Why the Surge Can't Work

This is not to argue that "the surge" won't work in the future, or wouldn't have worked in the past. It is not to say that the surge doesn't work based on what the results have been so far. It is to say that it fundamentally can't work.

Of course, it hasn't work based on the results so far. It has reduced the number of deaths of US troops, but not the numbers of Iraqi civilians. Iraqis are still fleeing the country, and still dying in great numbers. In areas with high US troop presence like the Green Zone there is safety and reduced deaths. Where there are no troops, where troops have left, the death continues, as does the recruitment drive for al Qai'da. (And the presence of US troops provides the impetus for recruitment.)

But the results to date can never justify the increase in US troops. For we should never have been over there to begin with. And not just because this war was wrong. War always means one side loses. Obama seems to have forgotten this, in his support for a surge in Afghanistan. Obama would say that we should not have been there, but we must make the best of it. But the point is that the use of the ways of war is flawed at its core.

Obama seems to have bought into the idea that the use of soldiers, and their increase, is at times justified. He states that things are better, in part because of the increase in US troops, and in part because of agreements with other Iraqi factions. This is admittedly better than the consensus view in America, that the Surge has worked. But it still dramatically misses the main point. Many of us have supported Obama because he was right on the war. He rejected going to war, and he rejected abrogating Congressional rights and duties to declare war. But now he seems to buy into the idea that war itself can work.

For a Christian such as Obama, his Lord has made it clear that war is never an option; we should not resist an evil doer, but should rather love our enemies, and do good to those who hurt us. We do this because we recognize that of God in others, recognizing that all humans are created i the image of God, and therefore are the seat of his Spirit. We can not therefore attack our brother, he who can hold the ever-living God. I recognize that no US President will ever truly follow the guidelines of Jesus Christ. That requires a leader like Ghandi- and Ghandi would never get elected in this country. Yet it remains that it is not just that war is morally bankrupt, but that war does not practically work.

War results in one side losing. It results in vanquishing your enemy. This leads to bitterness, and promises of revenge, and future reprisals by that vanquished enemy. Thus America funds the Shah, the Shah represses his people, and the Ayotollah rises up in revolution. Thus America defends the Afghani people from the Soviet invasion, funding and training Osama bin Laden and the Taliban in the art of war, allowing Osama to rise up against America, requiring America to attack his host country, creating a breeding ground for al Qai'da recruitment, and embittered Taliban to rise up against America.

If some war is immoral, and if some war is impractical for reducing violence, then it remains that more war is also immoral, and impractical. Thus the so-called surge can not, in the long run, succeed. It is wrong to send people overseas to kill others people; it is more wrong to send more people. Violence begets violence, and sending more people to kill more people will lead to more anger and bitterness. Sure, it may not be revealed now. The terrorists may come out of the woodwork after we leave. It may even take a generation. But the more we send more troops over, the greater will be our future problems. This is not unique to Iraq. As goes Iraq, shall go Afghanistan, and any other place a great power sends in occupying forces.

Obama, you have some great ideas about being willing to talk with your enemies, in rejecting gunboat diplomacy and working with the rest of the world in peaceful ways. I call on you to remember these high-minded ideals, and return to a higher way. Do not believe the hopeless mantra of Bush and McCain, that violence works, and the surge has worked. Do not begin your own surge in that quagmire of Afghanistan. Stick to your guns in withdrawing troops in Iraq, as you are, and begin to let the Taliban know of your sincere desire to find common ground with them, to talk to them, to see how we can all get to yes. Your recent prayer at the Wailing Wall demonstrates your deep and abiding humility. Negotiations, as you know, don't require that either side lose, as war always does. Rather, it only requires that one side be willing to be humble enough to talk. Let our nation be great for a new reason. Let us release a new type of shock and awe. Let the world marvel at the humility of the United States of America.


The Hypocrisy of John McCain

When McCain was on his tour of South America, he made a great point of how he would not criticize Obama while McCain was abroad. McCain said that was inappropriate. He felt one should not criticize a President or someone running for President while you are overseas in "time of war", or in a war with metaphor. For McCain, a united front without criticism is true patriotism. It is inappropriate to act the role of maverick while overseas. Therefore, McCain went negative on Obama only while he was on the plane flying down to South America. Evidently that was some sort of difference from being on the ground in South America.

