Wednesday, February 28, 2007

"Physical and Mental Torture and Attempts to Coerce the Spirit"

Last night, I watched the incredibly depressing HBO documentary, Ghosts of Abu Ghraib, which traced to graphic torture witnessed in this prison to the clear and deliberate policies of the Bush administration: the abrogation the Geneva Conventions for whole classes of suspects; the ludicrously restrictive definition of torture as death or serious organ failure; the approval of ever more aggressive interrogation techniques; and the transfer of Gen. Miller, the architect of prisoner abuse at Guantanamo, to Abu Ghraib, which the specific instruction to bring his techniques with him. Another theme of the documentary was that a few low level grunts were scapegoated and locked up, while senior officials like Miller received promotions. Truly appalling.

But one comment struck me while watching. I do not even recall the name of the person who said it. This expert noted that, while many Americans refer to the acceptability of coercive interrogation techniques as "torture light", psychological torture is harder for victims to overcome. It scars them for life. It is for good reasons that the condemnation of torture in both Gaudium Et Spes and Veritatis Splendour refers specifically to "physical and mental torture and attempts to coerce the spirit". And this is intrinsically evil, meaning that they can never be justified either by intent or circumstance, because it deliberately violates the God given dignity and integrity (the intrinsic worth) of human beings. It's really that simple. Human beings are being used as a means to some end, such as the extraction of information.

Sadly, there are some Catholics who indeed try to defend torture by appealing to intent and circumstance. And the key mistake they make is in not treating psychological torture as equal to physical torture. As I've noted before, apologist Jimmy Akin makes this mistake when he defined torture as "the disproportionate infliction of pain". You can see the wiggle room already. If not disproportionate, then not torture, then not evil. This is not much different than Bush official John Yoo defining torture as "death, organ failure or the permanent impairment of a significant body function". Coming up with a quantitative definition always means that something falling just below the standard does not constitute torture. Obviously, psychological torture is not torture.

It gets worse. Akin argues that waterboarding may not constitute torture "if it is being used in a ticking time bomb scenario and there is no other, less painful way to save lives." Classic end-justifies-the-means consequentialism, made possible by his loophole. Another darling of the pro-torture crowd, Fr. Brian Harrison, also argued that torture may be valid in a ticking-bomb scenario as "the infliction of severe pain is not intrinsically evil" meaning that "its use in that type of scenario would not seem to be excluded.."

To see the bankruptcy of this mode of reasoning, look no further than Jose Padilla, locked up without charge or access to a lawyer for three and a half years, who is suffering from a severe post-traumatic stress disorder, and is by now a mental case. This is the result of so-called "torture light" as it did not involve "severe" or "disproportionate" pain. No, merely extreme sensory deprivation, extreme cold, stress positions. As one of his lawyers noted, he was treated like a piece of furniture. That's another way of saying his God-given human dignity was degraded. This is what torture is all about.

I will leave the last word with the martyr Oscar Romero:

"There is no dichotomy between man and God’s image.
Whoever tortures a human being,
whoever abuses a human being,
Whoever outrages a human being, abuses God’s image."

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

What Hope for the Future?

A number of survey results struck me lately.

First, narcissism had increased greatly over time. A psychological survey painted a picture of a younger generation with inflated senses of self who have "less interest in emotionally intimate bonds and can lash out when rejected or insulted." The personality study asked questions like: "If I ruled the world, it would be a better place," "I think I am a special person" and "I like to be the center of attention." Overall, the incidence of heightened narcissism increased by 30 percent since 1982.

Also, a the Pew Research Center published a survey about the attitudes of the current younger generation. More than two-thirds see their generation as "unique and distinct" and "getting rich" is the main goal in life. Looking across generations, 86 percent of the 18-25 years old viewed money as the key goal, as opposed to 62 percent of the 26-40 group. In terms of "becoming famous", the number skewed 51 percent to 29 percent. Also, large majorities believe that casual sex, binge drinking, illegal drug use and violence have increased over the past 20 years. Their heroes are often celebrities and sports stars.

What explains this? The psychological study points to a number of trends, including "permissive parenting, increased materialism and the fascination with celebrities". This sounds about right. What struck me most about the Pew study was the increasing acceptance of violence, a telling sign of the degradation of culture. And yet many conservatives, while pointing the figure at the culture, balk at this one. Part of the problem is surely the prevalence of the "gangster culture" in popular entertainment. But another part of it is the increasing glorification of the military, and the belief that violence solves problems. It's all entwined in a single problem, a very big problem.

What if Giuliani is Nominated?

Recent polls show that Rudy is the strong front runner on the Republican side; in the most stark one, he leads McCain by a whopping 51 percent to 21 percent. I suspect this will not hold, and it's very early in the game, but there is still a nontrivial probability that Rudy Giuliani will the Republican nominee for president. Now, there are many things that can be said about this. For now, I will confine myself to just one thought: how will Bill Donohue, Deal Hudson, and their allies on the Catholic right react to another pro-abortion Catholic candidate? Will they hound and harass as they did John Kerry? Will they demand his expulsion from the Communion line? Or will their true loyalty to all things Republican be exposed? For this will be a test of whether they are indeed more concerned with Catholic principles than partisan point scoring. This could be fun!

Sunday, February 25, 2007

John Courtney Murray and the Legal Recognition of Homosexual Unions

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), in 2003, issued a short document arguing against granting legal recognition to homosexual unions. In this entry, I propose to assess the arguments in this document in light of the ideas of John Courtney Murray S.J., a gifted theologian who inspired the Second Vatican Council's Declaration on Religious Freedom (Dignitatis Humanae).

Let's begin with the official Church position on marriage. The Catechism defines is as follows:
"The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by is nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring; this covenant between baptized persons has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament."
The CDF says the following:

"Marriage is not just any relationship between human beings. It was established by the Creator with its own nature, essential properties and purpose. No ideology can erase from the human spirit the certainty that marriage exists solely between a man and a woman, who by mutual personal gift, proper and exclusive to themselves, tend toward the communion of their persons. In this way, they mutually perfect each other, in order to cooperate with God in the procreation and upbringing of new human lives."
This core Church teaching on the nature of marriage is part of the deposit of revelation and hence will never change. A starting point for all debate in this area must be to affirm this basic truth. It is certainly a high standard. But does this necessary imply that the Church must always oppose unions that do not approach such a standard? This is murkier territory. And for homosexual unions at least, the CDF answers in the affirmative. But it is not so simple.

