Strange World, Strange God

A reader writes:

I think we should be happy with the potential Syrian resolution, pray gratefully, and note this is what regular miracles are like to thosemof us hoping for peace and justice.

Completely agree.  I love that God appears to have used a thug and an effete bonehead like Kerry to jigger the situation into a resolution.  I love even better that He exposed our transparent eagerness to create terms that we believed were impossible to meet in order to force a war, only to have it cover us in shame and create an escape hatch.

Russia’s done something we haven’t done yet: lose.  They, like Germany, seem to have learned from it.  It’s still an open question whether we are able to learn from failure. Our country is remarkably adolescent in its ability to admit failure and folly.  On the other hand, I’ve seen an awful lot of Iraq War supporters take this occasion to say, “I was wrong” and to refuse to be fooled again.  So that’s a huge plus.

Anyway, thanks be to God for answered prayer.  Pope Francis done good.

He replies:

This is the Pope’s first miracle.

We lose the peace.  We have lost.

In Iraq and Afghanistan.  We lost the peace.  And its because we built nothing for them, because we spent no money on civic infrastructure.  Because we were cheap- both with planning and physical development.

We didn’t have enough soldiers at the conquest of Iraq to guard our own bases.  We had fewer civil engineers.

The Brits are remembered more fondly by the Indians 60-ish years after the Raj than we will be at a similar time point by Iraqis.

Plus, the Brits did not leave behind a legacy of skyrocketing birth defects as we have done, due to our generous gift of depleted uranium in the Iraqi environment.  Then again I think generations yet unborn far from Iraq will curse this generation for lots of reasons. We have been particularly reckless in the “What could it possibly hurt?” department. But mothers in Iraq will have particular reasons to wish us death for decades and perhaps centuries to come.

“I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever.” – Thomas Jefferson

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  • ” On the other hand, I’ve seen an awful lot of Iraq War supporters take this occasion to say, ‘I was wrong’ and to refuse to be fooled again. So that’s a huge plus.”
    I share those sentiments. I voted for Bush twice over my objections to the Iraq War in the hope of staving off the death culture at home. That those hopes proved hollow except for some small, temporary gains gave me a sharp lesson in Faustian bargaining with Mars to stave off Moloch.
    Suffice it to say I abstained from voting in any national races in the last election and only cast ballots for local and state officials whom I thought might do some good and whose capacity to inflict evil is relatively limited.

    • Dan C

      I do that electoral strategy. I never feel dirty.

    • I’ve heard some Catholics say over the years, “Sure, Obama is pro-abortion, but at least he’ll keep us out of more wars.” Now that both parties have shown themselves eager to blow up Middle Easterners, that (already flimsy) argument for supporting the Dems seems to have collapsed completely.

      • Dan C

        As it should have collapsed.

  • HornOrSilk

    I’ve not seen Iraq War supporters say they were wrong. I’ve seen them say they don’t support Obama but not that they were wrong with Bush. There might be some, and that is good, but I would like to see it.

    • Steve

      What I’ve said is that I was optimistic about the prospects of removing Sadaam and installing a democratic government. But over time I realized that vision was unlikely to be realized. Then when I learned about the persecution of Christians which was tolerated (and sometimes perpetrated) by the new government, I realized we’d made a mistake.

      That’s what I’ve said, anyway.

      • HornOrSilk

        Well, you are one. I’m still looking for the “awful lot.”

        • Sherry

          I remember a liberal friend of mine calling me when we opted to go to war in the Middle East, I remember agreeing that she had legitimate concerns about the justification for going, and that she cited the Pope’s objection. I was foolish. I wanted to trust that our President understood the situation better. I wanted to believe we could have a democracy too, so I was willing to risk a policy that wasn’t going to effect me directly in ways I could discern. I wasn’t rah rah let’s go to war, but I wasn’t objecting, not even sort of, and I wasn’t reflective. My one statement back to her was a mealy mouthed, “He’d better be right.” when I explained that perhaps it was in our national interest given the cited “weapons of mass destruction.” It wasn’t. Now, I sit here trying to sift through it all and wondering how we act as a just nation to honor those who died, and how we must conduct ourselves on the world stage and am trying to make sure my objections to war are not a reflexive reaction based on politics, but squared with my faith as a deliberate action and not a happy coincidence.

