so bob carlton invited a group of us religious bloggers to do a rotating review of jim wallis' newish book 'god's politics' jim's been around these questions of religion and politics for many years, mostly at the community he helped found in Washington D.C., Sojourners.
okay, so the book is not the *best* thing i've read on these issues. some of our other chapter reviews have said so, and the new issue of books and culture is almost mean in their skewering. what i'd say generally is the guy has cache and he's using it to make some pretty important points. check his eloquence and humor on the daily show with jon stewart where he makes any justice-oriented christian proud.
i'm supposed to review chapter 8, 'not a just war: the mistake of iraq' and like the rest of the book, it is a mixed bag of new things and things he wrote much earlier, woven in as filling. if he had left out all the old stuff and tried to just write a fresh book it might have been a really focused 150 page essay rather than a wandering 360 page tome it is now.
be that as it may, i'm all about this chapter. it was not a just war. jean bethke elshtain and others like her have not convinced me that christians can embrace a first-strike doctrine as the bush administration has done. it is a shame that wallis did not show more of the nuance of christian debates on these topics, however, for the question of what to do about terror is real and difficult and not at all the same as it was in a cold-war world. we are facing really unsettling times and great fear had caught many in the face of such unsettling. i rather like the ideas of a crazy bunch of norwegian lutherans who argue that unless we embrace vulnerability we're never going to find security. while they didn't draw on my colleague miroslav volf's work, they might have well gained a partner for their arguments in his work exclusion and embrace.
so what did jim do that captured my heart, and what did he do that left my head shaking wishing he'd done more?
he named the terrible misuse of goodwill and trust given to our government after september 11th, 2001. why is it that so quickly after september 11th the rhetoric took up the echoes of iraq, and increasingly people within the bush administration made connections in their speeches between 9/11 and iraq that in fact never did exist? because they had a long-term and, say it Jim, a deceptive plan to invade iraq to displace saddam. we shockingly went ahead without real evidence, without real support from friends and allies, without an overwhelming voice of our electorate, and most importantly, without ever being attacked.
that last point is particular to the just war tradition which jim never details, to the detriment of the chapter. such a meditation would have helped the chapter make the case (made in only 10 pages--one third of the chapter) for why as the title of the chapter says, 'not a just war.' one finishes the chapter still unsure if it was just politically dumb, a waste of lives and money, or a violation of some deeply held and traditioned way of thinking christianly about such things.
counting the costs of war is devastating, especially if the war was not necessary as he claims (i believe him), but *that* it was devastating (1500 US and Coalition soldiers dead, hundreds of thousands of iraqis dead, and many more thousands injured, vast destruction in iraq, and hundreds of billions of US taxpayer dollars burned up) does not make it immoral on just war terms. many viewed the fight against hitler devastating, but moral and even righteous in some sense as a mission to stop genocide.
one of the most compelling moments in the chapter that, to be truthful, doesn't fit in this chapter since it is not about the justness of the war, is the section 'who will sacrifice?' actually, i pray that we might be successful despite ourselves so that the vast sacrifices on all sides might bear fruit for justice and peace in iraq. tax payers have suffered, that is, except the rich who have benefited from highly preferential tax cuts during this same period. the committed soldiers and especially the national guard have suffered. and most of all, people in iraq have suffered. just today, a recently elected woman, sheikha lamea khaddouri, a member of the iraqi assembly, was shot and killed. the question of how willing the bush administration is to actually admit wrong and ask for forgiveness and attempt restitution seems beyond the pale of their reality.
the chapter ends in a weird way. so jim got to go with other religious leaders to meet with tony blair, and george bush didn't meet with them. tony blair went ahead with the war anyway, even if he was more willing to be publicly more theological in his deliberation and more collegial in doing that deliberation with clergy. stronger still would have been to return to the just war and pacificism traditions--as we are told in the beginning of the chapter, these are the only two traditions we christians have for thinking well about war.
ultimately, a chapter that had moments of flame, but spent lots of time sputtering instead of burning brightly. i'd also turn to oliver o'donovan's recent treatment on this topic.
anon, and +peace