The document begins by noting that homosexual unions are in no way similar to, and cannot even remotely approximate, the Catholic definition of sacramental marriage. Recognizing that the civil law is more limited than the moral law, it nonetheless maintains that laws in favor of homosexual unions are contrary to right reason and should be opposed. Should the state promote homosexual marriage, therefore, it would fail in its duty "to promote and defend marriage as an institution essential to the common good." The document notes carefully the difference between the public and private sphere, arguing that legal recognition of homosexual marriage would bring about "changes to the entire organization of society, contrary to the common good." The public authorities need to safeguard public morality, and especially to "avoid exposing young people to erroneous ideas about sexuality and marriage." This is the argument, in a nutshell.

In a very different context, John Courtney Murray came up with a very different answer. The issue was contraception. Back in the 1960s, Cardinal Cushing of Boston asked Murray for advice on how the Church should respond to the legalization of artificial contraception (for a more detailed discussion of the endurance of Murray's thought, see excellent essays by Susan Stabile and Gregory Kalscheur, S.J.) Murray argued that the Church should not oppose the decriminalization of contraceptive devices, not because he believed contraception was not immoral. Rather, he argued from the same principles that inspired Dignitatis Humanae. His key point centered on the distinction between law and morality, and, more specifically, the difference between public and private morality. Following Aquinas, he noted that the purpose of law is not to enforce what is morally right and oppose what is morally wrong (some religious traditions do not make this distinction-- think of Saudi Arabia).

It follows that people should be granted as much freedom as possible, and that freedom should only be restricted when absolutely necessary. The coercive function of law should only come into play in narrow circumstances, and should focus exclusively on safeguarding "public peace, public morality, and justice". But what does "public morality" mean? The key is preserving the common good. Murray himself referred to commonly accepted moral standards, by which he meant far more than mere majority opinion. Rather, he was thinking of truths that sprung from the natural law itself. But not all matters of public morality are fitting subjects for the law, he argued, as people can only be coerced into obeying minimal standards. In that sense, coercive law should restrict itself serious cases, addressing threats that "seriously undermine the foundations of society or gravely threaten the moral life of the community". Matters of enforcement call for prudence. And the law should certainly never address mere private morality.

In the context of contraception, Murray argued that it was firmly in the domain of private morality. While it may have public consequences, these would be difficult to control by law, and anyway, using coercive law might backfire and cause other social ills. Murray also invoked the principle of religious freedom. He noted in particular that it would be difficult for Catholics to oppose it when many religious leaders saw it as morally right. Case closed.

Some have attempted to make the same arguments for abortion that Murray made for contraception. This does not quite work, as abortion is clearly a matter of public, not private morality. Indeed, Pope John Paul II dealt with this very subject in his encyclical Evangelium Vitae. The late pope follows Murray in noting that civil law is more restrictive than morality, and that the law should concern itself only with "ensuring the common good of people through the recognition and defence of their fundamental rights, and the promotion of peace and of public morality" (in this, he references Dignitatis Humanae). John Paul goes on to argue that the law must recognize and guarantee the "fundamental rights which innately belong to the person", chiefly, "the inviolable right to life of every innocent human being". Thus abortion (and euthanasia), by attacking the right to life, are in a completely different category, and toleration cannot be defended based on Murray's arguments.

But what about legal recognition of homosexual unions? Is the Murray argument valid in this case. I believe it may well be. Homosexual behavior is clearly a matter of private, rather than public morality. Legal recognition of homosexual unions does not rise to the standard defined by John Paul in Evangelium Vitae, as it clearly does not threaten a fundamental right. In this vein, conservative writer George Weigel noted clearly that contraception is a matter of "conjugal morality and the sixth commandment" while abortion is a matter of "public justice and the fifth commandment". But using this taxonomy, homosexuality is also dealt with in the Catechism under the auspices of chastity and the sixth commandment. It tilts towards the contraception, not the abortion, camp.

However, the CDF document is more nuanced. Since the recognition of homosexual unions would change the definition of marriage, an institution essential to the common good, it could be considered public morality (the document does not address this public-private distinction explicitly). But, delving deeper, the comparison with contraception still holds.

In the first instance, although relating to private behavior, the legalization of contraception had implications for public morality, implications that some would call grave. It directly fostered more liberal attitudes to sex, and led to an enormous change in outlook. The CDF worries about homosexual unions encouraging "erroneous ideas" about sexuality and marriage-- the exact same charge can be leveled against artificial contraception. Even worse, the change in attitudes had an impact on abortion. It is by now a well-established argument that the legalization of contraception was the first step in a chain that led directly to legalized abortion. So, in a sense, the effects on public morality from legalized contraception were far worse than would be the case from recognizing homosexual unions. And yet Murray's argument still holds sway.

And what about marriage itself? As noted above, the Catholic approach to marriage, the sacramental approach, is a serous one. The vast majority of secular marriages probably would not pass muster with the Church. More and more, people do not see marriage as a lifelong commitment. Divorce is rampant, as serial monogamy becomes almost the norm. And yet the Church does not oppose legal divorce, while refusing to acknowledge its validity. This is a classic Murray position. The precarious state of civil marriage goes far beyond easy access to divorce. In many places, extended cohabitation has effectively replaced marriage as an institution. And the institution itself is often belittled. To take an extreme case, think of Britney Spears's alcohol-induced 48-hour Las Vegas marriage. A joke, right? And yet this marriage came with all the legal rights and responsibilities of every marriage. So, given the current state of the civil institution, it is hard to see how legal recognition of homosexual unions could do any more damage. To put it bluntly, if one is concerned about the "foundations of society" being undermined by what is happening to marriage-- they already are!

Even if the legal recognition of homosexual unions has consequences for public morality, there is a case, again appealing to the thought of Murray, for adopting a minimalist approach. Remember, Murray maintained that coercive law should be restricted to "relatively minimal standards of public morality" which would be affected by prudential calculations. In this light, a key question would be whether continued resistance to homosexual unions would be effective. Would it lead to even less respect for the institution of marriage? It is highly likely that a strategy of withholding any form of legal recognition would backfire in such a manner. Remember, the younger generation is the generation most likely to favor homosexual rights. Even though morality is not gauged by the will of the majority, the impact of this very real and growing "commonly accepted moral standard" will inevitably hamper any efforts to deny legal rights for homosexual unions. And remember, there is no fundamental right under attack (as would be the case with abortion) that would preclude acceptance of a civil law that the Church deemed not in full accord with the moral law.

