I feel like I woke up this morning in a time warp:
Moscow — Russia warned Poland on Friday that it is exposing itself to attack — even a nuclear one — by accepting a U.S. missile interceptor base on its soil, delivering Moscow’s strongest language yet against the plan.
American and Polish officials stuck firmly by their deal, signed Thursday, for Poland to host a system that Washington says is meant to block missile attacks by rogue nations like Iran.
Moscow is convinced the base is aimed at Russia’s missile force, however, and the deal comes as relations already are strained over the fighting between Russia and U.S.-allied Georgia over the separatist Georgian region of South Ossetia.
“Poland, by deploying (the system) is exposing itself to a strike — 100 percent,” Gen. Anatoly Nogovitsyn, the deputy chief of staff of Russia’s armed forces, was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying.
This is not a new kind of dispute. The United States is trying to build a better shield. That prompts the Russians to up the use of their spear or build a better spear. Only now, if someone does manage to poke someone with the spear, we all die. The U.S. government has been trying to reassure the Russian government that the shield – long a pet project of hawkish officials – was aimed at Iran and not Russia.
On Capitol Hill, some Republicans think they can use Russian aggression in Georgia to bludgeon the Democrats into supporting the deployment of an American “missile shield” in Eastern Europe, according to a story by CQ’s enterprising Josh Rogin:
In September, lawmakers will resume their debate over the missile sites — this time amid fresh concerns over Russian threats to U.S. allies in eastern Europe. Though the administration has presented the missiles sites as a defense against Iranian attack, missile defense advocates say they now plan to cite the Russian threat as a way to get Democrats to let construction begin…
“Russia’s actions represent compelling data that should be convincing to Democrats that we don’t want to delay this thing,” said Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., a leading missile defense champion.
“This is not just about missile defense; this is about demonstrating to Russia that America is still a nation of resolve . . . and we’re not going to let Russian expansionism intimidate everyone.”
[Hat tip to Noah for pointing this out.]
So, this shouldn’t surprise anyone:
Has Russia sent ballistic missile launchers into Georgia? According Deputy National Security Advisor Jim Jeffrey, the answer is yes. “The President was informed immediately on Friday, when we received news of the first two SS-21 Russian missile launchers into Georgian territory,” Jeffrey said at a recent news briefing.
During any conflict of interests between the U.S. and Russia, nuclear weapons are always the elephant in the room. Events of the past couple of weeks point to a dangerous confluence of events and rhetoric that, if we’re not careful, could quickly get away from us. Take for example the one-sided sabre-rattling from Senator McCain:
McCain said earlier this week that “…I know I speak for every American when I say to him, ‘ Today, we are all Georgians.” Matthew Yglesias put it well when denouncing this sort of rhetorical gamesmanship:
The McCain campaign put something out yesterday about crowds cheering in Tblisi when President Shakashvili quoted McCain’s statement. I can’t read their minds, but it seems very plausible to me that they were cheering because they read this as a call for the United States to take practical steps to help Georgia not as a piece of hollow political sloganeering. And that kind of thing — Georgiaphilic statements by American elites that lead Georgians to dramatically overstate the level of practical support they could expect from the United States in a confrontation with Russia — was one of the contributing factors to the current crisis.
Georgia had quite a bit more encouragement from us that simple rhetoric, though:
The United States took a series of steps that emboldened Georgia: sending advisers to build up the Georgian military, including an exercise last month with more than 1,000 American troops; pressing hard to bring Georgia into the NATO orbit; championing Georgia’s fledgling democracy along Russia’s southern border; and loudly proclaiming its support for Georgia’s territorial integrity in the battle with Russia over Georgia’s separatist enclaves.
The point: as long as the U.S. and Russia continue to proliferate nuclear weapons and cling to the illusion that “power flows from the barrel of a gun,” even noble-sounding rhetoric and support for “righteous causes” can push the Doomsday Clock a second closer to midnight. The Yes to Violence will subvert even the best intentions, and this has implications even for Christian soteriology, “the study of salvation.”
Our understanding of that which Christians are saved from has progressed as we’ve swam through the intellectual developments and the hard lessons of history. Terrance Rynne:
Paul Fiddles reviews the historical record and finds, for example, that in the period of the New Testament church, sin was often seen as a kind of impurity or uncleanness that tainted life. People thus felt shut out of the sphere of the holy. Consequently, atonement was presented as sacrifice in which the blood of Christ was an agent of cleansing. …In the time of the early church fathers the human predicament was experienced as oppression by hostile heavenly powers. …Consequently salvation was presented as a victory of Christ over the powers and supernatural forces. …Under the influence of Platonic philosophy, people felt the immortal soul, destined for eternal life, bound down in the life of the body. Salvation therefore was explained as raising humanity to share in the life of God…In the Middle Ages, sin was understood to be the disruption of divinely ordered creation. Chaos resulted when loyalty and honor were not paid to the lord by his vassals. Salvation was consequently explained as satisfaction, paying the debts of honor. The period of the Reformation saw great political and social upheaval and the need to have the law enforced to guard the rights of those in power. Punishment of offenders was understood to be necessary for order to be restored. Consequently, salvation was articulated in terms of the demands of the law, with Jesus punished as a substitute for guilty humankind. (Gandhi and Jesus, p. 162)
Today, our powers of violence have reached titanic proportions. A group of people soaked in the myth of redemptive violence can literally end the life of a city, a nation, or all of humanity and all other life on the planet. We have begun, over the past half-century, to realize that what we are saved from by the nonviolent, self-sacrificing way of Christ may not be metaphorical or “merely” spiritual at all, but the literal, awful concrete destruction of humanity by our own violence. Christians, if they will listen, have been told the way out. Everything depends on our listening.