Monday, September 27, 2004

"Is it Vietnam, yet?"

Sightings comes from the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School. This is one of Marty's usual asute analyses.

Sightings 9/27/04

When Is Now?
-- Martin E. Marty

If my reading is accurate, last week was the turning-time. Major politicians of both parties, pundits of neither, and clergy-beyond-parties asked, with brash Chicago Sun-Times columnist Neil Steinberg: "Is it Vietnam yet?"

The current conflict, according to Steinberg, is not about "the 1,000 troops who have died in Iraq," but "about not losing 10,000 more by the time the campaign of 2008 comes around." He adds, "I never met a person who cared about whether the Iraqis enjoy the fruits of democracy or not." That's a low blow. Who could not care, deeply.

But one can cite many sources across the spectrum who say that the main reason for our fighting in Iraq now is because we do not know how to stop, with some measure of integrity. Columnist Robert Novak, in his September 20 syndicated column, conjectured that, from here on in, it's a matter of when and how it ends, not "whether." Neither party has a clue about the "how."

While the Wall Street Journal editors (September 24) said they accepted the rosy portrayal given by Ayad Allawi before Congress, others will dismiss it. Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel, appearing on CBS's "Face the Nation" (September 19), said: "I don't think we're winning," the U.S. is "in deep trouble in Iraq," and that some "recalibration of policy" was urgent. On the same day ("Fox News Sunday"), Arizona Senator John McCain said, "the situation has obviously been somewhat deteriorating, to say the least." Both of these war-supporters based their assessment not on Allawi's sales talk, but on a president-authorized and classified National Intelligence Estimate. It foresaw an unstable Iraq or, worse, a civil war, from which we would finally have to turn.

Suppose these bipartisan analysts and foreseers are, in the main, right. At what point may, and must, some moral and religious voices be raised to call the continuing venture immoral? Many clerics of many persuasions would say, or whisper, or hint: "now." Chicago Tribune's Tim Jones, on the divided mind of Missourians (September 24), quoted pastor Robert Hill of Kansas City's Community Christian Church. Hill, speaking on behalf of many preachers, complained of the "absolutely despicable" "tactics of fear-mongering" that condemn questioners as being unpatriotic.

Not ready to whisper or be silent is Father Andrew Greeley. He says that, when he points out that Pope John Paul II questions and condemns preemptive "just war" and the conduct of the Iraq war, he gets much favorable correspondence, but also much "obscene" hate mail (Chicago Sun-Times, September 24). Typically, "You are even worse than the priests who abuse little boys." According to Greeley (who does not always defend the pope), many conservative fellow-Catholics shun the pope and attack his defenders on this issue.

"Yet I am curious," he writes, "that the writers think that a priest does not have the right -- and indeed the obligation -- to express a moral teaching." Greeley and the pope may both be wrong, but neither seems ready to succumb to what Pastor Hill calls "the politics of fear."

Are religious defenders of the war, as prosecuted, also subjected to that kind of restriction on religious _expression?

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