          • HornOrSilk

            Good to hear you also saw how you were misled, and hope it allows you to do as you say, look through the Church’s words from now on. Good 🙂

          • Dan C

            How about: one cannot truly honor those who died in an unjust war. That should give pause to the conduct of war.

            Only some Southern states in some areas honor the Confederate dead. Think about other unjust wars.

            America loves war. Hence the rise of football, in my opinion. It is problematic for Catholics to love war as the greater culture does.

            • Sherry

              We can honor the dead who sacrificed their lives in service to their country. I would not dispute Lincoln’s understanding that both sides were made of people, flawed, failing, sinful people, who deserve only our prayers. Gettysburg honors both sides for the human persons who died, not for the policies they fought for, just as today, we may honor soldiers not because they enforced a policy, but because they serve.
              But I may think that way because as a Texan and a subway Notre Dame alumni (SMC88), I love football. 🙂

              • Dan C

                I think that this is worthy of a broader discussion but it touches on the difficulty of warriors serving in unjust wars.

                Do we reflexively honor soldiers because we have had a bit of Americanist indoctrination, and as such, cannot criticize the soldiers? I certainly have mental reservations about even commenting on this.

                Even Army culture (and Navy culture) both pre- and post-women-in-the-troops have had carte- blanche reprieves on sexual ethics violations. Which are problematic.

                Soldiers, the front line soldier, for a huge number of reasons, is an uncriticizable class of Americans. I think Catholics really need to re-think that imprimatur we give to those folks. For example, there was a clear near-universal campaign to bash public school teachers, firemen, and police several years ago as but leaches on the public. It was aggressive and vociferous. One would never see this about soldiers. Maybe that is good, because the campaign was unfair against those other public servants.

                • S. Murphy

                  Not reflexively, Dan. Obviously, respect the front-line guys’ service, their willingness to take on the hard jobs, without blindly believing that every war and every mission is good.

                  Maybe it’s because I listen to NPR, but I had a strong impression, until about Sept 12, 2001, that at least half the country thought that anyone who chose to join the military was a loser. I don’t remember the campaign to bash police and firefighters – well, there’s always that segment that takes it for granted that cops are brutal thugs, just as there are those that take it for granted that the cops are always professionally impeccable.

                • Ye Olde Statistician

                  a) there was a clear near-universal campaign to bash public school
                  teachers, firemen, and police several years ago as but leaches on the
                  public. It was aggressive and vociferous.

                  When was that?

                  b) One would never see this
                  about soldiers.

                  Perhaps you do not remember the Vietnam era.

                  • Dan C

                    1. During the discussion of the Wisconsin state budget, there was an extensive campaign against public émployees a few years back. Fairly critical and sometimes inflammatory remarks were permitted to be noted specifically against the public servants I mentioned, on sites as prominent as First Things. On many an occasion comments indicating that these groups of public servants violated the “Thou shalt not steal” commandment were made.

                    2. I am approaching 50 and have lived in the NE US nearly all my life. Vietnam was a childhood memory. I do recall attending in my town Welcome Home parades for returning servicemen. Additionally, the decade would end with “Bring America Back” rallies throughout the region prior to the Reagan presidency. As such, I have little personal knowledge of a long period in Post-WW2 America that tolerated much anti-serviceman sentiment.

                    • Ye Olde Statistician

                      2. Then you don’t remember people spitting on returning soldiers and otherwise ranting at them as “baby-killers.”

                      1. So, it was a local thing in Wisconsin? Were these “public employees” undifferentiated? Usually, such dissatisfaction is directed against the bloated bureaucracy, not against those who actually do needed work. (There are those who teach and those who are “second assistant vice principle in charge of –“. Judging by recent history, there are not enough of the former by a long shot; else universities would not need to run remedial English and Math for incoming freshmen.)

                    • enness

                      “Near-universal” becomes “in a particular state and on certain blogs.” Makes more sense now.

                      I think of the Catholic blogosphere like a neighborhood (or maybe a collection of neighborhoods). I don’t find it healthy to look at it like its own universe, which I think I’m picking up on just slightly in a few of the comments — as though if it didn’t happen within our little gated community, it didn’t happen.

            • Bill

              I love football. I don’t love war.

