Amidst the disaster of dueling hurricanes on the Gulf Coast, the American public is increasingly numb to the ongoing catastrophe in Iraq. US casualties surged past 1900 this week as a result of another roadside bomb, and virtually unnoticed was the destruction of another Iraqi city--Tal Afar, near the Syrian border. How many civilians were killed there? How many people's homes and livelihoods destroyed? Does anyone have any illusions that this cycle of destruction will result in peace someday?
Meanwhile, little noticed amidst President Bush's rare mea culpas about the federal response to Hurricane Katrina was an acknowledgement of that most fundamental of Christian dogmas: we need each other. Mr. Bush went to the United Nations last week with a desperate plea for others to help the US in Iraq, and to thank all the nations that had come to our assistance in responding to the hurricane. It was a far cry from the unilateralist message brought by unconfirmed Ambassador John Bolton, who sought last minute to ram through hundreds of changes in the reform resolutions meant for the signatures of all the world's leaders.
Most particularly, Mr. Bush was forced to repudiate one of his central strategic aims of just two weeks ago, namely the neutralization of the Millennium Development Goals to significantly impact world poverty. Mr. Bolton had sought to eliminate all references to the MDGs, but Mr. Bush ultimately reaffirmed them in general terms in his remarks to the General Assembly. Remarkably, he said, "To spread a vision of hope, the United States is determined to help nations that are struggling with poverty. We are committed to the Millennium Development goals. This is an ambitious agenda that includes cutting poverty and hunger in half, ensuring that every boy and girl in the world has access to primary education, and halting the spread of AIDS -- all by 2015."
The one huge inconsistency is the Administration's having sabotaged international efforts to eliminate weapons of mass destruction. Mr. Bush said Thursday, "We must send a clear message to the rulers of outlaw regimes that sponsor terror and pursue weapons of mass murder: You will not be allowed to threaten the peace and stability of the world." This remark must be viewed currently as one of total hypocrisy, as the US seeks to weasel out of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, to restart the production of fissile plutonium in Idaho, to design a new generation of tactical nuclear weapons for first use on the battlefield, and to plant such weapons in space. It is our responsibility to take Mr. Bush at his word, and to prevent him from being "allowed to threaten the peace and stability of the world" through all these initiatives.
Otherwise, the sentiments now emerging from the Administration this week offer a glimmer of Christian hope, from this often values-free presidency: expressing remorse for hurting people with federal disaster management policies; asking for help and acknowledging our limitations, when he said, "The world is more compassionate and hopeful when we act together"; finally, recognizing that constructive solutions are more productive than threats at accomplishing laudable goals. He dwelt at length on international negotiations over farm subsidies, saying, "The United States is ready to eliminate all tariffs, subsidies and other barriers to free flow of goods and services as other nations do the same. This is key to overcoming poverty in the world's poorest nations. It's essential we promote prosperity and opportunity for all nations. By expanding trade, we spread hope and opportunity to the corners of the world, and we strike a blow against the terrorists who feed on anger and resentment."
After years of belittling and hobbling the United Nations, Mr. Bush began his remarks with the remarkable and unexpected words, "Thank you for your dedication to the vital work and great ideals of this institution." Perhaps a light has finally appeared in Washington, as a public policy of destruction stumbles briefly aside and for the moment allows a new spirit of constructive thinking to enter in. The proof will be found ultimately in how they back down from all the killing in Iraq, and from the mindless talk of developing new generations of nuclear and space-based weapons. Now that we've seen real threats to our national security, in the form of this cavalcade of hurricanes that must be related to global warming, the real test of national leadership will be to stop killing for oil in Iraq and start conserving energy to arrest global warming here at home.