So where do we end up? Let's hark back to Murray. He always started from the position that the role of law should be strictly limited, especially in the context of guiding moral action. So, as Gregory Kalscheur notes, "if society wishes to elevate and maintain moral standards above this minimal level of social necessity, it must look to institutions other than the law." Murray believed staunchly in the role of subsidiary mediating institutions, including the Church. There is a key lesson here. For as the Church continues to draw a hard line against tolerating secular homosexual unions, it is neglecting its own teaching role in the domain of marriage. By emphasizing the negative effects of a changes in the secular domain, it is blurring the clear distinction between the sacrament and civil marriage. It is even possible to argue that making peace with homosexual unions (at least civil unions that do not call themselves "marriage") provides the Church with the breathing space to draw a firmer line between what it sees as authentic marriage, and the very different secular norm. It would be free to point out the deficiencies of heterosexual marriages too. And, as secular and Catholic marriage diverge, the Church would be in a better position to restrict Catholic marriage to those who willing embrace its sacramental elements, and reject those who simply desire a Church wedding for good photos. And this would be a positive side effect...

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Restoring Moral Authority in America

Human Rights Watch has come up with 10 steps:

(1) Restore Habeas Corpus
(2) Stop Renditions to Torture
(3) Abolish Secret Prisons
(4) Hold Abusers Accountable
(5) Hold Fair Trials (don't allow evidence based on torture)
(6) Prohibit Abusive Interrogations (they mean torture)
(7) Close Guantánamo Bay
(8) Respect the Laws of War
(9) Protect Victims of Persecution From Being Defined As Terrorists
(10) End Indefinite Detention Without Charge

Going through this list, you can see the evil fruits of the Bush administration, and they are many.

Friday, February 23, 2007

More Double Standards

I recently talked about double standards in reporting political news-- in particular, the fact that Democrats are held to a vastly higher standard. From Bill Clinton's haircut to Nancy Pelosi's plane, there is simply no equivalent on the Republican side. And now we have a story about a major Republican donor (Abdul Tawala Ibn Ali Alishtari) being indicted for providing material support to terrorists. And the GOP is refusing to return the money.

This story is not getting any play. CNN and MSNBC mentioned it just once, while the others (Fox News, ABC, CBS, and NBC) failed to note it at all. Just ask yourself a simple question: if an alleged terrorist financier was a major donor to the Democratic party, don't you think the media would be up in arms? Can you even imagine the fall out?

Archbishop Myers Makes Sense

As I noted recently, if the Catholic blogosphere is any guide, the leading moral issue of the day is allowing pro-abortion politicians like John Kerry and Nancy Pelosi, despite the fact that Donald Wuerl of Wahington DC and the vast majority of his brother bishops refuse to instiute such a ban. Now Archbishop John Myers of Newark says similar things (in an interview with John Allen):
"Myers told NCR on Feb. 22 that he has 'no intention' of announcing communion bans against candidates in the 2008 presidential elections, a position he expects the 'vast majority' of other American bishops to adopt as well. Myers said debates over communion should not be restricted to politicians. 'Anyone should live their professional lives in accord with Catholic teaching,' he said. 'People should be honest. If they’re struggling with one or another point, that’s one thing. But if over a spectrum of issues they are not in agreement with the church, they should withhold themselves from communion.' As for formal bans, Myers said that while he 'may have some sympathy' for the instinct behind such moves, he won’t do it himself, and regards them as 'practically impossible to enforce.'.... That doesn’t mean, he said, there aren’t obvious cases where some action would be required. 'If someone is running an abortion clinic, that’s fairly clear,' he said, in terms of when he might be inclined to withhold communion. Beyond such clear-cut situations, he said, 'I doubt that we would be able to find consensus' as to where to draw the line.'"
This is interesting, as Myers is a member of Opus Dei, and regarded as one of the more conservative Americanishops. He was also one of the first to raise the issue when he issued a letter back in 1990 stating that Catholics holding pro-abortion positions should not receive Communion.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Barack Bush?

The time has come. The Republican National Committee has put out its talking points on the major Democratic presidential candidates. Have a look, it's quite comical: the titles seem taken directly from a Saturday Night Live parody!

But here's one that struck me: Barack Obama can be summed up as "An Inexperienced, Insulated, Arrogant, Unabashed Liberal". Now, take away the word liberal, and who does this remind you of? Hint: one of the sub-headings is "Righteous And Cocky Obama Builds His Bubble". Staggering.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Torture and 24

Is 24 simply a harmless TV show, or is there an insidious element to it? A recent article in the New Yorker by Jane Mayer suggests the latter. She notes the rise of torture on 24, how it nearly always works, and how the military loves the show. Before the 9/11 attacks, there were fewer than four acts of torture seen on prime-time TV each year, all by villains. Now, the number has risen to over a hundred, and it's the heroes of the show who torture people. The danger is that people will become desensitized to torture, much as they are to gun violence.

In 24, the justification for torture is nearly always the fabled "ticking bomb scenario", whereby the hero needs to torture the person to obtain timely information to save lives. And the idea that this is a valid justification is implicit in 24. The right-wing creator of the show gives the game away when he asks:
“Isn’t it obvious that if there was a nuke in New York City that was about to blow—or any other city in this country—that, even if you were going to go to jail, it would be the right thing to do?”
Well, no, actually it would not, that would be naked consequentialism, the end justifying the means, doing evil so that good may come of it. Funnily, as Mayer points out, the exact same justification was given to the French public during the Algerian war to provide "French liberals a more palatable rationale for torture that..racist explanations". The exact same holds true for defenders of the Bush administration and goes along way to explain both the popularity of 24 and the fact that there has not as yet been an honest open debate on Bush's torture policies in the United States.

Chillingly, the agents on 24 use some of the same "interrogation methods" (or as Bush prefers to call them, "an alternative set of procedures") that the United States has employed on terrorist suspects in real life. Nobody on the show argues that torture does not work. Mayer notes that 24 may even be affecting behavior:

"However, it had become increasingly hard to convince some cadets that America had to respect the rule of law and human rights, even when terrorists did not. One reason for the growing resistance, ... was misperceptions spread by '24,' which was exceptionally popular with his students. .. “The kids see it, and say, ‘If torture is wrong, what about '24'?’ ' He continued, 'The disturbing thing is that although
torture may cause Jack Bauer some angst, it is always the patriotic thing to do.'"

'Although reports of abuses by U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, have angered much of the world, the response of Americans has been more tepid. Finnegan attributes the fact that 'we are generally more comfortable and more accepting of this,' in part, to the popularity of '24,' which has a weekly audience of fifteen million viewers, and has reached millions more through DVD sales. The third expert at the meeting was Tony Lagouranis, a former Army interrogator in the war in Iraq. He told the show’s staff that DVDs of shows such as '24' circulate widely among soldiers stationed in Iraq. Lagouranis said to me, 'People watch the shows, and then walk into the interrogation booths and do the same things they’ve just seen.' He recalled that some men he had worked with in Iraq watched a television program in which a suspect was forced to hear tortured screams from a neighboring cell; the men later tried to persuade their Iraqi translator to act the part of a torture 'victim,' in a similar intimidation ploy. Lagouranis intervened: such scenarios constitute psychological torture.

