identify yourself as “Christian,” and a lot of it will include loud, certain declarations that this is a “Christian” nation. But that word means something: Christ-like. It is an adjective that means the noun behaves like Jesus, shows tangible love to the spirit and body of all people, whether they are good or evil, righteous or unrighteous, friend or enemy.

Afghanistan is not a “good war,” and America is not a “Christian” nation. It is an unbelievable offense to the memory of Jesus’ work on Earth to exhort a “Christian” America to double-down on a “good war” in Afghanistan.

…and it’s not:

1) You, or you; or

2) The United States of America. If you are going to run around grasping for the “Christian” mantle, please stop referring to the USA as “the greatest force for good in the world (click the link and then click “Trailer”),” or the “last, best hope of Earth.” Kids, that’s called Americanism, not Christianity.

Here’s an example (via Halden over at Inhabitatio Dei) of what I’m talking about – from Senator McCain:

My country saved me, and I cannot forget it. And I will fight for her for as long as I draw breath, so help me God. . . . I’m going to fight to make sure every American has every reason to thank God, as I thank him, that I’m an American, a proud citizen of the greatest country on Earth.”

Your country saved you? From what? Suffering? Nope – you were a veteran in a P.O.W. camp, certainly suffering at the time. Death? Don’t we Christians already have assurances regarding salvation from even death? What does being “the greatest country on Earth” mean in the context of a Kingdom where the “first shall be last, and the last shall be first?” This is definately religious, but not in the slightest way Christian.

Further, there is nothing of the God revealed in Jesus Christ in warfare. Please stop referring to “sacred obligations” to provide our troops defensive and offensive tools to help them kill people. Please also stop letting your people talk about the Iraq war as a “task that is from God.”

Father George Zabelka:

“Today the world is on the brink of ruin because the church refuses to be the church, because we Christians have been deceiving ourselves and the non-Christian world about the truth of Christ. There is no way to follow Christ, to love as Christ loved, and simultaneously to kill other people. It is a lie to say that the spirit that moves the trigger of a flamethrower is the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ. It is a lie to say that learning to kill is learning to be Christ-like. It is a lie to say that learning to drive a bayonet into the heart of another is motivated from having put on the mind of Christ. Militarized Christianity is a lie. It is radically out of conformity with the teaching, life and spirit of Jesus.”

Cut it out, please.

After surveying the very large sample of quotes on nonresistance and war, David Bercot writes in A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs that (I’m paraphrasing) the early Christians were opposed to war and that they allowed members of the military to join and remain in the church only if they refused to kill. Bercot wrote in the introduction of the book that modern Christians should not use his work to “proof text” any particular belief on the part of the early Christians, but the sources are in such overwhelming agreement prior to the time of Constantine that on this topic, the subject of early Christian nonviolence, he is compelled to ignore his own advice. Then came Constantine, the illegitimate successor to a seat on the Tetrarchy, who firmly merged a paganized, violent version of Christianity with the state. In a lot of ways, I have sympathy for the first Christian emperor; those at the height of power in the fourth century were playing for keeps. Succession in the Tetrarchy set up by Diocletian was not hereditary, but Constantine was very popular with his father’s soldiers, and even if they hadn’t rashly proclaimed him their new Caesar (in clear violation of Diocletian’s dictates), I doubt Galerius would have left him alone. I think we can all understand Constantine’s cunning moves even if we utterly repudiate the means he chose to help ensure his own survival and ultimate triumph. But, sympathy aside, Constantine’s pernicious innovations still mar our faith…and our political process.

At the outset, as I’ve said before, if I choose to vote this year, I will probably vote for Barack Obama. For those that know me, news that I consider not voting may come as a bit of a shock. I am fresh out of Washington, D.C., where I worked fairly closely with the senator’s staff (whom I respect very much) and as communications director for one of Obama’s main media surrogates in the House. I have worked in politics either on the official or campaign side since college. I’ve held signs on street corners on freezing mornings in states I don’t live in to help get Democrats elected. And, I would be lying if I said I didn’t hope that Obama won because a McCain presidency frightens me on many levels.

The recent Saddleback Forum again showed that both of these candidates jockey hard for portions of the “Christian vote.” And yet, setting aside the question of Iraq, both candidates have all but promised a massive escalation of force in Afghanistan, which has had a very high ratio of civilian deaths and has been very lethal, proportionally to the number of our troops deployed there, for American troops. Christians opposed to war should remember one of the lessons of the 2006 election cycle: Democrats tend to oppose the Iraq war on it’s merits, but they do not, in general, oppose war itself. Like Obama himself said, “I’m not opposed to war. I’m opposed to ‘dumb wars.'”

If my friend, sibling, or (as-yet-nonexistent) child asked me if I’d help them join the military, I’d say no. I agree with the early church that Jesus meant what he said about loving your enemies, returning good for evil, turning the other cheek, etc. I would never knowingly help someone chose to violate those teachings, even if they affirmatively wanted to.  They would have to do it without my help. But this year, I’m acutely aware that in every election cycle, Americans help someone not only violate those teachings on an individual level, but we help them take the helm of the most powerful means of mass murder in history, and even the most idealistic anti-war supporters of the most anti-war candidate in the race have no doubt that their candidate would use them if given sufficient provacation. So why would I go into a voting booth to help an ambitious politician from either party take on a profession which contains exponentially more violence in the job description than an individual military career? Do I not care just as much for my preferred candidate as a person, rather than as a larger than life public persona? Halden over at Inhabitatio Dei wrote a book review review that started a conversation about these issues, and I’d be curious how readers of this blog feel about voting and how it fits or doesn’t fit with love, specifically love for a particular candidate and care for their soul.

The “anti-war” choice in this election is just as ambigious as the “Christian” choice in this election. A redeployment from Iraq that serves to empower an escalation in Afghanistan is not an unambigious victory for nonviolence. Hence, if I do vote, which obviously is not a foregone conclusion, I will vote for Barack Obama, but I cannot “endorse” him. Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw, in a recent post on the God’s Politics blog, said they’d refrain from endorsing any candidate for President in the hope that the candidates would instead endorse the nonviolent, self-sacrificing love exemplified and taught by Jesus, our Christ. I agree.