"Ain't Gonna Study War No More"

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Right-To-Life Party, Christian, Anti-War, Pro-Life, Bible Fundamentalist, Egalitarian, Libertarian Left

Saturday, August 20, 2005

The War Is Lost

"The U.S. Has Lost the Iraq War"

It's over. For the U.S. to win the Iraq war requires three things: defeating the Iraqi resistance; establishing a stable government in Iraq that is friendly to the U.S.; maintaining the support of the American people while the first two are being done. None of these three seem any longer possible. First, the U.S. military itself no longer believes it can defeat the resistance. Secondly, the likelihood that the Iraqi politicians can agree on a constitution is almost nil, and therefore the likelihood of a minimally stable central government is almost nil. Thirdly, the U.S. public is turning against the war because it sees no "light at the end of the tunnel."

As a result, the Bush regime is in an impossible position. It would like to withdraw in a dignified manner, asserting some semblance of victory. But, if it tries to do this, it will face ferocious anger and deception on the part of the war party at home. And if it does not, it will face ferocious anger on the part of the withdrawal party. It will end up satisfying neither, lose face precipitously, and be remembered in ignominy.

Let us see what is happening. This month, Gen. George Casey, the U.S. commanding general in Iraq, suggested that it may be possible to reduce U.S. troops in Iraq next year by 30,000, given improvements in the ability of the Iraqi government's armed forces to handle the situation. Almost immediately, this position came under attack from the war party, and the Pentagon amended this statement to suggest that maybe this wouldn't happen, since maybe the Iraqi forces were not yet ready to handle the situation, which is surely so. At the same time, stories appeared in the leading newspapers suggesting that the level of military sophistication of the insurgent forces has been growing steadily and remarkably. And the increased rate of killings of U.S. soldiers certainly bears this out.

In the debate on the Iraqi constitution, there are two major problems. One is the degree to which the constitution will institutionalize Islamic law. It is conceivable that, given enough time and trust, there could be a compromise on this issue that would more or less satisfy most sides. But the second issue is more intractable. The Kurds, who still really want an independent state, will not settle for less than a federal structure that will guarantee their autonomy, the maintenance of their militia, and control of Kirkuk as their capital and its oil resources as their booty. The Shiites are currently divided between those who feel like the Kurds and want a federal structure, and those who prefer a strong central government provided they can control it and its resources, and provided that it will have an Islamic flavor. And the Sunnis are desperate to maintain a united state, one in which they will minimally get their fair share, and certainly don't want a state governed by Shia interpretations of Islam.

The U.S. has been trying to encourage some compromise, but it is hard to see what this might be. So, one of two possibilities are before us right now. The Iraqis paper over the differences in some way that will not last long. Or there is a more immediate breakdown in negotiations. Neither of these meets the needs of the U.S. Of course, there is one solution that might end the deadlock. The Iraqi politicians could join the resisters in a nationalist anti-American thrust, and thereby unite at least the non-Kurd part of the population. This development is not to be ruled out, and of course is a nightmare from the U.S. point of view.

But, for the Bush regime, the worst picture of all is on the home front. Approval rating of Bush for the conduct of the Iraqi war has gone down to 36 percent. The figures have been going steadily down for some time and should continue to do so. For poor George Bush is now faced with the vigil of Cindy Sheehan. She is a 48-year-old mother of a soldier who was killed in Iraq a year ago. Incensed by Bush's statement that the U.S. soldiers died in a "noble cause," she decided to go to Crawford, Texas, and ask to see the president so that he could explain to her for what "noble cause" her son died.

Of course, George W. Bush hasn't had the courage to see her. He sent out emissaries. She said this wasn't enough, that she wanted to see Bush personally. She has now said that she will maintain a vigil outside Bush's home until either he sees her or she is arrested. At first, the press ignored her. But now, other mothers of soldiers in Iraq have come to join her. She is getting moral support from more and more people who had previously supported the war. And the national press now has turned her into a major celebrity, some comparing her to Rosa Parks, the Black lady whose refusal to move to the back of the bus in Atlanta a half-century ago was the spark that transformed the struggle for Black rights into a mainstream cause.