'In Iraq, I never saw pain produce intelligence,' Lagouranis told me. 'I
worked with someone who used waterboarding”—an interrogation method involving
the repeated near-drowning of a suspect. “I used severe hypothermia, dogs, and
sleep deprivation. I saw suspects after soldiers had gone into their homes and broken their bones, or made them sit on a Humvee’s hot exhaust pipes until they got third-degree burns. Nothing happened.' Some people, he said, 'gave confessions. But they just told us what we already knew. It never opened up a stream of new information.” If anything, he said, 'physical pain can strengthen the resolve to clam up.'
Part of this can be blamed on the media, as it continues to merge news with entertainment. In such an environment, it is no wonder that 24 is seen as a role model for real life behavior. But the real culprit is the evil policies of the Bush administration, who with their supporters continue to defend torture. Mostly, they do so for consequentialist means. But sometimes, through the veneer of the security excuse, the sadistic streak comes out. Mayer quotes right-wing pundit Laura Ingraham saying that while she was undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer, “it was soothing to see Jack Bauer torture these terrorists, and I felt better". Sick. But then again, when you engage in evil, and use the One Ring, do not be surprised if it corrupts absolutely.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

America and Gun Violence

CNN is reporting another depressing gun violence story this morning, about a teenager who opened fire on a crowd in Utah. Here we go again. Of course, the NRA and their Republican lackeys will tell you that the wide prevalence of guns had absolutely nothing to do with this. Let's look at some international gun violence statistics, from a 1998 study by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Gun-related deaths per 100,000 people:
U.S.A. 14.24
Brazil 12.95
Mexico 12.69
Argentina 8.93
Finland 6.46
Switzerland 5.31
France 5.15
Canada 4.31
Norway 3.82
Austria 3.70
Portugal 3.20
Israel 2.91
Belgium 2.90
Australia 2.65
Italy 2.44
New Zealand 2.38
Denmark 2.09
Sweden 1.92
Greece 1.29
Germany 1.24
Ireland 0.97
Spain 0.78
Netherlands 0.70
Scotland 0.54
England and Wales 0.41
Taiwan 0.37
Singapore 0.21
Hong Kong 0.14
South Korea 0.12
Japan 0.05

The United States leads the pack, by a long shot. And anybody who claims this has nothing to do with the prevalence of guns is simply not living in the "reality-based community". For there is a deeper problem, a glorification of militarism and violence that poisons the culture. Yes, many conservatives are right to talk about casual violence in movies, video games, and music. But they fail to see the same phenomenon in the glorification of the military, and the increasing militarization of everyday life. Criticism of the military is becoming more and more beyond the pale. Garry Wills recently decried the increasing use of the term "commander in chief" and a synonym for ''president".

Just look at popular culture. Children from the earliest ages become desensitized to gun deaths. The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) has made a deal with the devil, coming down harshly on all realistic portrayals of sex, so that the industry can make money from violence marketed to teenage boys. And even the Superbowl portrays football players in militaristic terms. Sadly, until the United States comes to terms with the cult of violence, these deaths will not abate.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Time to Revisit Donohue's Partisanship

True, despite the best attempts of the liberal blogosphere to say otherwise, the John Edwards blogger fiasco (see here and here) has precious little to do with our old friend Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League. But, given all the attention, I thought it was about time to revisit some of Donohue's inflammatory rhetoric. Donohue is an easy target: see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. In this post, though, I will confine my comments to Donohue's vastly different standards he applies to Democrats and Republicans on the subject of religion.

First, Bill really likes George Bush. Donohue actually entitled a 2003 press release "Is Bush too Holy to be President?" and claim that his opponents "put words in his mouth and then denounce him for saying what he never said." In 2004, he comes out with the fantastic statement that "most observers, regardless of their political bent, agree that President George W. Bush seems at home with his Christianity". And after Bush's 2004 victory, Donohue proclaimed that "most Americans appreciate and admire President George W. Bush for his strong religious convictions". Elsewhere Donohue quotes approvingly Bob Woodward's claim that Bush "prayed for the strength to do the Lord's will" before the Iraq war. Donohue also presented a number of anti-Bush quotes as evidence that "we need to build more asylums".

Second, Bill really does not like John Kerry. For when it comes to religion, Bush is religious, Kerry is a phony. So when Kerry talks about religion (such as when he stated the Catholic belief that both faith and good deeds are required for salvation) he is denounced as a hypocrite, and insincere. Donohue is disgusted by Kerry trying to defend his religiosity, asking "whether Kerry is playing politics with his religion". To Kerry, "religion is an enigma". Donohue even feels the need to list friends of Kerry's who claim he is not religious. Contrast with the fawning treatment of Bush.

There's more. How about both candidates' attempts at religious outreach? Special venom is reserved for Kerry's people. Donohue claimed that the resume of one (Mara Vanderslice) is "that of a person looking for a job working for Fidel Castro", while another (Brenda Peterson) is lambasted for opposing "under God" in the pledge of allegiance. Contrast this with his now infamous defense of Bush's Catholic liaison, Deal Hudson. After allegations that Hudson abused his authority as a Fordham professor by taking one of his female students, a disturbed 18-year old, to a bar, proceeding to get her drunk before engaging in sexual relations, Donohue blamed the victim, decrying the allegations of a "drunken female he met in a bar." Even by Donohue's standard, this was low.

And then there is the Bob Jones incident. During the 2000 election, Donohue accepted Bush's apology for speaking there, claiming that the issue was now settled. He talked about Christian forgiveness. He then went on to accuse John McCain of "demagoguery" and of playing the "politics of fear" for raising Bob Jones's anti-Catholic and racist background. And others who kept raising the issue were engaging in a "smear tactic" for "political profit". Later, when John Ashcroft received an honorary degree from Bob Jones, and was criticized, Donohue leaped to his defense, calling it "much ado about nothing" and declaring that Ashcroft was right to attack his opponent for raising the issue. So much for speaking out against anti-Catholicism.

Contrast this with the Catholics for a Free Choice incident. Donohue hounded Terry McAuliffe for listing this organization under the "Catholic" banner on the DNC website. And in this case, Donohue actually had a point. But when McAuliffe caved, how did Donohue react? You might guess something along the lines of "settling the matter" and "Christian forgiveness", along the lines of Bush at Bob Jones? You'd guess wrong. His actual statement? "We will not congratulate the DNC for doing the right thing... this victory is oh, so sweet." Nice.

And how about the Justice Sunday incident? Here, Donohue faced allegations that some of his evangelical allies included those who branded Catholicism a false religion. Perfect fodder for the president of the Catholic League? Alas, wrong again. Donohue not only defends his friends, but attacks phantom left-wing critics: it's the "fat-cat, left-wing bigots like George Soros who concern us" whereas "Dobson is our friend."

