The Company You Keep
When I was young, had I said to my elders, 'I know of a country which
invaded another country because they felt that country would be better off living under
their governing system rather than its own,' people would have said, 'Oh yes, you're talking
about Hitler's Germany, or Mussolini's Italy.' Had I said, 'No, I'm talking about the United
States,' people would have thought I was raving. As everyone knew then, America does not start
wars. As everyone knows now, yes, we do.
Even Mohammad ibn Abdallah realized that those who start wars are not on
the side of the angels: "And fight for the cause of God against those who fight against you:
but commit not the injustice of attacking them first: God loveth not such injustice..."
(Koran, Sura 2:186). Americans used to concur.
When we accused German leaders at Nuremburg of having prepared and carried
out aggressive warfare, we were confident our charge could never boomerang
against us. That was prior to George W.
(For young readers who may not remember this lost world, I've added to
the Thriceholy Library the 'Cross of Iron' speech by President Dwight D.
Eisenhower, a middle-of-the-road Republican. Notice that the charges on
which President Eisenhower exonerates America, and by implication condemns
the Soviet Union: seeking security through global military domination and
claiming the right to impose its own political system on other nations,--
constitute the celebrated Bush doctrine.)
Prior analogies fall short. The United Stated never invaded South Vietnam,
and at no time was Vietnam governed by an American proconsul like L. Paul Bremer. We did not start the
guerrilla war between South Vietnam and a Communist insurgency; neither did we start
the Spanish-American War. While American troops found themselves corralling restive civil populations
during these and other conflicts, since we did not start them, the opprobrium of 'aggressor' cannot belong to us. Moreover, intervening
in a nation torn asunder by civil war is very different from invading a
quiet, intact nation. Patriots, who remember a very different country,
ought not minimize the radical veering off course this war represents.
One might expect such a radical reversal would require an heroic effort
at persuasion. Turning a massive ocean liner like the Queen Elizabeth II
around is not the work of a moment; can a great nation swivel about 180
degrees in an instant? When did the administration persuade the American
people that, though their forbears thought military aggression wrong, they
were mistaken? And that, in some circumstances, namely when the invaders'
intent is to establish democracy, aggression is noble and 'idealistic'?
They did not. Rather, they pretended Iraq was the aggressor. Instead of
explaining why the prior civilizational consensus against aggression was
in error, they justify their polices by. . .explaining that aggression
is wrong. Michael Gerson piously intones, "At some point, those who
decide on aggression must pay a price, or aggression will be universal."
(Michael Gerson, 'How 9/11 Changed Bush,' Newsweek). Yet Iraqi tanks did not spill across America's borders, Iraqi airplanes
did not drop bombs on her soil, Iraqi infantrymen did not sprint through
her public squares. There is an aggressor in this war, and it is not Iraq.
How did they do it?:
Saddama bin Laden
Public opinion polls reveal a large majority of the U.S. public convinced
that Saddam Hussein was behind the September 11th aerial assault on the twin towers:
- "According to a Washington Post poll, nearly seven in 10 Americans
believe Saddam Hussein was personally involved in the September 11th attacks."
- (Portland Press Herald, September 9, 2003).
How did the Bush administration transform a whisky-drinking leftist into
an Islamic fundamentalist? By merely saying that it's so, it would seem.
What else does the 'counter' in 'counter-attack' convey? But it ain't so.
'Scape-goating' is the political process by which one population group is made to bear the blame for
wrongs committed by others. Before Saddam's conversion and sanctification was accomplished in the public's
eye, it could not have been appropriate to punish Iraq for Osama bin Laden's crimes. Failing to catch those
responsible for the murder of three thousand innocents, we instead lashed out indiscriminately at persons of
like ethnicity and faith. Mr. bin Laden walks free while tens of thousands of Iraqis uninvolved in his crimes
have paid the ultimate penalty.
Had Timothy McVeigh brought down a structure in Toronto instead of Oklahoma City, would it have been
proper for Canada to invade the U.S. in response? Suppose instead they had invaded Mexico, explaining it was in
the same "part of the world." Would this have been justice?
