Posts tagged with: iraq

I did a brief interview yesterday with Greg Allen of The Right Balance and have a couple more scheduled for next week. It’s kept me thinking about some of the issues surrounding the debate about Christianity, democracy, and Iraq.

In the piece I wrote I pointed to some of the rather guarded opinions of representatives from the Christian tradition, namely John Calvin, Abraham Kuyper, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, on the possibility of finding the “best” form of government.

But I’ve also been doing a lot of thinking about the biblical data, and it occurs to me that it was during Solomon’s reign that Israel enjoyed its greatest prosperity. We read, for instance, “During Solomon’s lifetime Judah and Israel, from Dan to Beersheba, lived in safety, each man under his own vine and fig tree.”

This led me to wonder a bit about how we should characterize the rule of the kings in Old Testament Israel. Clearly it’s a monarchy, but what sort?

We see the protection of private property, and a king who is subject to the rule of law and is specifically held accountable to Torah, when necessary by its public expositors the prophets. Calvin noted the intimate relationship between the prophets and Torah. Speaking about understanding the prophetic books, he writes, “the shortest way of treating this subject is to trace the Prophets to the Law, from which they derived their doctrine, like streams from a fountain; for they placed it before them as their rule, so that they may be justly held and declared to be its interpreters, who utter nothing but what is connected with the Law.”

While the prophets lacked the direct relationship with the executive power such that they could enforce Torah adherence, they certainly represented the divine perspective on Torah violation and its consequences (no doubt they were strict constructionists). In that sense they functioned as a sort of judicial check on the monarch’s power, similar to the way our Supreme Court is supposed to function.

If we view Torah as a sort of constitution, then in OT Israel we have an ancient kind of constitutional, and therefore limited, monarchy.

Related to last week’s commentary and blog post, check out this WSJ piece, “Gates Crafts Long-Term Iraq Plan, With Limited Role for U.S. Forces,” in which Defense Secretary Robert Gates says, “My view is that whatever works economically ought to be tried.”

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, September 12, 2007

In this week’s Acton Commentary, I examine the (non)necessity of promoting a democratic government in post-invasion Iraq. I haven’t written much on Iraq in this or any other venue, for a number of reasons. But this piece is one that I’ve been waiting to write for a long time, and was really only waiting for the proper occasion. That prompting came a few weeks ago when U.S. Rep. Peter Hoekstra from Holland, MI said, “The mission for us is not to establish a democracy in Iraq, but to make the region secure and stable.”

This piece appeared earlier in the Orange County Register, “Iraq: Democracy not required,” which garnered this response, “Democracy without liberty? I think not” (see also the 2003 Acton Commentary, “Success in Iraq: Guaranteed Property Rights as a Precondition for Democracy”).

Here are some links that have been floating around my inbox that are related to some of the points brought up in this week’s commentary. First and most directly relevant, from Christianity Today, “Bush’s ‘Theological Perspective.’”

Next, here is a link to an H-Net review of a recent book on civil society in post-war Germany, particularly the “Heidelberg Action Group,” whose founding manifesto “challenged socialist ideologies that stressed the role of a strong state and the primacy of national interest. They envisioned a form of socialism focused upon the realization of individual freedom and the creation of autonomous and self-reliant persons.”

And finally I’d like to point you to a review in the Claremont Review of Books by Georgetown law professor Randy Barnett on a book that argues for a greater “democratization” of the American constitution. It may come as a surprise to some, but our Constitution was initially and still remains to a large extent “counter-majoritarian.”

And related to foreign policy in particular, Barnett notes the curiousity that “It has become de rigueur among American constitutional law scholars to refrain from recommending our particular form of government to others when advocating democracy around the world. While most Americans prefer the safety of our counter-majoritarian Constitution, our constitutional ‘experts’ are happy to urge others to live the truly majoritarian ideal. Now Sandy Levinson is urging Americans as well to adopt a more majoritarian constitution. But maybe the time has come instead to let the rest of the world in on our little secret.”

Update: See “The Ottoman Swede,” by Roger Cohen, which says in part, “distinct peoples forcefully gathered into a dictatorial state will react in the first instance to liberty by trying to get free of each other rather than trying to imagine a liberal democracy,” and “The Road to Partition,” by David Brooks. See also these two Marketplace pieces (here and here) with the normally rather disagreeable Robert Reich, discussing in part his new book Supercapitalism.