Bush won't see her because he knows there is nothing that he can say to her. Seeing her is a losing proposition. But so is not seeing her. The pressure to withdraw from Iraq is now becoming mainstream. It is not because the U.S. public shares the view that the U.S. is an imperialist power in Iraq. It is because there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel. Or rather there is a light, the light an acerbic Canadian cartoonist for the Calgary Sun drew recently. He shows a U.S. soldier in a dark tunnel approaching someone to whose body is attached an array of explosives. The light comes from the match he is holding to the wick that will cause them to explode. In the month following the attacks in London and the high level of U.S. deaths in Iraq, this is the light that the U.S. public is beginning to see. They want out. Bush is caught in an insoluble dilemma. The war is lost.

Copyright by Immanuel Wallerstein.

Luther: The Daily Gift of New Life

Changed Lives

"Are you born again?" Bill Moyers asked me in 1976 for a television program on a term that most Americans were first learning. My answer: "Yes." When? February 26, 1928. Moyers, "You don't look old enough for that early date?" He was thinking Baptistically; I was talking about my baptism at three weeks of age. "And that does it for life?" he asked. I answered, "'Yes' and 'no.' I was also 'born again' this morning."

This plunge to the heart of Luther's theology summarizes my changed life. These lines in his Small Catechism hit me forcefully when I was in my twenties: "In the morning, as soon as you get out of bed, you are to make the sign of the holy cross and say: 'God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit watch over me. Amen." Further directions follow: say the Apostles Creed, pray the Lord's Prayer. … Then "you are to go to your work joyfully."

Those who come to baptism at the age of personal accountability will have other ways to greet each day, and can have analogous experiences as children of God. For Luther, baptism "signifies that the old creature in us … is to be drowned and die through daily … repentance, and … that daily a new person is to come forth and arise up to live before God in righteousness and purity forever." Luther cited Romans 6:4, and added his own accent on daily, as I have done with italics here.

Early on, the brunt of this call by Luther to be born again daily and his citation of Romans 6 did not shake or shape me. Nurtured in a home where this way of life was taken for granted; daydreaming through an overly scholastic Lutheran pre-theological school, I later understood Luther's "tower experience" of grace from reading Paul's epistles. This came suddenly in 1947 in seminary studies under passionate "neo-Lutheran" scholars, and gradually (after summer 1952) when as a pastor I related this teaching to the lives of others.

This signing of the cross "signifies;" it involves no hint of superstition or magic. What follows it is a demand for the gift of repentance. I did not and do not seek a Luther-like emotional trauma and a shattering onrush of new experience. Still, I learned from Luther to put to work this understanding of dailiness. When he was tempted, in doubt, depression, or near-despair, he would remind himself: baptizatus sum, "I am baptized," and recognize a change.

The urgent call to baptismal repentance means a drastic turn from the old ways of yesterday and to new ways for tomorrow, with the gift of strength for today. The public image of Lutherans, as fostered by radio's Garrison Keillor types, finds a timid, do-I-dare-thinking people. It frustrates me to observe fellow Lutherans unnecessarily carrying the weight of yesterday's wrongs and burdening themselves with worries over tomorrow. Jesus would have none of either, nor would Luther, nor should I.

In pastoral theology and care I would turn this discipline into a virtual therapy. I would tell stories about Luther, who asked "Is God gracious?" while theologians today say people ask "Is God … ?" Most contemporaries cannot identify with the pious monk and virtuoso repenter who bored his superior with six-hour monologues about his sin. Fortunately this confessor, John Staupitz, would not let him wallow in his petty follies. He was to realize that he was free to be an "alter Christus," an "other" Christ to his neighbor, making faith active in love. Luther's discovery and teaching move me still. Daily.

Martin E. Marty is the Fairfax M. Cone Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus at the University of Chicago and author of Martin Luther (Penguin Putnam, 2004). He is an ordained Lutheran minister.

Copyright © 2005 by the author or Christianity Today International/Christian History & Biography magazine