Unfortunately, it is not a new thing for a lurid crime to be 'solved' by lynching random representatives
of the community to which the perpetrator is reported to belong. This time we did it on a national scale.
Jesus gave a new law to His followers:
"You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you not to resist an
evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also."
Some prefer old wine to new, saying "the old is better" (Luke
5:39). But even those who want to do as their Lord taught them may feel
they cannot so act in their public capacity. Whether as public officials
or even as voters, a prudent regard for public safety prevents them from
acting as their Lord commands. It is a savage world, and letting go of
retaliation, it is feared, would allow criminality to proceed unchecked.
Some, like a president who cannot even 'talk Christian' unless Karen Hughes
is standing by his side telling him how, likely do not feel the dilemma.
In any case the dilemma does not here arise, because even where retaliation
is allowed, there is no license to nominate an innocent party to suffer
it. Yet that is what we've done: "The poll also shows..that 85 percent
believe a major reason they were sent into war was 'to retaliate for Saddam’s
role in the Sept. 11 attacks.'” (Zogby International).
You don't get 85 percent of any group agreeing with anything unless there's been a concerted effort so to persuade them. Evidently the
soldiers' commanding officers have instructed them we invaded Iraq as retaliation for 9/11. How so? Because it's 'in the same part of
the world.' A lynch mob is more discriminating.
Our transformation of an aging Stalinist into an Islamist militant is all the more startling when one
realizes that the human rights atrocities for which the Baath Party became infamous were
committed in large part against Muslim fundamentalists. Baath Party ideology centers around socialism,
Arab nationalism, and secularism. For all its flirtations with Islamic style, in substance this party has
never wavered in its opposition to Sharia. Nor has their opposition been only verbal. In 1982 Baathist Hafez
Assad flattened the Muslim Brotherhood stronghold of Hama, Syria, massacring its citizenry. When neighboring
Iran adopted an Islamic Republic form of government, Saddam Hussein promptly invaded, convincing his officer
corps that Iran's example pointed the way back to the dark ages:
"But Saddam convinced us that Iran wanted to export its revolution to the rest of the world,
starting with Iraq. That would have taken us—-and a lot of other people as well—-backwards
to a new dark age, instead of forward to a bright future. To prevent that, we were willing to put up
a fight." (Adnan K. Karim, former rear admiral in the Iraqi navy, Cairo Times, Issue 42 vol. 7).
Saddam acquired his reputation as butcher by slaughtering Iraqi Shi'ites whose political objectives
paralleled those of their Iranian counterparts. This is not a state
which lacks an ideology, yet that ideology is not Muslim purism: "In
effect, whether puritan movements end up being persecuted entirely
depends on the extent to which their ideology conflicts with the
state. As a result, in countries such as Saddam's Iraq, Libya, and
Syria the vast majority of Islamic movements end up being savagely
repressed because their ideology conflicts with the secular
nationalist ideology of the state." (The Great Theft, Khaled Abou El
Fadl, p. 166). Yet for all the fundamentalist Muslim blood dripping from
his hands, Saddam, a professed admirer of non-Muslim Josef Stalin, came to be perceived by
the American public as himself one of their tribe.
For its part al Qaeda is a revolutionary movement, not an advocacy group for the status quo continuance
in power of existing leftist Arab kleptocracies. Yet the Bush administration succeeded in marrying this odd couple
in public perception. Once married, the guilt for 9/11 became communal property.
How can this have happened? These two rival ideological
factions, the leftists and the Islamists, had been shedding one
another's blood for a generation: "Responding to Fahmi Huwaydi's
questions, Ziad Abu-Ganima, a Muslim Brotherhood spokesman in
Jordan, says:. . .If you want evidence, ask the gallows of the
revolutionaries who brought about the crime and shame of our defeat
in 1967, and you will find out that the bodies of the Muslim
Brothers were hung by the revolutionary ropes. . . .Forget, if
you wish, the prison cells of the revolutionary regimes in those
lean years, but remember the thousands of youths and women of the
Islamic movement who crouched in these cells unjustly, and the many
thousands who still crouch in them until today. . .'" (Ziad Abu-Amr,
Islamic Fundamentalism in the West Bank and Gaza, pp. 40-41). The lefties
saw the Islamists as fit gallows-birds, yet American policy identified the two as one.