That was McCain when he was overseas. But, though McCain feels agreement is important if he is overseas, evidently this does not apply if the person you are criticizing is overseas. So while Obama is overseas, McCain has been non-stop criticizing Obama, most recently coming close to questioning Obama's patriotism, stating Obama is willing to lose a war to win an election.

I admit I'm no professional politician. Maybe I just don't get it. I know, it seems to me that, if it's important not to criticize another American running for President, it is more important to do so when the person criticizing is abroad, then when the criticizer are abroad. Typically that's been the tradition, when the President is abroad, to withhold criticism to some extent. But McCain must know something about the nature of the politics of patriotism that I don't.

But maybe it's just that McCain has flip-flopped on his values since he was in South America a month ago. Or maybe going negative is the only way he's found to remind us that he is still in the race.

There is No "War on Terrorism"

Are our memories truly this short? Have we forgotten how much we laughed at George Bush for mixing his metaphors? A primitive laugh in agony, to be sure, for we recognized the danger in his falsehood. He sought to use the language of the War on Drugs (now largely forgotten), and apply it to terrorism. The problem was, everyone recognized that the War on Drugs was a metaphor. One could only use it in reference to terrorism in the same way. Terrorism is an idea. It is a noun, but not a proper one. It is neither person, nor country, nor organization. It is a concept. One can no more have a war on terrorism than one can have a war on an idea. That is to say, one can do so to the extent that one remembers it is a metaphor.

But the danger remains- if it is truly believed to be an actual war, then George Bush gains great power, for he is a war-time leader. And this is indeed what happened. Though we weren't at war, he was granted the liberty of movement as if we were at war. This liberty given up by the US congress lead directly to the carte blanche ability to invade Afghanistan, and then Iraq. Then we were truly at war- with Afghanistan, and with Iraq. And because of these wars, many 100s of 1000s are dead, and millions made refugees. All because we allowed our leader to mix his metaphors.

Imagine then, my deep and abiding chagrin, to hear my beloved candidate now using the same hated Bushian language, referring to the "War on Terrorism", as he states that Afghanistan is where the front is. No, Obama, and again I say "No!" There is no war on terrorism. There is a war in Iraq, there is a war against the Taliban in Afghanistan, but not on terrorism.

Just semantics? No. For witness what the appropriation of Bush-speak is leading Obama into. He is now speaking of the need to Surge in Afghanistan, in order to deal with the Taliban there. He will reduce troops significantly, withdraw completely in 16 months, give or take, in Iraq. But he will increase troops in Afghanistan- for this is the head-point of the War on Terror.

Have we forgotten so easily why we were against Bush's actions in Afghanistan originally? He too quickly was happy to engage in war, without regard to the consequences, in the heat and fury after 9/11. Because he saw 9/11 as an attack on America, rather than the world, as witnessed by the attack on the World Trade Center, Bush ignored the possible cost to human lives, in complete contravening of any semblance of Just War Theory.

We invaded Afghanistan because we were not willing to give negotiations a chance- as many pointed out at the time. (But of course, that's just Saturday Morning Quarterbacking.) We ignored the culture of the peoples because that was inconvenient. Yes, they had Osama bin Laden, and yes, they could have given him up. But in their culture, a person in the country is a guest, and one does not disown their guests. This is a deep and abiding belief in the Middle East- some thing that we should at the very least be familiar with, as it is central to the scriptures of the dominant religion that Western civilization is based upon.

Without this recognition, the story of Lot with his guests makes no sense. The men of Sodom and Gomorrah were exceedingly wicked, and demanded that Lot send out his guests so that the men could rape them. Lot comes out, and tells them this is evil. So far we understand. But then he makes the strangest statement- he offers his own daughters in the place of his guests!

Now we find such a response to Sophie's Choice exceedingly repugnant, and rightfully so. If one had to decide, God forbid, how can one choose against one's own daughters? But one must remember that not all cultures have the same ethics that we do. Indeed, most theologians agree that the sin which Sodom and Gomorrah were published for was not homosexuality, but rather a lack of hospitality, a cardinal sin in the ancient world.