Blog author: rnothstine
posted by on Wednesday, September 12, 2007
U.S. Marines pray over a fallen soldier

“Foxhole conversions are not real Christian conversions,” and, “It is virtually impossible for Christians to serve in the military and remain faithful.” These are the words of a professor I experienced in seminary. It always seemed odd to me a professor at a Wesleyan – Arminian seminary wanted to keep people outside of saving grace. But quotes like these can be attributed to a fear in associating religion with the affairs of state. In addition, it is also the belief that the mixing of any form of national service and faith is entirely corrupt.

There have been several high profile publications of late that have dealt with spirituality on the battlefield. Many books and articles have dealt with faith and heroics, spiritual revivals, and spiritual warfare on the front. Faith of the American Soldier, by Stephen Mansfield, and A Table in The Presence, by Lt. Cary Cash, are two that immediately come to mind. But spiritual themes are also covered in the saltier and more profane, Generation Kill, authored by Evan Wright, which chronicled the initial invasion into Iraq by Marines. Religious revivals and accounts of war of course are not new. Spiritual revival heavily influenced many of the soldiers in the Union and Confederate Army during the American Civil War.

W. Thomas Smith Jr. has a piece for National Review Online titled “God Bless and Semper Fi”. Smith says in the piece:

As I’ve said before: though some members of Congress might cavalierly suggest U.S. soldiers and Marines are “cold-blooded killers,” the very nature of their work — something few Americans fully grasp — demands they be some of the world’s most moral men if they are going to be effective at what they do. That doesn’t mean soldiers are perfect. But it does mean many of them have been forced to face God in a way most of us have not, and it’s often reflected in their characters and unconscious behavior.

Second: Combat soldiers and Marines prayed openly and unashamedly, as did their officers. Not all of them mind you, but a noticeable number. Even the ones who cursed, pardon the cliché and the reference, like sailors.

The next quote may make sense for those who have lived in the Middle East. Having lived in Cairo myself, what the author says is plausible:

I’m convinced this openly expressed spirituality is one of the reasons Army and Marine officers seem to be making greater headway in terms of ground-zero diplomacy with sheiks and tribal elders than the rank-and-file civilian diplomats. The Iraqis simply trust American soldiers, their word, and their sincerity, because of their spirituality.

Oftentimes the caricatures of the mixing of faith and nationalism are entirely overblown. The view by some in the religious left and other camps, that some U.S. soldiers think of themselves as modern day Christian Crusaders fighting the War on Terror in Iraq and Afghanistan is in fact grossly exaggerated. U.S. military chaplains are extremely mindful of Church and state roles, which can be more complex in a military setting, than say a local church. I remember covering an event held by the far left Institute on Progressive Christianity for The Institute on Religion and Democracy. During this conference a participant expressed the belief that the Pentagon was forming its foreign policy from the book of Revelation. In fairness to the IPC, their speaker downplayed the belief Pentagon officials were using rapture and apocalyptic teachings as a guide. A link to the IRD article can be found here.

When my brother was serving in Iraq, a Marine from his unit was awarded the Silver Star for his combat leadership. As a reservist, Dennis Woullard was also a an associate Baptist Minister on the Mississippi Gulf Coast at the time. I wrote him a letter, telling him I was praying for him and was proud of the unit. Woullard wrote back, downplaying his own heroics and praising the men who served under him. It was the typical response from a U.S. Marine.

For Marines and other service men and women, faith is so often an integral part of the psychology and survival of combat. Making sense of violence, evil, and death is magnified on the battlefield. It was Confederate General Robert E. Lee, when recalling the battle of Fredericksburg, who declared, “It is well that war is so terrible – otherwise we would grow too fond of it.”

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Randy Barnett, a Georgetown University law professor, discusses libertarian attitudes toward war in this OpinionJournal piece (HT: No Left Turns):

While all libertarians accept the principle of self-defense, and most accept the role of the U.S. government in defending U.S. territory, libertarian first principles of individual rights and the rule of law tell us little about what constitutes appropriate and effective self-defense after an attack. Devising a military defense strategy is a matter of judgment or prudence about which reasonable libertarians may differ greatly.

Barnett notes that “The point of this essay is not to debate the merits of the Iraq war but to inform those who may be unaware that libertarians can come down on either side of this issue.”