    • Dan C

      Catholic supporters of the Iraq War are reconsidering their positions. Catholic liberals in general remain anti-war. Michael Sean Winters is a notable exception. Catholic liberal media remains committed to making sure the anti-war message is to be found on its pages.

      The NYTimes, which folks need to recall did not really report on Iraq prior to the war as much as just photocopy Defense Department press releases, is more skeptical. This flies in the face of most criticism of the liberal media. The NYTimes, in its post 9/11 hysteria, functioned as a loud bullhorn for whatever Rumsfeld and Cheney produced as a narrative for justification prior to the Iraq War. By comparison, opposition voices are getting as much position in its paper this time.

      • HornOrSilk

        Where are these reconsiderations? I think people are confusing objection to Obama here as reconsideration, which it is not. Many of these people have no consistent position: just look at Karl Rove over the weekend. He said he was calling for Obama to take it to Congress, but when he did, said Obama did wrong and should have just done a strike. There are people who just go “Whatever Obama doesn’t do.”

        I fully agree that those who were against the Iraq War are consistent here. Some, of course, do point out there is a difference with the fact that chemical weapons are being used. The Pope even condemned that use. With the Iraq war, no weapons were being used (at best, there was talk about when Saddam used them while he was our ally a long time ago). So it differs in situation. Nonetheless, like the Pope, I condemn the chemical weapons but oppose a military solution. I just recognize that Obama would not be doing “pre-emptive” strikes if he engaged Syria now, unlike Bush. It is different, but still, it is not the right solution.

        • Dan C

          I think I can label those Catholics who publicly comment who remain committed to the Iraq War more easily than I can label those repenting of the Iraq War. And if it takes Culture War red meat (such as Obama as president) to product thoughtfulness, so be it.

          We can find many unapologetic supporters of the Iraq War at The American Catholic (and near unanimous support among the comments). One can find them at Over the Rhine and into the Tiber. One can find them on televised EWTN- Sirico, Arroyo, et al. Joe Carter remains attached to that war and the decision to go to war-he sits astride Acton and has his name still at First Things. First Things has only a couple of stalwarts. Professional conservatives employed at think tanks like EPPC (George Weigel) and AEI (Michael Novak).

          Then…scour the Catholic Patheos folks. This is a good sample of thoughtful Catholics, largely conservative, who are not fans of the Iraq War. Ms. Elizabeth Scalia certainly has only dim views of this President, and has had difficulties letting go of the Culture War in fact, despite public declarations otherwise, and clearly has a more complex view of these military interventions now. R.Reno, a man who seems to have had NYC change him a bit, which I’ve seen with folks like O’Conner in his archibishopric (I reference the impact of “Holy Mother City” like Dorothy Day) is no fan of these interventions. He has assembled a new group of thinkers on conservative matters, of which war is one area of re-thinking.

          One does not see the corruption of Catholic images by warrior instincts as one saw with regard to Our Lady of the Rosary and impassioned appeals to revisionist views of the Crusades and Lepanto as one saw a decade ago. In fact, the near universal attention to the Rosary prayed to Our Lady Queen of Peace on the Eve of Her Birthday last Saturday was a radical reclamation of these prayers for Our Lady, Mother of Jesus, as opposed to the previous worship of some idol of the mother of the god Mars.

          I have little interest in the secular leaders on this, both from conservative viewpoints and liberal viewpoints. Attempts to identify liberal Catholic hypocrisy by showing secular liberals as silent on drones, Iraq, and Syria is not the greatest concern. Internal Catholic thinking, which in matters of war has been sinfully incorrect over the past decade (with regard to torture, the execution of unjust wars, the apologetics for unjust wars) should be a primary concern. How People magazine and its subjects views these wars is not that impactful on me or the Faith.

        • Stu

          But in the eyes of many, Iraq was not a new engagement but the continuation of the events that unfolded after 911. I think we easily forget that as a nation, our psyche was a bit different after being attacked at home. We saw things differently (rightly or wrongly) and that should be part of the calculus. After putting AQ on the defensive in Afghanistan, the next likely “chess move” on their part was arguably Iraq given the continuing hostilities that they had with the West and BELIEF that they had WMD.