No, on all issues, Donohue is a partisan conservative Republican in a deep alliance with the evangelical right. Just look at the policy issues he focuses on: aside from abortion and gay marriage, he spends an inordinate amount of time discussing such core Catholic issues as the public display of the Ten Commandments, the pledge of allegiance, and school vouchers. Bill also has views on other topics too. How about the allegation that Republicans favor tax cuts for the rich? "The greedy want to keep the money they've earned; those who want to take it from us are the altruists". What about the Iraq war? Here, he claimed, falsely, that Pope John Paul never said that there was "no legal or moral justification for the war". And he angrily denounced those who "exploited" the pope's position while not respecting "his teaching on all subjects".

So, there you are, Bill Donohue in a nutshell.

More on Edwards' Whopping Mistake

So, Edwards refuses to fire Amanda Marcotte, a blogger who has viciously mocked Catholic beliefs in the past (see the previous post) after she issues a mealy-mouthed non-apology. And it seems that massive pressure from left-wing bloggers, outraged that Edwards would cave to the likes of Bill Donohue, saved their jobs. What the liberal bloggers fail to understand is that the only people outraged here are not merely conservative blowhards, but Catholics in general, including those closer to the Democratic end of the spectrum. Eduardo Peñalver over at Commonweal gets it just right, when he notes:
"Look, I can understand that we shouldn't let Donohue set the agenda for our discussion, but it makes no sense to take the reactionary stance that if a charge comes from a hypocritical thug like Donohue that it has no merit whatsoever and is not worthy of discussion. You can admit that the blog posts in question gratuitously evinced overt hostility to Catholics, and were therefore at least problematic for someone attached to a presidential campaign in a communications capacity, without crediting Donohue's idiocy. Reacting as the liberal blogosphere has, by simply closing ranks and denying that there is anything wrong with defaming the religious symbols of the largest (and most Democratic) Christian constituency in the country simply feeds into the stereotypes that keeps people like Donohue in business."
But does anybody see this? A few bloggers do, as noted by Penalver. Nancy Scola from MyDD asks if "we [have] made the Democratic tent big enough to welcome religious activists without constantly snickering behind their backs?". And the influential Huffington Post fronts a piece by Melinda Henneberger noting that Marcotte's comments are harmful to liberal Catholics as well, as evidenced by Commonweal's reaction. She draws attention to a comment at the Commonweal blog noting that "Marcotte's comments were viciously anti-Catholic. The fact that many on the left failed to realize that explains very clearly why the GOP (a party that violates Catholic social theory over 90 percent of the time) seems to attract legions of Catholics." Who wrote that last comment? Why, a commentator named Morning's Minion!

But these observations are few and far between. The liberal blogsophere is content to stand by Edwards and downplay any sense of offense, secure that its honor has been maintained. Is the liberal blogosphere so trapped in its own self-congratulatory and narcissistic worldview that it fails to see the harm done? Is the loathing of Catholicism so great that they are quite happy to see a natural constituency enter the arms of the Republicans rather than show them a modicum of respect? This issue goes way beyond Donohue. It even goes way beyond Edwards. It gets right to the heart of how many on the secular left regard religion.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

The Key Problem: American Exceptionalism

I've talked a lot about how views of American exceptionalism, often underpinned by Calvinism, shape much of Bush's foreign policy. Now, William Pfaff has penned an excellent essay on this very topic in the New York Review of Books.

He states the problem up front:

"The Bush administration defends its pursuit of this unlikely goal by means of internationally illegal, unilateralist, and preemptive attacks on other countries, accompanied by arbitrary imprisonments and the practice of torture, and by making the claim that the United States possesses an exceptional status among nations that confers upon it special international responsibilities, and exceptional privileges in meeting those responsibilities."
And this can be traced directly to the Calvinist religious dissenters who formed the early New England colonies. Pfaff does not engage the theology directly. Clearly, the early settlers saw America as favored by God, much as ancient Israel had been in Old Testament times. God formed a covenant with the Puritans, again following the Old Testament example. They viewed themselves as the "elect", those chosen by God to be saved through no action of their own. And America was their country. Puritan settler John Winthrop gave perhaps the clearest example of this theology in his famous city-on-a-hill speech in 1630 (that was later appropriated by Ronald Reagan):

"For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us. So that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken ... we shall be made a story and a by-word throughout the world. We shall open the mouths of enemies to speak evil of the ways of God ... We shall shame the faces of many of God's worthy servants, and cause their prayers to be turned into curses upon us til we be consumed out of the good land whither we are going."
This mentality guided the "manifest destiny" and frontier expansion, but Pfaff argues that it was pretty harmless until the 20th century. Then Woodrow Wilson stepped onto the stage. Wilson, the son of a Calvinist minister, believed that the United States had been chosen by God to show "the way to the nations of the world how they shall walk in the paths of liberty." Pfaff notes that Wilson's far-reaching approach to "self-determination" complicated Europe's pre-existing problems, leading to ethnic and territorial grievances that would ultimately be exploited by the fascists. During the Cold War, Eisenhower's secretary of state was John Foster Dulles, a firm Calvinist (and Presbyterian elder). The notion of the United States as a providential nation really became ingrained under Dulles, after Wilson's false start. And Bush fit right in, dividing the world into the good and the bad, embracing American exceptionalism on steroids, and trying to remodel the world under the tutelage of the United States.

Interestingly, the Wilson-Dulles-Bush ideology is eerily similar to Marxism. This is hardly surprising given its roots, as many have interpreted Marxist determinism as secularized Calvinism. History is moving inexorably in one direction, and the role of America is to nudge it along. In Bush's version, the impediment is radical Islam intent on restoring an oppressive caliphate. Just wipe the mess out of the way, and the preordained plan will play out.