See also: “Classical Liberalism, Foreign Policy, and Just War”

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, March 12, 2007

As promised I saw ’300′ on Saturday night. The IMAX was sold out, so I saw it in “digital cinema presentation,” which was of noticeably higher quality than a regular showing.

I really liked the film (Anthony Bradley gives it a ‘B’). The visuals are quite striking and impressive. The action sequences alone are well worth the price of admission. Gerard Butler gives a powerful performance as King Leonidas, and his wife, Queen Gorgo (played by Lena Headey), does more than hold her own. When an emissary from Xerxes arrives in Sparta, he is taken aback that a woman dare speak in the counsel of men. Gorgo responds that only Spartan women are capable of birthing “proper men.”

In the strength of her performance, however, Headey stands above the rest of the cast, which are constantly in danger of being overwhelmed by the sheer forcefulness of Butler’s portrayal. In particular the portrayal of Delios, the narrator and witness to the events of ’300′, by David Wenham (who also played Faramir in the Lord of the Rings trilogy) suffers notably in comparison to Butler’s Leonidas.

There is a fair bit of titillation, from the sensuality of an “drunk adolescent” oracle to the lurid temptations faced by the Ephialtes, and once the violence starts it is quite graphic. This film certainly won’t get the Dove Foundation’s approval.

The grim gallows humor of the dialogue lends itself to numerous memorable one-liners, mostly from the mouth of Leonidas. He tells the self-proclaimed god-man Xerxes, for instance, that he cannot kneel in submission because his legs are cramped from killing Persians all day. At other times the dialogue seems a bit uneven, perhaps because of the notable difference in verbal requirements between a graphic novel and a screenplay.

The film has received mixed reviews, in large part due to the facile comparisons that could be made between Leonidas and George W. Bush. A leitmotif of the film is the battle between the free citizen warriors of Sparta and the slaves under the tyrannical domination of Xerxes. Thus, says Leonidas, “A new age has come, an age of freedom. And all will know that 300 Spartans gave their last breath to defend it.”

Particularly suited to contemporary comparison is the scene in which the other Greeks abandon Leonidas and his Spartans to their death at the hands of Xerxes’ forces. It is almost impossible at that point not to think of the splintering of the coalition forces in Iraq. Of course there are many reasons that the movie shouldn’t be taken as an allegory for the modern situation, but the ease with which parts of the film can be interpreted in this way no doubt explains much of the media’s ambivalence toward the film.

It’s worth noting what Lord Acton observed about the character of freedom and democracy in particular after the united Greeks were victorious in the Persian wars. This ushered in a period where Athens dominated the confederation of city-states, and whose abuse of power (from the perspective of the Spartans) led to the Peloponnesian War.

Acton writes of Athens and their democracy, “But the lesson of their experience endures for all times, for it teaches that government by the whole people, being the government of the most numerous and most powerful class, is an evil of the same nature as unmixed monarchy, and requires, for nearly the same reasons, institutions that shall protect it against itself, and shall uphold the permanent reign of law against arbitrary revolutions of opinion.”

We can see this danger in the film itself, as the commitment of the warrior-state of Sparta to the purity and strength of bloodline leads to the practice of eugenics and infanticide. This practice comes home to roost in an ironic fashion indeed, playing a direct role in the demise of Leonidas himself. And so perhaps there are some contemporary lessons to be learned from ’300′ after all beyond the obvious ones about the value of bravery, fortitude, and commitment.


This review has been cross-posted to Blogcritics.org.

This is the headline from Zenit on January 18. "Chaldean Archbishop Louis Sako, the archbishop of Kirkuk warns that a division of boundaries will lead to more conflict, with Christians caught in the middle."

“He says ‘a divided Iraq will not be a peaceful Iraq.’ …Archbishop Sako fears that possible plans for a Christian safe haven on the Nineveh plain will not succeed. He said: ‘They would have their own territory, but to be viable, the idea of a protected zone, a safe haven, which is viewed sympathetically by the Kurds and even the Americans, needs an end to the violence and remains in any event, a dangerous plan. The Nineveh plain is largely surrounded by Arabs, and Christians would serve as a useful and undefended buffer zone between Arabs and Kurds.’”

In other words, Christians would be caught in the cross-fire between Arabs and Kurds, unless something is done to curb the violence.