We commenced our invasion shedding sympathetic tears for Saddam's old antagonists in Iraq's Shi'ite
community. Then heredity found an outlet: like father, like son. Moqtada al-Sadr followed in his slain
father's footsteps by founding his 'Mahdi Army.' We had already shown our willingness to ape
Saddam by employing military aggression to achieve political aims. We ended by killing the same people Saddam
killed, for the same reason. Why did it not occur to Saddam that all he had to do was call these people
'terrorists,' and it would be OK to slaughter them? It increasingly appears that Saddam's efforts to prevent an
Islamic Republic in Iraq were in vain; we, of all people, came to the rescue of this once failing revolution.
Politics makes strange bed-fellows. When the Soviet Union waded into their Afghanistan quagmire, the U.S.
funded the Islamic extremists fighting them, not out of ideological affinity but on the principle that the enemy
of my enemy is my friend. (We did not call them 'terrorists' then, but 'freedom-fighters.')
Because Osama bin Laden counts Saddam Hussein an infidel, and Saddam Hussein wades knee-deep in the blood
of Islamic extremists, portraying al Qaeda as Iraq's pawn is like claiming Richard Nixon manipulated the
Black Panthers or the Weather Underground. Truly, stranger things have happened. But because it is hard enough
for people who share the same world view to work together, evidence is needed to show that people
pulling in opposite directions can overcome their natural antipathy to achieve a common goal. Despite the
employment of such tried-and-true methods of fact manufacture as forgery and torture, even a compliant CIA
chief remained unconvinced on the eve of invasion. The evidence was lacking, but a public eager for
war did not miss it. How is it possible that, to punish an individual for a crime, his involvement must be proven
beyond a reasonable doubt, whereas to punish a country, all that is called for is bare assertion?
Nor have the President and his partisans at any time ceased to repeat the accusation:
"Giuliani, who presided over New York for eight combative years before
leaving office as a hero after Sept. 11, also defended the invasion of
Iraq...He began his 40-minute speech by citing one of the indelible moments
of Bush's presidency: his visit to the rubble of the World Trade Center,
where he grabbed a bullhorn and told a crowd of rescue workers that 'the
people who knocked these buildings down' would soon hear from the United States.
""Well, they heard from us," Giuliani said. "They heard
from us in Afghanistan, and we removed the Taliban. They heard from us
in Iraq, and we ended Saddam Hussein's reign of terror."" (Los
Angeles Times, 'Bush is Praised as War Leader,' Mark Z. Barabak, August 31, 2004).
One can only parse this assertion by noting that the "they" who
"heard from us in Iraq" are also "the people who knocked
these buildings down," the 9/11 hijackers. To identify Iraq as "the
people who knocked these buildings down" is as false an accusation
as any prior blood libel in history.
To our President it suffices to 'back-date' Iraq's having become a terrorist playground after we
'liberated' that nation, but justice requires that if we are willing to punish Iraq for 9/11, we must also
show that nation bears some legal or moral responsibility for that crime. Not only have we failed to show this,
it is substantively false. Iraq got railroaded. How did the American public become convinced Iraq
was behind September 11th?
Perhaps this is like wondering how all those Germans became convinced that
Jewish war profiteers were behind Germany's failure in World War I. Blind
hatred has its own reasons; perhaps the horrific assault on the Twin Towers
will turn out to be our Reichstag fire. Listen to administration supporters:
"This is no time to be precious about locating the exact individuals directly involved in
this particular terrorist attack...We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to
Christianity. We weren't punctilious about locating and punishing only Hitler and his top officers. We
carpet-bombed German cities; we killed civilians. That's war. And this is war." (Ann Coulter,
National Review Online,
September 13, 2001).