But history does not move in a linear deterministic fashion as the Marxists predict. By ignoring the consequences of their actions, the Dulles-Bush strategy has been an unmitigated disaster. Just look at Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, Palestine. More generally:

"America's so-called war against terrorism has not saved its allies from violence. The terrorist problem is generally seen in Europe as one of domestic social order and immigrant integration—a matter for political treatment and police precautions— related to a religious and political crisis inside contemporary Islamic culture that is unsusceptible to foreign remedy. Few leaders outside the United States, other than Tony Blair, consider the terrorist threat a global conspiracy of those "who hate freedom"—a puerile formulation—or think the existing militarized response to it a success. The positive results have been meager, and the negative consequences in relations with Muslim countries have been disastrous. The US approach has become perceived as a war against Islamic "nationalism"—a reaffirmation of cultural as well as political identity (and separatism)—which like most nationalisms has thrown up terrorist fighting organizations."
There is, of course, a better approach, one that eschews American exceptionalism. Pfaff lauds George Kennan's approach to the Cold War, that of containing communist powers and staying patient until their internal contradictions undermined them. This is the approach he recommends, an approach that actually thought about the consequences, shunning ideology, emphasizing "pragmatic and empirical judgment" and always paying attention to history. It would be based on minimal interference in other countries, and working resolutely through international organizations. Military action would be a last resort, a sign of political failure. [see my post on the wrong lessons from World War II for similar points]

Pfaff dares to imagine an alternative history, had this path been tried:

"Had a noninterventionist policy been followed in the 1960s, there would have been no American war in Indochina. The struggle there would have been recognized as nationalist in motivation, unsusceptible to solution by foreigners, and inherently limited in its international consequences, whatever they might be—as has proved to be the case. The United States would never have been defeated, its army demoralized, or its students radicalized. There would have been no American invasion of Cambodia, which precipitated the Khmer Rouge genocide. The tribal peoples of Laos would probably have been spared their ordeal.

The United States would not have suffered its catastrophic implication in what was
essentially a domestic crisis in Iran in 1979, which still poisons Near and Middle Eastern affairs, since there would never have been the huge and provocative American investment in the Shah's regime as American "gendarme" in the region, compromising the Shah and contributing to the fundamentalist backlash against his secularizing modernization."
Importantly, the United States would not be stuck in Iraq today, just as it was stuck in Vietnam three decades ago. And it most certainly would not be thinking of starting a war with Iran, where the consequences in terms of regional stability and fallout would be utterly disastrous. It would not have tilted so heavily toward Israel over the years, as the Israel will only ever have true security upon the resolution of the Palestinian political question. Pfaff notes that 40 years of American misguided involvement "served mainly to allow the Israelis to avoid facing facts, contributing to the radicalization in Islamic society".

In conclusion, much of the American zeal for military solutions arises from an ingrained ideology that can be traced back to Calvinist notions of American exceptionalism. It ignores messy consequences and contexts, because it believes in a linear deterministic view of history. Unfortunately, this is wrong. The mistakes in Vietnam are being replayed in Iraq. And Bush and Cheney now want to march into Iran...

What role for the military solution? In line with recent Vatican thinking, Pfaff makes a case for "humanitarian intervention" under the auspices of the United Nations. There is no double standard, as he notes correctly that "an interventionist foreign policy in which the US aggressively interferes in other states in order to shape their affairs according to American interest or ideology is not the same as responding to atrocious public crimes." Extracting Charles Taylor from Liberia is an example of a successful intervention. Kosovo, Rwanda, and Darfur are clearly more complicated, requiring careful thought. But one thing is for sure: Clinton's actions in Kosovo are in no way similar to Bush's in Iraq. And we need to understand why.

Why the Double Standard?

While I stand by my post yesterday that John Edward's new blogger has written some viciously anti-Catholic stuff, some have raised the issue of double standards. I'm talking about the media reaction in particular. Whenever a Democrat is associated with malicious speech, all hell breaks loose. And yet Republicans are frequently held to lower standards.

Take John McCain. He recently hired a man called Terry Nelson, whose illustrious career includes the racist ad against Harold Ford, participation in Delay's corruption and money laundering, jamming phones in New Hampshire to hinder the Democrat's get-out-the-vote endeavor, and working with the Swift Boat liars. And yet McCain is still the media darling.

Or what about the right-wing bloggers and pundits that support Republicans? A group of such pundits who recently met Bush included: (i) Sean Hannity ("making sure Nancy Pelosi doesn’t become the speaker is worth dying for"; (ii) Neal Boortz (Islam is a deadly virus); (iii) Laura Ingraham (Sens. Biden and Boxer are on the side of Kim Jong Il); (iv) Mike Gallagher (called on the government to “round up” several left-leaning voices, including Keith Olbermann, label them “traitors,” and have them sent to detention camps); (iv) Michael Medved (Islam has “a special violence problem.”) [Thanks to Carpetbagger Report for the detailed list]

And this is nothing new. Ann Coulter makes all kinds incendiary remarks (such as attacking 9/11 widows), and remains a media favorite. Bill O'Reilly says that it would be fine for Al Qaeda to blow up San Francisco. No consequences. Rush Limbaugh defends torture by saying that the torturers were having a good time, and needed an emotional release. He calls Barack Obama a "Halfrican American" and makes fun of Michael J. Fox's disability. He regularly equates Democrats and terrorists and still claims that Vince Foster was murdered. And of course, Robertson and Falwell blame Americans for 9/11, and get away with it.

And yet whenever a left-wing pundit makes a similar, or even a far less offensive, statement, the knives are out. But this is no surprise: generating fake outrage and stirring up anger is one of the right's main weapons. No, the problem is that the mainstream media laps this stuff up.

And the same policy holds when it comes to minor stuff. Recently, the media is hawking stories about Nancy Pelosi demanding a luxury plane (it turns out she merely wants a plane that can reach her district, which is quite a bit further away than Dennis Hastert's), and the size of John Edwards' house. Why do we never hear these stories about Republicans? The last six years shows that Republicans can get away with all manners of nefarious behavior, from corruption, money laundering, stamping down on dissent, filling vacancies with political hacks... but this rarely gets traction. Suddenly, the Democrats are back, and it's Clinton's hair cut all over again.

Edwards' wealth is the biggest joke of all, as if Bush and Cheney are men of modest means! Of course, we never hear tales of how they acquired their wealth in the first place, do we?

More Shameful US Behavior

57 countries signed a United Nations convention banning governments from holding people in secret detention. The convention focuses on the arrest, detention or kidnapping of a person by state agents followed by denials about the detention or location of the individual.

But the United States refused to sign, claiming that the convention "did not meet [its] expectations." I guess it is still too attached to its Maher Arar-style renditions policy, and its secret CIA prisons.

Contrast this with the attitude of the pope, who, in his World Day of Peace address noted that the United Nations is charged with protecting human rights, and the 1948 Universal Declaration embodies those rights, which are "not simply on the decisions of the assembly that approved them, but on man's very nature and his inalienable dignity as a person created by God."

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Anti-Catholicism: The Last Acceptable Prejudice?

This story is doing the rounds today. John Edwards hired a blogger named Amanda Marcotte. It turns out that Marcotte has written some pretty nasty things about Catholicism in the past, and now Edwards is being called to account.