"According to the archbishop the best solution is religious freedom:" ‘In my opinion it would be preferable to work at the constitutional level and each area to guarantee religious freedom and equal rights for believers of all faiths throughout the land, including Christians, who can be found everywhere.’
Note: San Diego County, where I live, has one of the largest concentrations of Iraqi Catholics outside of Iraq. They are known as Chaldean Catholics, and they use Aramaic as their liturgical language. That is the language Jesus Himself used. It would be a shame for Iraqi Christians to be purged from their country.

Cross-posted at my personal blog.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, January 4, 2007

One of the oft-overlooked groups in the Iraq conflict are Iraqi Christians (many of whom are Chaldean Christians). Chances are if you hear about an Iraqi ethnic or religious minority, they are either Kurds or Sunni Muslims.

Doug Bandow, who writing a book on religious persecution abroad, points out the dilemma facing native Christians in Iraq in his latest piece for The American Spectator, “Iraq’s Forgotten Minority” (HT: The Point). Writes Bandow, “Although the Shiite- dominated government does not oppress, Christians are a uniquely vulnerable, disfavored minority with neither political power nor militia protection. Christians, usually in business and often thought to have wealthy relatives abroad, are targeted by criminals. Believers also are caught in the violent cross-fire that now characterizes so much of Iraqi society.”

Bandow argues that Christians should be object of special regard for US forces in Iraq, and that the US government should be opening its arms to refugees. But while more than 100,000 Iraqi Christians sought to emigrate to the US, only 200 were granted access in 2006. Check out the rest of Bandow’s piece for some even more shocking numbers.

One other option for fleeing Iraqis, Christians included, has been refuge in neighboring Syria, but Christians at least don’t look to be getting much of a reception there either (HT: Religion Clause).

All in all the situation seems to be a strange recapitulation of the sojourn of Abraham, “a wandering Aramean,” who went up out of Ur of the Chaldeans with his family at the Lord’s call.

I am presently reading Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq (New York: Penguin Press, 2006), by Pulitzer Prize winning author Thomas E. Ricks. Any one who knows of a critical review of this best-selling book would help me by suggesting where I can find said review. The book is, to my mind at this moment, a powerful and fair-minded critique of much that has gone wrong in our Iraq military adventure. According to Ricks blame for our multiple failures, if we are to assign primary blame, lies with the civilian leadership at the Pentagon. This begins with Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who has called most of the shots in this war, and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, the neo-con genius who has been a principal architect of the philosophical thinking that led us into this conflict.

The question I would like to pose about the philosophy that is behind this war is quite simple. President Bush and his advisors have consistently argued (since 9/11) that democracy is an inherent desire that lies in the heart of people. By this argument the Iraqi people deeply desire to live under some form of democracy and we are there to build a nation that allows this desire to be expressed politically. This argument is based upon several intellectual arguments that have been presented by influential thinkers in and out of this administration.

My question: Is the desire for political freedom a value or an instinct? Bush and his advisors argue that it is an instinct. (And on this basis they are seeking to build a democratic nation in Iraq that will become a beacon of hope to other peoples in the Middle East.) I think the desire for political freedom is clearly a value. And it is a value that took us centuries to develop. We value democracy in the West only because of the influences that have come into our way of thinking through both Christian social thought and Enlightenment insights, neither of which is an influence on Iraq at all. Even in the West it took us a long time to come to our present understanding and commitment to democratic values; e.g., we fought a Civil War to define these values less than a hundred and fifty years ago. I do not see a biblical or philosophical basis for arguing that a desire for democracy is instinctive to the human heart. If this is true then how do you explain the people of God under the Old Covenant? And how do you explain the ancients who settled, except for a limited experiment in Greece, for something less? And what about the Middle Ages? There just seems to be little evidence for this argument thus I think it should be challenged in the court of public debate. This challenge does not constitute a capitulation to the far left. Many social and political conservatives have made it before me.

Let it be noted that I personally believe in democracy. I believe it is the best system of government that we know for a people like ourselves, a people with our values and influences. What I question here is the assumption that it is the right, or best, system for all other people. I also seriously question how a Muslim country can truly understand and embrace democracy. Certainly the democracy that we have already introduced is extremely limited given the religious expressions in the Iraqi Constitution.

John H. Armstrong is founder and director of ACT 3, a ministry aimed at "encouraging the church, through its leadership, to pursue doctrinal and ethical reformation and to foster spiritual awakening."