          And “yes” there was intel that indicated such. And it came from Saddam Hussein. People sometimes don’t realize that in addition to not liking the United States or Israel, the Middle Eastern countries don’t like each other. Saddam was caught in the middle of trying to comply with the UN mandates to disarm all while making his neighbors (Iran) think he was defiant and still had WMD to put them on guard. He was simply too convincing in the latter and we were “spooked” and all to happy to go for it all and attempt to clean up the “mess.”

          If anything, the desire to take action in Syria is more damning because by now we have cooled off since 911 and should know better.

          • HornOrSilk

            That is completely and utterly a farce. Iraq had nothing to do with 9-11. Bush was planning the war before 9-11. And no, many people then said it is not connected to 9-11. The Bush “rah rah rah” people tried to make it about 9-11, but those opposed it said “NO.” Many said “Not in our name.” Remember all the people vilified for that? Seriously, you prove my point. All kind of excuses.

            • Stu

              No, it’s not. It’s based upon my being at the Pentagon prior to, during and shortly thereafter and working in Operations. It’s based upon my follow-on tours in operational units that routinely were privy to intelligence reports.

              Actually, when Bush came to power, in the Navy were preparing for heavy rolls as SECDEF had telegraphed a plan for a huge drawdown in forces.

              But, you do have your opinion.

            • Iraq was dancing on the edge of war under the old rules of what the US would tolerate. When the US was attacked, we drew up new rules because obviously the old ones did not work. Iraq continued its dance on the working assumption that we were not serious about the new rules. They miscalculated, catastrophically, and the Baathist regime came to an end in Iraq as we withdrew from the ceasefire and rolled them out of power.

    • Some have, some have not. Those of us who viewed Iraq as a highly unusual circumstance where we had technically been at war for a decade already and thus was already an unsustainable mess that had to be settled are less inclined to view the situations as comparable.

      The Middle East has been declining for centuries and had settled down to a long term glidepath to unsustainable humanitarian disaster and geopolitical threat due to its weakness. Occasionally a doctor has to re-break a bone that has healed wrong. You don’t do it often. In fact it’s quite a rare thing to have to do. But that doesn’t mean the situation doesn’t come up. The Iraq War was the geopolitical equivalent.

      Syria does not require that sort of solution. Iraq was enough. The Middle East is not likely to settle down to a new equilibrium for decades because of that war. I remain hopeful that the new equilibrium will be sustainable and better.

      • HornOrSilk

        No, we were not at war. Iraq was not justified, and it is funny to see the kinds of excuses people give, like your ramble,

        • Stu

          Actually, the hostilities with Iraq were still going on as they routinely fired on Allied aircraft enforcing UN No-Fly Zones established to protect the Kurds.

        • Patheos apparently swallowed my reply so I’ll try to reconstruct.

          If we were not at war with Iraq, what was our justification for the no fly zones and intermittent combat that had been going on for a decade? You’d think that at the conclusion of the war, we’d stop doing that but we didn’t. What do you call that period, peace?

          The anti-war Catholics who can explain the period between the signing of the Safwan accords and the formal US withdrawal from the cease fire as we started invading may be out there but I haven’t found them. Perhaps you would like to take a crack at it?

      • Clare Krishan

        as sustainable and better as the Israelis of Iraqi extraction I linked to above whose parents were evicted from their ancient place of residence after Zionists won the 1948 war of independance (selfishly for themselves, forcing Jews who lived anywhere else in the Middle East to become persona non grata, duh! A wacky sort of mutual fraternity of sustainability that proved to be, eh?) Orthodox Jews reject Zionism (they chose a different physician so to speak the Divine Physician) perhaps orthodox Catholics ought to respect their wisdom?

        • I’m sorry Clare but I cannot come up with a charitable interpretation of your post better than you think the national aspirations of Jews in the Ottoman Empire had a second class status below those of Hashemites and a host of other successor states that rose out of the collapse of that empire.

          I hope that I am not understanding your meaning and that there is a better interpretation that I have failed to get. Could you elaborate what you are trying to say here?

    • enness

      I’ve seen several via Facebook, but you’ll have to take my word for that.

  • Imp the Vladaler

    And its because we built nothing for them, because we spent no money on civic infrastructure.

    Transparently false and inane. If you think this is true, you are either a liar or are too ignorant to contribute a comment.