Who is criticizing Edwards? Well, our old friends William Donohue of the Catholic League, and Kathryn Lopez of the National Review (yes, the pro-torture publication). And who is defending him? An array of left-leaning bloggers, including Steve Benen, who downplayed it as a storm in a teacup, a story about bloggers "who’ve written a few posts conservatives consider shrill". But it's not quite so simple. Here is a sample of Marcotte's writing:

"Q: What if Mary had taken Plan B after the Lord filled her with his hot, white, sticky Holy Spirit?A: You’d have to justify your misogyny with another ancient mythology."

"There’s a pragmatic reason that the Vatican might be a little hesitant to come right out and say that there’s no limbo is because the concept is wielded by everyday Catholics to explain where the souls of unborn babies go, which is just an extra way to guilt trip women who have abortions."

"He can’t help it; he’s just a dictator like that. Hey, fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly, the Pope’s gotta tell women who give birth to stillborns that their babies are cast into Satan’s maw."

This goes far beyond honest disagreement with certain Catholic teachings. This insults and mocks core religious beliefs. Ask yourself: if the author had said similar things about Judaism, or Islam, or Buddhism, would the response have been so muted?

This is merely the latest manifestation of the old nativist anti-Catholic prejudice that has always been present in American culture (either manifest or latent). Catholicism is foreign, disloyal, anti-Democratic, passionate, irrational, rigid, an oppressive institution where priests tell people what to think. Throw in the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition, and there you have it-- a classic American blend of anti-Catholicism!

As I noted recently, much of the right's stance against Mexican immigration can be explained by this very anti-Catholicism. It just so happens that in this instance it appears on the left. But this is not so peculiar. During the McCarthyite 1950s, and again in the lead up to the Iraq war, free speech was deemed less important than demonstrating loyalty to the national cause. The left adopted similar tactics to harass and censor those who deviated from "politically-correct" speech codes in various places in the 1980s and 1990s. The witch hunt has a long tradition in American popular culture, and it can rear its ugly head just as easily on the left as on the right. And the Catholic Church has always been the chief candidate for a witch hunt (how else do you explain the reaction to the sex scandal, with new allegations arising in the media every half hour or so?).

Until Edwards and the Democrats figure this out, the Republicans will continue to attract Catholics. And, as you know, I do not view this as a favorable outcome.

The National Review Embarrasses Itself..... Again

Who is Charles Stimson? He is the deputy assistant secretary of defense of detainee affairs, who caused such a furore lately when he suggested that companies should boycott law firms that engage in pro bono work for Guantanamo detainees. This is outrageous on so many levels. Let's start with the facts that (i) a high percentage, perhaps the majority, of the 500-odd men now held at Guantanamo were not captured on any battlefield; (ii) fewer than 20 percent of the Guantanamo detainees have ever been Qaeda members; (iii) many, perhaps hundreds, of the detainees were not even Taliban foot soldiers, let alone Qaeda terrorists; they were innocent, wrongly seized noncombatants; (iv) the majority were not captured by U.S. forces but rather handed over by reward-seeking Pakistanis and Afghan warlords. And of course, these men have been locked up for years with charge. Some have been tortured, and others are there based on the testimony of other under torture. Lawyers who represent these guys for free should be given a medal, not criticized.

But, of course, the National Review sees things otherwise (from Andrew Sullivan and The Plank).

Exhibit 1: Mark Levin: "There is nothing unethical about Stimson's comments. In fact, he was serving a public interest by shining a light on those law firms that are representing the enemy."

Exhibit 2: Mark Steyn: "..the constitution is not a suicide note, at a time of war the American legal system should not be a slow-motion instrument of surrender. To upgrade every enemy combatant to a defendant is unprecedented and unwise.... the world frets about whether they’re getting sufficient multivitamins and excoriates any US official insufficiently deferential to the vast legal support network which no previous nation at war would ever have dreamed of according detainees."

Exhibit 3: Andrew McCarthy: "Stimson was talking about attorneys who've flocked to Gitmo — attorneys who, to fulfill no requirement and overlooking countless more worthy indigents, choose to contribute their skills to an enemy seeking to kill our troops and destroy our country. We don't stop those attorneys from doing it, but it is common sense that the branch of government charged with defeating this enemy should object to those volunteering to help the enemy use of our courts as a weapon of war against us."

Of course, not too surprising from the National Review, an outfit that recently defended Pinochet on consequentialist grounds, defended waterbaording, and lambasted John McCain's desire to "'preserve' our Geneva obligations." while defending Bush's torture program. Outrageous.

Vatican: Stop Glorifying Violence

At a time when Bush proposes major increases in military spending, the Vatican warns that such militarism is not the answer. Many on the American right are only too willing to embrace violence as the first, rather than the last, resort, failing to comprehend that violence backfires more often than not (the famous disproportionate consequences). In fact, the latter core component of the just war principles is constantly ignored by the war party, with their simple one-dimensional, almost deterministic, view of the world. So much so in fact, that I would argue that they actually reject the actual principle itself, rather than its to specific circumstances.

As reported by Rocco Palmo, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican observer at the UN outpost in Geneva, echoed Pope Benedict recently when he said that tackling underlying economic injustice was a precondition for achieving true peace. Also important is "stopping a revived arms race and the proliferation of a variety of weapons [and] rejecting the glorification of violence in the media." He lambasted the "culture of conflict", or the idea that clashes are unavoidable and that war is natural. Yes, the American right needs to pay more attention to what the Vatican is saying. On practically every foreign policy issue since the last Pope Benedict (during the first world war), it has been right.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Anti-Immigration? It's the Catholicism, Stupid!

Recently, I noted that the American right's paranoia about immigration has everything to do with culture. Some facts stand out: 63% of white evangelicals view immigrants as a "threat to U.S. customs and values", and 90 percent of the Family Research Council's membership favor deportation of illegal immigrants. Evangelicals have managed to deftly fuse national identity with religion.

Which brings us to Catholicism, which, by its very definition, is universal. And indeed, if you scratch a little below the surface of the anti-immigration movement, you will find vestiges of the old anti-Catholicism still lurking. The anti-Catholicism that doomed the presidential ambitions of Al Smith, and almost derailed John Kennedy. Of course, modern evangelicals play down these differences, because of their strategic deal with the Catholic right (see here for how Neuhaus misinterprets this alliance). But sometimes, the truth just seeps out. Via Andrew Sullivan, discredited evangelical pastor Ted Haggard had this to say:

"And the nations dominated by Catholicism look back. They don't tend to create our greatest entrepreneurs, inventors, research and development. Typically, Catholic nations aren't shooting people into space. Protestantism, though, always looks to the future. A typical kid raised in Protestantism dreams about the future. A typical kid raised in Catholicism values and relishes the past, the saints, the history. That is one of the changes that is happening in America. In America the descendants of the Protestants, the Puritan descendants, we want to create a better future, and our speakers say that sort of thing. But with the influx of people from Mexico, they don't tend to be the ones that go to universities and become our research-and-development people. And so in that way I see a little clash of civilizations."
Notice the build up. He firsts talks about how Protestant countries are so superior to Catholic ones. And then he brings in the unwashed Mexican masses. Catholic Mexican masses. Yes, it's all about the culture. Are you listening, Neuhaus?

