In Chapter 11 of his book Faith Works, social activist and evangelical leader Jim Wallis writes,
The U.S. government is telling us that we have entered a new "war against terrorism," one that may last for years or even decades ... The United States has decided upon a unilateral military strategy to counter terrorism and, indeed, to go on the offensive.
When did Wallis write this? In 1999; his book was published in 2000. There's more:
More strikes against U.S. citizens will cause public clamor for counterstrikes, and with more U.S. counterstrikes, the hunger for retaliation from the aggrieved parties will increase. When casualties on both sides grow, the perpetrators of the violence will both be accused of terrorism. And the prospect of the introduction of weapons of mass destruction is too terrible to contemplate. But we must.
All of this reminded me of this January 1998 speech by President Bill Clinton:
Together, we must confront the new hazards of chemical and biological weapons and the outlaw states, terrorists, and organized criminals seeking to acquire them. Saddam Hussein has spent the better part of this decade and much of his nation's wealth not on providing for the Iraqi people but on developing nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons and the missiles to deliver them. The United Nations weapons inspectors have done a truly remarkable job finding and destroying more of Iraq's arsenal than was destroyed during the entire Gulf war. Now Saddam Hussein wants to stop them from completing their mission.
The perceived threats from radical Islamic terrorism and Saddam Hussein's rogue behavior were a well-established part of U.S. government policy-making well before 9/11. The "War on Terror" had been discussed for years before President Bush officially coined the term. And connections between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda were well-known long before he uttered the infamous "sixteen words" in the 2003 State of the Union speech.
I repeatedly point this stuff out because the "reality-based community" seems to be in continual need of reality checks.
It would be tempting, if time permitted, to go through Wallis' Chapter Eleven in its entirety. Instead, only a few brief comments about the chapter will have to suffice. It is an interesting collection of philosophies, prophecies, and opinions about the role of Christianity in international peacemaking. Wallis devotes quite a bit of the chapter specifically to the subject of terrorism, correctly observing that:
Because much of todays terrorism is more "theological" than ideological, it poses the real danger of the perceived confrontation between the "Christian West" and "Islamic Fundamentalism." There is profound misunderstanding between Christians and Muslims, which underlines the potential for conflict, even though the mainstream of each religion does not want it.
But Wallis also makes this rather strange observation:
It used to be that, in war, civilians were protected and soldiers died. Now that has been reversed. Today, nations protect their military forces and sacrifice the enemy's civilian populations ... when planes fly high enough to avoid being shot down, there is less accuracy in bombing and more civilian loss of life.
Now here's where Wallis' writing gets interesting. He is writing this long before 9/11 and even longer before Iraq. But look at the points he makes:
- A War on Terror has been planned for years by the U.S. government
- All parties involved in such a war will be accused of terrorism
- "Mainstream" Islam is not connected to radical Muslim groups
- There will be wide-scale careless slaughter of civilians
How many times have we heard these same themes from the political left as they sought to damage President Bush over the issue of the Iraq war? Americans are the new terrorists. The torture chambers of Abu Graib are open again, only under new management. Unilateral. Unilateral. Unilateral. We have wrongfully declared a war on Islam. 200,000 civilians are killed every year in Iraq. "War on Terror' is a phony bumper-sticker slogan. We must be tolerant. We must not profile. We need to open a dialog. And isn't Wallis' statement about bombing eerily reminiscent of remarks that Sen. Jay Rockefeller made earlier this month about Sen. John McCain:
“McCain was a fighter pilot, who dropped laser-guided missiles from 35,000 feet. He was long gone when they hit. What happened when they [the missiles] get to the ground? He doesn’t know. You have to care about the lives of people. McCain never gets into those issues.”
Is Jim Wallis some kind of amazing clairvoyant? Hardly. He is simply a man who clearly articulates the concerns held by most of the political left in America. And this worldview shapes the narrative by which the political left interprets historical events. It is more of a self-fulfilling prophecy than an uncanny ability to foresee the future. The left knows that there will be massive civilian deaths, so they find a way to "prove" it, even though the proof is highly questionable at best. The left knows that U.S. troops will commit atrocities on a regular basis and with stunning indifference, so they exploit every tale of woe told by prisoners and disgruntled military personnel, often without checking basic facts first. Moral equivalence between al-Qaeda and U.S. military personnel has become an article of faith -- the military takes innocent young men and turns them into psychopathic killers; military personnel on active combat duty shoot and maim animals and civilians just for fun; the military is the biggest contributer to mental illness and homelessness. You know the drill.
I believe these things need to be questioned because it is not honest for the left to continually insist that they are universally true, because -- even though there are scattered examples of these things occurring -- most of these claims are not universally supported by hard evidence. Regardless of whether you believe that U.S. military intervention in Iraq was warranted, the vast majority of battle reports indicated that the U.S. military takes the cost of civilian life very seriously. And even though civilians are lost in battle, this is primarily the responsibility of terrorists who use civilians as human shields, deliberately drawing fire on them during combat. Incident report after incident report shows that U.S. commanders will call off aerial attacks, ambushes, patrols, and other strike and support missions if civilians are known to be in proximity. U.S. Marines have battled terrorists door to door in places like Fallujah, where a large aerial strike could have wiped out square blocks of the city with no loss of life for U.S. personnel. And so on.
I don't want to come down too hard on Jim Wallis, because he is a good man and he makes some good suggestions in this chapter of his book. Wallis eagerly encouraged American citizens to begin interacting with citizens in Muslim nations. He also encouraged American Christian clergymen to reach out to Muslim leaders and attempt to create solidarity based on common goals and beliefs. Wallis hoped that these actions would prevent a large-scale terror attack from occurring. Unfortunately he was wrong, and many of his dire predictions have come true. In today's post-9/11 world, we are past the point of circumventing such a defining terror attack and its resulting counterstrikes, but we still desperately need to forge alliances between citizens of the United States and Muslim nations, especially in at-risk areas such as Iran and northern Africa. Already citizens of Iran are protesting the policies of their nation en masse. They do not want a repeat of the costly and demoralizing Iraq-Iran war two decades ago. And the U.S. is sending billions of dollars in food and other aid to Africa, where it is needed most. President Bush wants to build stable, democratic nations in Africa, thereby avoiding the kinds of problems plaguing the Middle East and spurring interest in radical Islam. It's good to see that we are doing something right in Africa, even though it gets scant attention from our blood and scandal-obsessed press.
Don't get me wrong here. I abhor warfare and I regret that the U.S. made the decision to get involved militarily in Iraq. But the tired cliches and boilerplate predictions of the left, and their dogged attempts at fulfilling their own prophecies of doom, do not help to end the violence. No, really, they don't. They make proponents of the war entrench themselves and defend their positions even more fervently (witness President George W. Bush), and they give ammunition to opposing forces, who excitedly propagate tales of Americans calling their own troops savages and terrorists. And they make it more difficult to objectively study trends that may be pointing to real problems, such as the sobering truth that a disproportionately high percentage of America's homeless population are veterans.
I'm not going to let the Religious Right off the hook either, because their pedal-to-the-metal rush to declare the War on Terror as "God's war" and their unwavering support for George W. Bush as "God's President" were both stupid and un-Biblical. A pox on both their houses.
I suppose what this boils down to is that I really don't like being told -- either by the Left or the Right -- that certain people are inherently evil, or that a certain kind of evil will unavoidably occur. It's not prophecy or social action. It is simply blowing one's horn. And I really wish that religious leaders would stop doing it.