    • LSUStatman

      I was about to write the same. During my time in Afghanistan, my unit specifically drilled two wells for neighborhoods needing water. The number of schools and roads built during that time is staggering.

      We lost (if we truly have done so–only time will tell: See current Vietnam) because we have enemies who don’t just go away when we punch them in the nose.

      Iraq, which I supported, was a mistake for this reason. Bush clearly thought that the opposition would disappear. For this reason, I have learned that we need to be very careful about waging war. You don’t get to vote on how some enemy reacts to an act of war, and bombing tends to piss people off.

      • Imp the Vladaler

        “we spent no money on civic infrastructure.”

        105 megawatt power plants apparently do not constitute “civic infrastructure.”

        • Dan C

          Power plants are routinely built in the US greater than 500 megawatts. And well-drilling is something that Evangelical missionaries do in their spare time in Africa.

          Where are the school systems and Universities? The hospitals? Where are the sewer systems?

          Afghanistan and Iraq were lean Six Sigma projects and these are two more nails in the coffin of that managerial theory.

          • Steve

            Their point was that Mark was incorrect (vastly so) to say that we built “nothing” for them. You can argue that what we built was insufficient. But insofar as a power plants, wells, and roads are “something”, their point is valid.

            • Dan C

              It was barely “something.” If one is an obsessive compulsive debate club member, yes it was “something” and hence fails such stringent requirements. A “treehouse” would be “something.” But it was dramatically inadequate, and self-congratulations for the crumbs dropped should be somewhat tempered, because of the inadequacy.

              Mark was quoting a reader, me, and probably did not necessarily ascribe exactly to these viewpoints. Mark, more a critique of bigger government, would be less attached to the type of public works campaign I would have suggested occur.

              As someone who routinely and gratefully uses the wonderful durable remnants of the Civilian Conservation Corps public works projects still over 75 years later, I have a fondness for that type of campaign.

              • Imp the Vladaler

                Good to know that it’s you and not Mark whose ignorance is basically invincible.

                • chezami

                  So. Wait. I’m late to this. Are people here *seriously* arguing that the countries we blasted into Freedom and Democracy are now in better shape after ten years of our tender mercies and that we really planned for the peace they now enjoy?

                  • S. Murphy

                    No, but that’s different than saying that we sat there and did nothing, or went joyriding and randomly shooting people, as opposed to attempting and completing, give or take local difficulties, numerous civil infrastructure projects, as well as training local military and police forces. (Granted, in Iraq, we should have simply left their army in place, rather than disbanding it and starting all over!) I’m not arguing *for* the Iraq war – you persuaded me that it was wrong a long time ago – nor that we’ve pursued the wisest and best courses of action in Afghanistan. I’m saying, and so is Imp, and so is TMLutas, and so is LSUStatman, that contrary to Dan’s claim, we’ve spent a hell of a lot of time and money on trying to restore civil infrastructure in both countries.
                    There’s a difference between ‘it was a bad idea in the first place, and we made a lot of mistakes,’ on the one hand, and on the other, ‘we tried to make the place a hell of a lot better, and a lot of the locals did, in fact, notice, but for various reasons, including that the enemy had a vote, we didn’t achieve gold-plated Marshall Plan outcome.’
                    (Yes, I grok that we aren’t in the moral position wrt Iraq or Afgh that we were in with western Europe ca 1946 – although there’s one or two people who’ve escaped honor killings because of us, and they might have a different view.)

                  • Stu

                    In fact, the problem isn’t that we didn’t try to build them infrastructure because we most certainly did and we invested a lot of effort in consulting them on municipal planning and such. The problem was that we attempted to build up such things on our terms and with our values. So while we fund highways through Afghanistan, the locals think, “Great, now the bad men can just get here quicker after the Americans leave.”

                  • Imp the Vladaler

                    If you say things like “we spent no money on civic infrastructure” in Afghanistan and Iraq, then you’re either ignorant and incapable of typing words into Google, or a liar.

                    I wouldn’t say that Iraq is better. It would be hard to argue that Afghanistan is worse today than it was under Taliban rule. As I understand it, the danger in Afghanistan is that the modest and expensive progress that has been made there will disappear once the U.S. pulls out. So I’d say Iraq no, Afghanistan probably at least a little.

