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Military’s March madness no slam dunk

Rev. Jack Van Ens
Vail, CO Colorado

The National Anthem’s lyrics gained fresh meaning five years ago when the U.S. attacked and invaded Iraq. On TV we saw Baghdad aflame with bombs exploding and tracer bullets lighting the night sky. With apologies to Francis Scott Key for revising his lyrics, “The rockets red glare, the bombs bursting in air, gave proof through the night that our flag was firmly planted in Baghdad.” For maybe 100 years, say John McCain.

Why did our nation invade Iraq? President George W. Bush, soon after occupying the White House, boldly announced he “had a clear vision of where I want to lead America.” Sometimes he fumbled syntax and mis-pronounced words. The late arch-critic Molly Ivins, who rarely came to his rescue, told mocking pundits, “You can usually tell what he meant to say.”

No one needs to guess what George W. Bush holds dear and non-negotiable. In a 2001 speech he declared, “The enemies of liberty and our country should make no mistake…. We will defend our interests…. America at its best is a place where personal responsibility is valued and respected.” Repeated in other major speeches and made the centerpiece of his Second Inaugural Address, Bush told the world the U.S. is in the business of exporting democracy and freedom, particularly in the Middle East. He backed this assertion with the Bush Doctrine, declaring he would sever the serpent’s head before it could coil and strike. Such pre-emptive militarism showed its muscle in striking Iraq and quickly routing its army.

Even before invading Iraq, Bush capitalized on our fears after Sept. 11, 2001. Most Americans wanted to knock the lights out of terrorists. When running for president in 2000, Bush used slogans and campaign buttons that hyped our duty to protect, defend and spread liberty. A popular campaign button featured Bush with the Statue of Liberty on one side. Flipped over, readers saw the Liberty Bell with the patriotic slogan, “Liberty and Freedom.” Another campaign button aligned Bush with the Liberty Bell. What pealed forth were two words, as if synonymous: “Liberty” and “Bush.” Anyone who dared question these assertions was excoriated as sounding unpatriotic.

The Bush Doctrine made sense to most Americans because the President skillfully tied the Bible and Old Glory around it. Speaking to the convention of National Religious Broadcasters on March 11, 2008 Bush asserted, “The liberty we value is not ours alone. Freedom is not America’s gift to the world; it is God’s gift to all humanity.” He clinches the argument for war in Iraq with a godly conclusion.

– God is the author of freedom.

– God wants every person to be free.

– God has appointed ambassadors of freedom “to proclaim liberty to the captives,” Isaiah, 61:1.

– Therefore, God expects the U.S. to rescue the downtrodden and trounce terrorists who enslave prisoners.

Vice President Dick Cheney, on a recent two-day visit to Iraq marking the fifth anniversary of the war, re-enforced Bush’s notion of liberty. The same day a female suicide bomber detonated herself, killing at least 43 Shiite worshippers near one of their holiest shrines, Cheney sounded upbeat, “It’s especially significant, I think, to be able to return this week as we mark the fifth anniversary of the beginning of the campaign that liberated the people of Iraq from Saddam Hussein’s tyranny and launched them on the difficult but historic road to democracy.”

This Bush-Cheney notion of biblical freedom misses the target, much like an air ball shot in a basketball game. Biblical freedom is never practiced in a vacuum. People ply their talents, work toward consensus, aren’t afraid to compromise and move in the direction of community building rather than self-preservation.

Seldom has our nation endorsed such a conservative foreign policy as Bush’s built on taking care of ourselves. Even Republican archconservative presidents Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge endorsed international arms control. Herbert Hoover, who rescued Belgium with food for refugees after World War I, showed strong international tendencies. He wanted to foster a world community.

When the current Administration asserts that freedom is essentially self-preservation, it’s out of step with former conservative Republican presidents. During his administration’s first year, Bush reneged on international alliances to save the environment, foster human rights, clamp down on chemical warfare, forbid illegal arms sales, and cut the launching of new ballistic missiles.

“My way, or we shall crush you on the highway,” gunslinger Bush told the world.

What’s really happening in Iraq? To preserve our gains in the invasion, we have bought off local sheiks who formerly fought against our troops. They now join U.S. forces to fend off al-Qaeda insurgents in Iraq. The cost to our treasury is huge.

Such a system of bribes for the Sunnis to do our fighting erodes democracy. Tribes now flush with cash play our nation off the insurgents, getting big bucks from whatever sources they can. These sheiks become stronger. They don’t want to give up their territory or command. Terror is tamped down for a season, but over the long haul democracy is undermined. Tribalism trumps building a Republic. The sheiks are quick learners. Invested in self-preservation, they’ve mastered the Administration’s notion of “freedom.” Democracy suffers for it.

The Reverend Jack Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the nonprofit, tax exempt Creative Growth Ministries, http://www.thelivinghistory.com, enhancing Christian worship through lively storytelling and dramatic presentations aimed to make God’s history come alive. Van Ens’s book, “How Jefferson Made the Best of Bad Messes,” is available in local bookstores for $7.95.


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