27 February 2007

The enemy of my enemy is...

Unfortunately, in this case, the enemy of my enemy is still my enemy. According to esteemed investigative journalist Seymour Hersh in this upcoming article in the New Yorker, the Bush Administration has entered into a labyrinthine policy of funding Sunni groups to counterbalance the growing Shiite influence in the Middle East.

Mr. Hersh's article is long, but well worth wading through. The article resists pithy summation, but here's my shot at the gist of it: The Administration has decided that resurgent Shiites, particularly those in Iran and Lebanon (Hezbollah), are the biggest threats to American interests in the region. Given that assumption, the Administration is covertly supporting Sunni groups, even those with radical agendas, and is willing to nudge the region toward Sunni-Shia conflict. Naturally, this is all being done without any Congressional oversight or public disclosure. (If you're wondering about parallels to Iran-Contra, note that some of the principal players in the current scheme include Elliott Abrams and Prince Bandar of Saudi Arabia, although notably John Negroponte is alleged to have washed his hands of the whole endeavor.)

What's wrong with this picture? Where do I start? Here's an obvious point: These Sunni radical groups are sympathetic to (or possibly even aligned with) Al Qaeda and other similar religious extremists. Said religious extremists hate Shiites, seeing the latter as apostates of Islam (a greater offense than simply being decadent Westerners). So, if we send funds and other material support to these Sunni groups in order to oppose the Shiite groups, we're essentially supporting groups with ties to those groups that attacked us on 9/11 in hopes that they'll attack other enemies of ours instead of us.

Does anyone else see this as a massive clusterfornication waiting to happen??

26 February 2007

The best proposal

The best Iraq proposal from a major Presidential candidate goes something like this:

Immediately begin a withdrawal of half of our forces from Iraq (assuming a current troop level of roughly 160,000, that would mean a withdrawal of 80,000 - I'm not positive about those numbers, but it makes the ensuing math easy). Start the process of re-forming Iraq into a loose confederacy.

Bring half of those withdrawn troops, or 40,000, back home immediately.

Send the other 40,000 to Afghanistan, to start trying to stabilize the country and fight the ever-resurgent Taliban and Al Qaeda. You remember them, right? The ones who actually did attack us? The ones who really are trying to secure weapons of mass destruction and use them against us? Yeah, those guys. They're still in Afghanistan - well, Al Qaeda's probably more headquartered across the border in North Waziristan, in Pakistan - you know, Pakistan, our "ally in the war on terror".

Anyway, in my opinion, that's the best proposal going right now. Want to know the candidate who made that proposal?

Me too.

Unfortunately, I haven't heard anything like that from any of them. Why not? Why isn't anyone talking about the resurgent threat from Al Qaeda, or about a radical re-prioritization of our troop deployments? Presumably because the candidates are too worried about making a strong statement that they might have to defend at some point - that, or they're busy accusing each other of stealing contributors or posing for photographers or whatever.

I think that as soon as one of the Presidential candidates puts forth a proposal like the one I've outlined above - regardless of their party affiliation - he or she would enjoy a real "surge" in the polls.

And hey, if I've missed this from one of the campaigns, somebody point me in the right direction to find it.

The prescience of Al Gore

As some of you know, I continue to hope for the entrance of Al Gore into the 2008 Presidential race. I've always been a big fan of Gore; it's almost painful to imagine how much better off we would be as a nation had he been allowed to claim his victory in 2000. But hey, at least now he has an Oscar, right?

For those of you who want to be reminded of the amazing foresight of this man and how things might be different if he were President (no, this isn't a link to his Saturday Night Live parody), go read his speech from September 23, 2002 to the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco. The text of the speech can be accessed here. Remember that at the time of this speech, almost no one was willing to criticize the Bush Adminstration's policies and the growing drumbeat for war. So not only does Gore display great vision, he also shows the political courage necessary to take an unpopular yet principled stand.

Seriously, go read the speech. It's a bit long, but it's pretty remarkable. Feel free to leave comments after you've read it.