If anyone should be 'convert[ed]...to Christianity,' it is this author,
because scape-goating is an indulgence forbidden to Bible-believers. God
forbade our treating those juridically innocent as if they were guilty:
"You shall not follow a multitude to do evil; nor shall you bear witness
in a suit, turning aside after a multitude, so as to pervert justice...Keep
far from a false charge, and do not slay the innocent and righteous, for
I will not acquit the wicked." (Exodus 23:2-6).
Those Christians who wish to follow the multitude in blaming Iraq for 9/11 ought either to advance their
evidence so that the public may inspect it, or else reflect on Exodus 23 as it pertains to making accusations
without substantiating evidence.
The Red Queen
In their sales pitch for this war, the Bush administration justified the
invasion of a sovereign state as a pre-emptive response to a threat not
yet arisen, namely the transfer of Iraq's purported weapons of mass destruction
to terrorist gangs. And when had they done that? They hadn't...yet! Surprisingly, killing people in
punishment of crimes they have not yet committed is not a new idea:
- "'For instance, now,' she went on, sticking a large piece of plaster
on her finger as she spoke, 'there's the King's Messenger. He's in prison now, being punished: and the trial
doesn't even begin till next Wednesday: and of course the crime comes last of all.'
- "'Suppose he never commits the crime?' said Alice.
- "'That would be all the better, wouldn't it?' the Queen said, as
she bound the plaster round her finger with a bit of ribbon." (Lewis Carroll,
Through the Looking-Glass).
Not only had Iraq not transferred to terrorists the doomsday weapons with
which the Bush administration terrified the public, they could not have
done so, lacking the wherewithal: they had no such weapons. The strange
spectacle of a super-power cowering in fear before an aging Stalinist seated
astride a deteriorating arsenal, his economy hollowed out by years of punishing
sanctions, grows only stranger as that arsenal dissolves into mist.
The claim that Iraq possessed chemical, nuclear and biological weapons
co-existed incongruously with administration predictions that the military
conquest of Iraq would be a "cake-walk." The public should have
smelled a rat; in no war in which such weapons have been used has the casualty
count been less than horrendous, which is the very reason why these weapons
shock the conscience of mankind. Even the peace movement fell for it, predicting
huge initial casualties...brought about by non-existent weapons. Those
who predicated a "cake-walk" must have known there were no such
weapons; they chose not to share the information with the public.
"Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it." (Psalm 34:14).
This administration did not "seek peace" from Day One:
"In the book, O'Neill said he is surprised that no one on the National
Security Council, which includes national security adviser Condoleezza
Rice, Secretary of State Colin Powell and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld,
asked why Iraq should be invaded at that time.
"'It was all about finding a way to do it. That was the tone of it.
The president saying, "Go find me a way to do this,"' O'Neill
told Suskind, according to the excerpt." (Maine Sunday Telegram, 'Book:
Discussion of Saddam ouster began before 9/11', January 11, 2004.)
The way the President hit upon of getting the war he always wanted was
to pin the blame for 9/11 on Iraq. It 'worked;' public rage and thirst
for vengeance made this a wildly popular war. But assigning blame to Iraq
because it is in the same "part of the world" where the perpetrators
live is a grievous evil by Biblical standards. While the law has been nailed
to the cross, it continues to give insight into the mind of God. And Moses'
law does not allow one to get away with assigning blame to the wrong party:
- "If a false witness rises against any man to testify against him of
wrongdoing, then both men in the controversy shall stand before the LORD,
before the priests and the judges who serve in those days. And the judges
shall make careful inquiry, and indeed, if the witness is a false witness,
who has testified falsely against his brother, then you shall do to him
as he thought to have done to his brother; so you shall put away the evil
from among you. And those who remain shall hear and fear, and hereafter
they shall not again commit such evil among you."
- (Deuteronomy 19:16-20).
That is to say, the false accuser who testified to 'murder' must himself
suffer the penalty meted out to murderers. This is so whether the one falsely
accused of 'murder' is, or is not, guilty of some other offense: 'adultery,'
say, or 'crimes against humanity.' One can only hope God deals with America
according to mercy and not justice, for by Moses' standard we owe the same
penalty,-- the horrors of war and loss of national sovereignty,-- we visited
on Iraq upon the strength of our false accusation.