Christianity in America took a blow to the solar plexus Thursday as the Bush Administration reiterated its commitment to the fundamentally anti-Christian notion of preemptive war. "Love your enemies," are the three words that all scripture scholars agree were spoken by Jesus himself. But there was no evidence of these important words anywhere in the 49-pages of the new National Security Strategy released in advance of a speech by National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley. Meanwhile, a much-publicized attack on the Iraqi city of Samarra, billed as the biggest air assault since the invasion, turned out to be mostly a publicity stunt.
The 101st Airborne Division was said to have launched airstrikes against the central Iraqi city of Samarra and neighboring towns, employing hundreds of armored vehicles and 50 aircraft that included Black Hawk and Chinook transport helicopters and Apache attack helicopters. But in the end, local commanders acknowledged that no munitions were discharged and no rebel leaders were found. This comes as a new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll showed 50% of Americans favor withdrawing all US troops from Iraq in the next 12 months. A vast majority think Mr. Bush is "losing ground" in Iraq, and the word "incompetent" was the most commonly cited descriptor volunteered by respondents in the poll to describe his leadership.
In violation of a 1986 law compelling annual disclosure of the National Security Strategy, the Administration finally released its report--four years after the last version proved to be the initial bombshell of a philosophical underpinning for their unprovoked invasion of Iraq. Emblematic of what conservative pundit Kevin Phillips has called "a national Disenlightenment," the exceptionalism of the Administration's approach to military intervention is littered throughout the document. "No country should ever use preemption as a pretext for aggression," warned the statement, despite Mr. Bush's having used preemption in Iraq as a pretext for his aggression there in 2003.
"Under long-standing principles of self defense, we do not rule out the use of force before attacks occur, even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy's attack," continued the document, oblivious to the deaths of more than 100,000 people in Iraq as a result of the Administration's miscalculations there about weapons of mass destruction and ties to the September 11th hijackers. "The place of preemption in our national security strategy remains the same. We will always proceed deliberately, weighing the consequences of our actions. The reasons for our actions will be clear, the force measured, and the cause just."
Some commentators reflected on the inability of Republican leaders to learn not only the lessons of Vietnam, but of the reaffirmation of the law of unintended consequences playing out before our eyes today in Iraq. Preemptive war has brought untold suffering on every child in Iraq, every family of US military personnel there, and all those Americans deprived of the services that would have been purchased with the $300 billion dollars that have been wasted so far chasing the report's astoundingly naïve "ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world."
Meanwhile, the religious apologists were busy rewriting the Gospels in defense of President Bush's moral failures. Fr. Richard Neuhaus, a favorite of right wing Catholic supporters of Mr. Bush and editor of the monthly journal First Things, bent over backwards to defend preemptive killing in an interview on National Public Radio. Speaking of Mr. Bush, he said, "The action that he took is morally defensible in principle," adding that because the invasion was a result of mistaken judgement rather than evil intent, it may be morally justifiable. "Yes, you can make that case (for attacking Iraq) if one understands preemptive war as a response to a plausibly threatening aggression," he said. "If you have reason to believe that someone coming into your office intends to do you violence—you think they have a gun in their pocket that they're pointing at you or whatever—that informs and supplies a moral rationale for the moral response you might make." But Fr. Neuhaus was flummoxed when the interviewer corrected him and asked if the aggression was still justified if the attacker was sitting in his own living room without having actually done anything provocative.
Reflecting now on the two million deaths in Southeast Asia as a result of the mistaken 1960s prediction that communism would overrun all the countries there, one is struck by the nimble moral calculus that makes such destruction on a massive scale morally justified as long as the political leaders thought in good faith that there was some type of real threat. We now know that the political scientists were completely wrong in Vietnam, because the communists won the war and no dominoes subsequently fell.
The same lesson should apply in Iraq. Paul Pillar, the former CIA officer who led U.S. intelligence efforts in the Middle East, has written in the current issue of Foreign Affairs (quoted in the Washington Post), "It has become clear that official intelligence was not relied on in making even the most significant national security decisions, that intelligence was misused publicly to justify decisions already made, that damaging ill will developed between policymakers and intelligence officers, and that the intelligence community's own work was politicized."
The multiplying bodies and charred psyches of today's combatants testify to the similarity between the miscalculations in Vietnam and those ongoing in Iraq. But the Administration blithely blunders along with a new National Security Strategy that puts in writing its determination to learn nothing from its mistakes. Perhaps more significantly, it also shows how blind our government has become to the most poignant legacy left us by Christ and our Old Testament heritage: those who live by the sword can expect only the sword in return.