03 February 2007

A bit more self-disclosure

Well, I’m going to change the rules of my blogging here. I’m going to divulge more personal information about myself to you, Dear Reader (yes, the singular reference is intentional). Why have I avoided this in the past? Oh, I don’t know, probably an irrational fear of the same type of whackos who wanted to shoot Natalie Maines, which also would be related to an over-inflated opinion of how many people out there would bother reading this blog anyway. Or maybe it was just an effort to have a more widespread appeal.

Anyway, we’re leaving that behind, at least for this entry, because in the course of some things I’m going to say it will be necessary to fill in a few details. Funny enough, this may be one time when self-revelation could actually result in problems for me, as actual (not imagined) opponents of something I’m trying to do will probably be doing web searches on this very topic.

Necessary background: I am a leader among the laity (non-clergy) of a liberal mainline Protestant denomination. In that position, I attend an annual conference of other laity delegates from other churches in this same denomination throughout my area. Given my locale, most of the other churches (and delegates) are vastly more conservative, theologically and politically, than are my congregation and I. (Notice how I’m not using the denomination’s name, in one small effort to thwart potential Googlers.) Said denomination has a quadrennial convention comprised of delegates from all across the globe. This summer, delegates at local conferences will choose delegates (laity and clergy) to represent the local conference at this big quadrennial convention the following year.

Why all that background info? Because in the process of submitting my name to run for election as one of those delegates to the big global quadrennial convention, I had to submit a 300-word statement about myself, my beliefs, etc. (Remember that I’m way out of the mainstream of my locale’s fellow churchgoers.) I have excerpted a substantial portion of that statement below (the belief section, that is):

What I believe:

• “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors” should be more than a slogan - it should be an affirmation of the abundantly expansive love and grace of God that we are called to make manifest in the world
• The Church of Jesus Christ should be known not by our exclusiveness, but by our inclusiveness
• The voice of God’s Church should be prophetic, speaking truth and justice in love to the powerful and mighty on behalf of the poor and lowly
• The mission of God’s church should be to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, and to set the oppressed free
• The “hot-button” issues with which we as a denomination often wrestle are usually not God’s “hot-button” issues
• God’s hot-button issues include the genocide of 400,000 of God’s children in Darfur and our collective failure to save them, the stewardship of Creation in light of the threat of global climate change, and the death of thousands of children every day from preventable and treatable diseases and malnutrition
• Poverty and the disparity of wealth in our nation are moral issues
• Love of nation should never trump love of God or love of our neighbors as ourselves; we are still commanded to love our enemies
• Although God is one, we humans call God by many names
• As Barbara Brown Taylor recently wrote, “Human beings never behave so badly toward one another as when they think they are defending God.”

Maybe I’m presuming too much, but I would think that in liberal/progressive educated portions of society, these statements wouldn’t be all that far out. Actually, the most far out portion might be the continued reference to a personal deity. I can almost guarantee, however, that they will ensure my electoral defeat from this church group. Why? Because many of the delegates who will assemble at this conference believe that God is more worried about whether two guys love each other than about hunger, poverty, genocide, and climate change. For that matter, I’m sure many of them still don’t believe in global climate change, for that matter, despite yesterday’s report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

What’s interesting to me is that this increasingly strident defense of antiquated religious beliefs is occurring at the same time that the proponents of atheism are becomingly increasingly strident (see, e.g., Dennett, Dawkins, and Harris, three prominent authors of recent atheist apologia).

So why bother running at all if I know that being honest is going to result in my defeat? Oh, I don’t know – ecclesial masochism perhaps. Or maybe I’m trying to toss a prophetic bomb into my denomination’s practices in an effort to drag them kicking and screaming into the 21st Century (or the 20th).

What do you think – can the mainline Protestant church find its way into the 21st Century and retain any relevance? Or is it time to say, with Dennett, Dawkins, and Harris, that the whole religious endeavor is one big cluster-fornication that we humans need to consciously evolve beyond?