Pro-Life Backlash?

I've talked before (more than once!) about the hypocrisy embodying much of the modern pro-life movement, how its view of Catholic social teaching is deliberately blinkered, making it more palatable the evangelicals, and also making it quite clear that the ultimate objective is to vote Republican. Now, via Rocco Palmo, comes news of a Catholic Accountability Project, with the following statement by its spokesperson:
"As a lifelong member of the Catholic Church who could reasonably be considered a traditional, anti-abortion, pro-life Catholic with nine children and eighteen grandchildren, I find the "Pro-Life" Movement and march on Washington increasingly troublesome. The uneasiness is with the ever more glaring hypocrisy of its leadership and that of the Catholic hierarchy.

The resounding silence of the "Pro-Life" camp, the Catholic Bishops and clergy in the face of daily horrendous violence in Iraq, Lebanon, and Palestine is a scandal beyond
belief. Massacre of innocent civilians, women and children, use of cluster bombs to kill, dismember and mutilate, and now even torture, continue without a murmur of protest or discernible concern."
The statement points the finger clearly at the close relationship between the main pro-life organizations (such as the National Right to Life Committee) and the Southern (sorry, Republican) Party. Kind of obvious, isn't it?

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Zbigniew Brzezinski Makes Buckets of Sense

Zbigniew Brzezinski delivered an outstanding statement on the Iraq war and regional tensions at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing today. His opener is simply the best description of the current situation in Iraq I have seen to date:

"The war in Iraq is a historic, strategic, and moral calamity. Undertaken under false assumptions, it is undermining America's global legitimacy. Its collateral civilian casualties as well as some abuses are tarnishing America's moral credentials. Driven by Manichean impulses and imperial hubris, it is intensifying regional instability."
And he warns:

"If the United States continues to be bogged down in a protracted bloody involvement in Iraq, the final destination on this downhill track is likely to be a head-on conflict with Iran and with much of the world of Islam at large."
He provides a perfect antidote to the ever-increasing drumbeat on the right about the need to confront Iran and radical Islam everywhere in the context of the "global war on terror". For the increasing shrill rhetoric about Iran's nefariousness is eerily similar to the picture painted about Iraq a few years ago. Is this a case of deja vu? Brzezinski:

"A mythical historical narrative to justify the case for such a protracted and potentially expanding war is already being articulated. Initially justified by
false claims about WMD's in Iraq, the war is now being redefined as the "decisive ideological struggle" of our time, reminiscent of the earlier collisions with Nazism and Stalinism. In that context, Islamist extremism and al Qaeda are presented as the equivalents of the threat posed by Nazi Germany and then Soviet Russia, and 9/11 as the equivalent of the Pearl Harbor attack which precipitated America's involvement in World War II.

This simplistic and demagogic narrative overlooks the fact that Nazism was based on the military power of the industrially most advanced European state; and that Stalinism was able to mobilize not only the resources of the victorious and militarily
powerful Soviet Union but also had worldwide appeal through its Marxist doctrine. In contrast, most Muslims are not embracing Islamic fundamentalism; al Qaeda is an isolated fundamentalist Islamist aberration; most Iraqis are engaged in strife because the American occupation of Iraq destroyed the Iraqi state; while Iran -- though gaining in regional influence -- is itself politically divided, economically and militarily weak. To argue that America is already at war in the region with a wider slamic threat, of which Iran is the epicenter, is to promote a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Deplorably, the Administration's foreign policy in the Middle East region has lately relied almost entirely on such sloganeering. Vague and inflammatory talk about "a
new strategic context" which is based on "clarity" and which prompts "the birth
pangs of a new Middle East" is breeding intensifying anti-Americanism and is increasing the danger of a long-term collision between the United States and the
Islamic world. .... One should note here also that practically no country in the world shares the Manichean delusions that the Administration so passionately articulates. The result is growing political isolation of, and pervasive popular antagonism toward he U.S. global posture."
He's right, of course. The Malkinesque right is indeed Manichean. It is often influenced by a derivative Calvinism that paints the world into the saved and the damned, the good and the evildoors, and damns the latter. Hence this group will latch onto any incident of Islamic extremism, making it seem like every Muslim shares these views, and keep shouting about how our entire civilization is at stake. Clowns like Dinesh D'Souza blame western culture. What these people fail to understand that citizens of the Middle East hate American foreign policy, and its intentions in the region, either real or perceived. They most certainly do not wish to live under a Taliban-style regime. And sure, there are some pathologies in the culture of the Islamic Middle East (such as the glorification of suicide bombing, a grave evil) but these pathologies do not call for a maximalist, and ultimately counterproductive, response.

So, what should the United States do right now? Brzezinski answers in a number of ways. First, withdraw from Iraq. Ambiguity about departure only maintains the current stalemate and unwillingness to compromise and negotiate. Moreover, since the role of the United States is viewed with suspicion in the region, only a quick withdrawal will alleviate such concerns. Second, talks with the Iraqis, against the backdrop of withdrawal. Third, dialogue at the regional level. And fourth, the United States should push forward on the Israel-Palestine issue, the source of much of the ill will toward the United States in the region. Brzezinski is a voice of sanity crying out in the wilderness!

The 90 Percent Doctrine

The title of Ron Suskind's The One Percent Doctrine refers to a philosophy that supposedly guides Dick Cheney-- if there is even a one percent chance of something with potential catastrophic consequences (such as the terrorists getting their hands on a nuclear weapon), this should be treated as if it were certain. Well, take global warming. There is more than a 1 percent chance that global warming is man-made, with potential catastrophic consequences. In fact, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)--representing the scientific consensus)-- there is at least a 90 percent chance that global warming is man-made. This is a stronger position than it took in 2001, representing a hardening consensus.

And yet, many right-wing Catholics-- wedded to both individualistic materialism and secular nationalism-- simply don't want to hear about this. I've talked about this before, here and here. They will dismiss concerns as mere "prudential judgment", and feel qualified to question the IPCC and the scientific consensus. But what exactly is prudential judgment? It does not mean "something I can willingly ignore because it does not fit my with secular ideology". No, it means "the application of Catholic doctrine to changing concrete circumstances." And according to this new consensus, there is a 90 percent probability that "changing concrete circumstances" are leading to man-made global warming at an alarming rate.

Remember, this could be the ultimate moral issue. And discounting the welfare of future generations for the comfort of those alive today is an exercise in the crudest utilitarianism.