While I wouldn't suggest that most Middle Eastern fathers would make the same choice today, the commitment to hospitality remains just as strong. Despite many statements from cultural experts at the time, Bush ignored their expertise, and pressed ahead. He went to bomb Afghanistan, rather than to have the slow negotiations which would have recognized and honored the Taliban and Afghani's commitment to ethics of hospitality, while moving forward to get them to finally give up Osama bin Laden. Instead of negotiations, Bush went for ultimatums, the only form of talk he appears to understand. He was too eager to grab Osama bin Laden, and so like the proverbial monkey grabbing too strongly, Osama slipped through his fingers.

One can not argue our military approach lead to success, for we still search for him. What it did lead to was countless deaths- American, Afghani, and Afghani civilians. Sure, the repressive regime of the Taliban was removed, but that was never our motivation- and now the Taliban has long returned to their own Surge, reaching levels of control close to what they had before we invaded Afghanistan. Do we want to find Osama, and stop the Taliban today? Or do we want to find a way to change the hearts of Arabs and Muslims, the Taliban and the Iraqi insurgent, so they realize that they should end the killing, that they should fight no more forever? The old failed policy focused on immediate results, and achieved them. It left the long term legacy of failure to us.

The Troop Increase in Iraq has not worked. Sure, American deaths are reduced- as we would expect, when we send more people with guns over there. And Iraqi civilian deaths are up- as we would expect when we send more people with guns over there. So why is Obama proposing that we send more troops to Afghanistan, when such a policy has so abysmally failed in Iraq? This is a candidate who has campaigned as something new, and spoke of talking with world leaders, even our enemies.

So I challenge you, Senator Obama: Do as you said you would. Do something new. Do what we should have done originally in Afghanistan. Go to the Taliban, and begin to talk with them. Negotiate with them. Recognize where they are coming from, and what their needs are. Be bold on our utter rejection of their human rights violations. Be bold on our demand for their help to capture Osama. But do this in negotiation. Sure, it's slower. Sure, it's not sexy Shock and Awe. But it is far more just. It is far more kind. And it is far more likely to achieve our goals.


Why Obama Should Really be Overseas

While it hasn't been done before this election cycle, there are many reasons to travel abroad while you're running for President. McCain went over to Iraq to show people what an expert he was, how he knew about foreign affairs because he'd been a prisoner and had killed people overseas. Unfortunately, he struggled with the difference between Sunni and Shi'i as much as he struggles to remember that Czechoslovakia no longer exists. Now after months of McCain calling Obama to go overseas to learn a thing or two, Obama has also gone to Afghanistan, and soon Iraq, Israel, Palestine, Jordan, England, France, and Germany.

When you're running for President, the last thing you want to do is respond to your opponent's criticisms, or even appear like you are doing so. It makes your opponent seem to be in charge of the conversation. This is an especially important point if you are actually a greater expert in the particular field than your opponent.

One of the primary reasons I'm voting for Obama is his vast international experience. Sure, there are plenty of other past nominees who knew about the rest of the world. Obama's the first candidate who's actually lived it. He's the son of Kenyans and grew up overseas in Indonesia and Hawaii- which is part of the US, but the most international of all the states, and only became a state two years before Obama was born. Obama experienced horrific poverty and disease in those around him, growing up in a 2/3rds World country. There's a reason the non-voting rest of the world loves him- they know that, as a Third Culture Kid, he can relate to them. He can relate to them not just as an oppressor or occupying force, but as one who has lived with them, walked with them, eaten their food and lived in their homes.

Obama has absolutely nothing to prove internationally. McCain has everything to prove. Obama has no need to show himself aware of the world and the nuances of foreign affairs, nor answer to the likes of McCain. This is the purpose of his trip: to go out and establish further relationships with the leaders of other countries, and more importantly the peoples, to begin the business of conducting government and reestablishing America's relationships with those overseas. He can begin to model servant leadership by listening to other countries and respecting their point of view and the wisdom they can bring to the table. For we as America don't know everything, and we can't do it on our own.

Or at least, that should be the purpose of his trip. President Obama, it's time to start governing.