              • In a country where building schools are countered by night visits to assassinate the teachers, perhaps you are somewhat missing a realistic appreciation of what Afghanistan is like. You don’t have to actually serve there to know this. I have not. All that is needed is to pay attention and read broadly.

                I recommend it.

                • Clare Krishan

                  indeed here’s a suggestion:
                  US foreign aid funds lots of illogical things. Generosity is not per se good or evil just because its carries a stars-n-stripes insignia. It is a political means to an idealogical end, as for example, recipients in Israel seem to prefer a deterministic reality of ‘facts on the ground’ to international standards of justice designed to promote peace and prosperity for all God’s creatures not just a triumphalistic neo-con ‘elect’

                  • We had not even gotten to the question of good or evil. We were still on the preceding question of whether substantial infrastructure building has even been attempted.

                    What Israeli settlers in the West Bank have to do with US aid for Afghanistan infrastructure escapes me.

              • Ye Olde Statistician

                What one builds is relative to what was already there, and possibly (though impossible to gauge) to what would have been there otherwise. A 105-megawatt power plant in Afghanistan is quite a thing. A Western-style university, nearly unimaginable. Getting girls into schools is thoughtlessly routine in the West, but unprecedented in the House of Submission.

              • Stu


                Your call for nation building after the fact actually runs counter to the thought that I and most of my military brethren have in how things should have been done. I think the takeaways from both Iraq and Afghanistan are that war in Iraq should not have been initiated and in Afghanistan we should have gone in, eliminated the AQ presence and Taliban elements that supported them, given some measure for a transition of power and then left.

                The message would have been that if you attack us, we will come to eliminate your threat in rapid and efficient manner. Do it again, and we will come back to repeat it.

          • Imp the Vladaler

            “That power plant you built? Its capacity is under 500 megawatts. And because Evangelical missionaries drill wells in Africa, your drilling of a well for my village is meaningless and – you know, actually it’s worse than nothing. Therefore you have constructed no infrastructure. You are a scoundrel and a brigand. May God have mercy on your soul.”

            Exit question: how many wells have you drilled in Afghanistan?

          • Imp the Vladaler

            Where are the schools? Obsessive-compulsive debate member that I am, I consider 680 schools to be significantly more than zero.

          • We built schools as well. Universities? Well there’s this from a couple of months ago


            So maybe the issue is your ignorance of what we actually did than what we actually did with regards to infrastructure.

            Gold plated projects that are impossible to maintain by the locals after we go home are stupid. You size to the needs on the ground, not to US specs which don’t really apply to the situation in Afghanistan.

            A 105Mw plant provides enough electricity to power one fifth of Kabul. A 500Mw plant could power all of Kabul. In a region where war is common and maintenance can sometimes be lacking, it’s a really bad idea to have the entire capital depend on one single plant. Yes, we could have built bigger. Would it have been a service to Afghanistan or to our own egos if we had?

  • meunke

    The image is true, yes. However, let’s not lost sight of the fact that it is totally unreasonable to think that Putin did this out of the goodness of his shirtless, horseback riding heart.

    Syria is an ally of Russia, and Putin will continue to make sure they don’t turn into Egypt North. He will continue to use them and Iran to make sure the US does not gain inordinate power in the region. In a similar way, China uses North Korea as a foil against the US.

    All that being said, yes, it is MOST EXCELLENT that a new war looks to have been stymied. Thanks be to God!

  • The Deuce

    Well, Russia’s offer is an obvious farce, the UN control of Syria’s chemical weapons will never come to pass, and pretty much everyone in the world knows that Putin has played Obama’s head like a bongo here. But I’m glad nevertheless that Putin’s shrewdness resulted Obama being forced to back down from something he never should’ve started in the first place. I’m less thrilled, as a matter of abstract principle, that an American President has been internationally humiliated by a Russian leader, but that has an upside to it too, since it helps to take the wind out of Obama’s sails in general, including hopefully on the domestic front as well.

    • Stu

      I agree. I don’t like seeing a US leader get punked but I know of kazoos that are harder to play than Obama.

      • The Deuce

        Btw, I must say, watching Obama get toyed with like a ball of yarn these past few weeks has only given me even more contempt for the Republicans for being so terrified of him.