Balboa found the Pacific, and on the trail one day
He met some friendly Indians whom he was told were gay
He had them torn apart by dogs on religious grounds they say
The great nations of Europe were quite holy in their way
--Randy Newman, "The Great Nations of Europe"
I managed to catch just enough of a replay of the recent ABC GOP presidential debate to hear Fred Thompson say that we won in Afghanistan. I made the sound of one jaw dropping: not so much over what Thompson said, but because not one of the other candidates batted an eyelash.
They didn't contradict Thompson, or take him to task for being senile, or roll their eyes and make one of those "Grandpa smells funny again" faces. I have to conclude that they all think we won in Afghanistan, or that they know better but don't want to admit that we're actually still there and still losing. In either case, this episode illustrates one of the major reasons we don't want any of the Republicans currently running for president as our next commander in chief. They're either disconnected from foreign policy realities or they refuse to recognize the ones they don't like.
We've had enough of that sort of thing.
Another thing we don't need any more of is faith based foreign policy, and it looks more and more as if that's what the GOP front-runners plan on if they grab the brass ring.
God Is My National Security Adviser
Iowa Caucus winner Mike Huckabee says God intervened in the race on his behalf. Then again, Huck also swears on a stack of you-know-whats that the crucifix appearing behind his head in his Christmas ad just happened by accident, so you can pretty much figure anything Huck says is jive.
The New Hampshire victor and "Comeback Codger" John McCain ran a Christmas ad that dramatized the oft-told story about the guard at the Hanoi Hilton who stood next to a battered Lieutenant McCain on Christmas morning and etched a cross in the dirt with his toe. Taken out of its political context, this story is about bravery, cruelty and compassion. As a piece of pandering to the pre-sentient segment of the religious right, its message is slightly subtler but as unmistakable as Huckabee's: Like Christ, John McCain too was tortured.
Mitt Romney, who took the silver in both Iowa and New Hampshire, gave a pre-Christmas speech on December 6 in which he told America that "Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom." Mitt's grasp of history is as firm as his issue positions are consistent. Freedom and religion have often been practiced independently of each other. Think of how many societies have sought solace from tyranny in their religions (e.g., "Render unto Caesar…").
Mitt said that, "It is important to recognize that while differences in theology exist between the churches in America, we share a common creed of moral convictions." Apparently, to Mitt's analytical mind, those moral convictions aren't contained in "the creed of conversion by conquest" practiced by "radical Islamists [who] do their preaching not by reason or example, but in the coercion of minds and the shedding of blood."
Mitt doesn’t mention, and possibly isn't aware, that the shedding of blood in our present nightmare in the Middle East was caused by a messianic Evangelical Christian who invaded another country halfway across the world because God told him to.
It's important to point out here that while Mitt pointed his finger at "radical" Islamists, there is really no distinction in neoconservative dogma between radical Islam and any other sort of Islam. Listen to talk radio luminary Neal Boortz wax wacky on the subject some time. He'll remind you of the insane Colonel Kurtz, rotting in his lair at the mouth of the Nung River, gasping, "Kill them all." Deriding any effort to separate Islam the religion from global terrism is one of Big Brother Media's major initiatives, as a recent Washington Times piece written by Diana West illustrates. The article, titled "Foul Play," ridicules initiatives in the Pentagon to parse "Islam" from "jihad" as politically correct appeasement. West makes the standard weekly comparison of the Muslim evil doers to Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, blithely skipping over the kind-of-critical detail about how the Nazis and Soviets were honest to goodness peer competitors, whereas today's evil ones don't have a formal army or an air force or a navy or a country or a gross domestic product or even a pot to plant in.
Onward Christian Soldiers
If you think nobody who matters is taking this fear and loathing of Islam talk seriously, think again. Boortz, who refers to Islam as "a deadly virus," has one of the most loyal fan bases in the broadcast media. (If you want to go highbrow in a political debate at a right wing bar, you cite Neal Boortz instead of Rush Limbaugh.) Evangelist Jerry Falwell says the prophet Muhammad was a terrorist. Pat Robertson of 700 Club fame denies that Islam is a religion at all. Rather, "It is a worldwide political movement meant on domination of the world. And it is meant to subjugate all people under Islamic law." So make no mistake; the message says that history is leading up to an apocalyptic showdown with the Jews and Christians on one side and the Muslims on the other, and the talk radio/Fox News crowd is eating it up like hotcakes.
One member of this hate speech audience is a retired Army officer I've been acquainted with for some years. Norm (we'll call him) is the kind of Christian conservative who makes an annual production number out of condemning the War on Christmas but who probably hasn't seen the inside of a church since the Cuban Missile Crisis. A couple of Christmases ago, while holding court in one of his favorite watering holes and discussing the war on terror, Norm offered the considered opinion that if we had to slaughter every man, woman and child of the Muslim persuasion to keep America safe, he was sure Jesus Christ would approve. A lot of heads at the bar nodded in agreement.
We can't simply dismiss yahooligans like this because they vote. They get to vote, of course, because they, like the children of some of them there immigrants they don't like, were born here.
The Dogs of Holy War
It's sad to say, but the history of humanity is largely the history of its wars, and the armed conflicts of western civilization more often than not involved clashes of religious ideologies.
The Peloponnesian War (431–404 BC) that ended Greece's reign as a hegemon pitted a society of Athena's followers against a cult of Ares worshipers. The Crusades waged by Christian Europe against Muslims, pagans, Orthodox Christians, Gnostics, Shamanists, Buddhists, Hussites, political enemies of the pope, etc. drug on for centuries. Subsequent conflicts among the great nations of Europe involved Catholics, Lutherans, Anglicans and Orthodox Christians crashing into each other and/or persecuting Jews and/or buggering heathens in the third world. This led to World Wars I and II, and then the Cold War, which was an ideological struggle between the Judeo/Christian west and the Evil Empire of Godless Communists complete with proxy wars that featured more buggering of third world heathens.
The framers of the U.S. Constitution insisted on separation of church and state for a number of reasons. Premier among them was to prevent a self-proclaimed unitary executive from exploiting misplaced religious fervor to wage unnecessary and ill-advised wars. That the leading candidates of what has become America's War Party would fall all over each other invoking God and Islamo-fabulism as the pillars of their foreign policy platforms is not unexpected, but it is disheartening to watch the country Abraham Lincoln called mankind's "last best hope" devolve into a postmodern incarnation of the old world at its worst (Excuse me, great nations coming through…).
If we're not very careful, our politicians will deliver unto us a brave new world of war everlasting with victory just around the corner forever and ever, amen. And if you really think more theo-conservative doctrine can solve our present cornucopia of foreign policy fiascos, please consider this: mankind has been praying for peace for as long as it has been fighting wars, which is about as long as there has been a mankind.
All that praying for peace hasn't done a fat lot of good, has it?
Jeff's novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books) will be available April 1, 2008.