Sleeve Notes 101: 08/21/2005 - 08/28/2005

Friday, August 26, 2005

Robertson Is Wrong...

...But So Are Most Of His Detractors
by Bill Barnwell

The worldwide press is having a field day with Pat Robertson’s recent suggestion that the United States ought to look into assassinating Venezuelan socialist ruler Hugo Chavez. Robertson, prominent Religious Right broadcaster and former Presidential candidate, clearly was not demonstrating the most virtuous judgments in making his statements. He is now taking a pounding from conservatives, liberals, and libertarians alike.

However, Robertson’s statements are much ado about nothing considering he is a non-player in American foreign policy and in terms of influence with most of the American public. Not only that, but those making the loudest noise about Robertson’s statement promoting assassination of a single man are the same people who support Bush’s war in Iraq that has killed close to 2,000 Americans, wounded thousands of others, and has killed or maimed many more Iraqi’s. If you’re having a hard time seeing the consistency of such moral outrage then join the club.

Apparently Robertson is a moral reprobate and has absurd judgment because he thinks it might be preferable to kill one man instead of killing many and spending billions of dollars on a full-blown war. But his conservative critics are bold and courageous heroes by trying to rid the world of "terrorism" by ironically spawning more terrorism and instability with their cowboyish drive to remake the Middle East in their own image through endless invasions (watch out, Iran).

Robertson’s folly is that ethically he is choosing the "lesser of two evils" rather than a more just solution. Chavez certainly is a nitpicking, far left-wing socialist and is not to be admired. He also is not the brightest man and is a terrible ruler. But just because Chavez is a big mouth critic of American and wants to ship his oil elsewhere doesn’t exactly make him a giant national security threat that needs to be imminently "taken out" as Robertson apparently believes.

The truth is that Chavez is just another big mouth thug. He can criticize the U.S all he wants, but the fact is right now his oil industry is dependant on U.S business. And if he wants to try and find other business, then his country has that right, just as we have the right as a buyer to find other sellers or find other ways to get the energy and supplies we need.

So why all the clamor over Robertson? He’s a private citizen who can say whatever he wants no matter how silly it is. Sure, as a minister, he should have used better judgment, but when exactly did he become so influential in swaying foreign policy or swaying the opinions of anyone on anything, save for a small segment of religious conservatives (the Religious Right itself is even split in its opinion of Robertson).

Let’s stop acting like it matters what Robertson thinks about foreign policy. What really matters is what George Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, and the rest of the War Party thinks about foreign policy, including every member of Congress who continues to support an indefinite involvement in Iraq. Let’s also extend that to every mainstream think-tank and magazine that puts its stamp of approval on our ill-advised Middle Eastern makeover.

If you’re going to pretend it’s "worth it" (in the immortal words of Madelyn Albright) to see a great deal of needless death and human suffering in Iraq, then think again before going off on Robertson. If you support the President of the United States ignoring every piece of evidence suggesting his foreign policy is faulty, then don’t scream about what a private citizen thinks who has no influence about such weighty matters of war and peace.

After all, what exactly is everyone expecting anyway? Are we really scared that Robertson’s words have now sparked some middle-aged white guy at home watching CBN to personally fly down to Venezuela in an attempt to assassinate Chavez and plunge South America into chaos? Come on.

Robertson is right though that a "lesser of two evils" approach is preferable to outright war. It certainly is preferable to kill one person instead of many and spend little money on an assassination instead of a blank check that ultimately ranges into the hundreds of billions for foreign wars and occupations. In fact, a system preferable to both Robertson’s and Bush’s would be to go back to the days of dueling, something that was practiced even in America’s early days. Then we could just let the heads of state go at it while the rest of us, our sons and daughters, and our pocketbooks, are left alone.

Instead, it is best to rebuke both the pro-assassination Robertson and the cheerleaders of pro-mass casualty Middle Eastern domination, but let’s be honest and recognize Robertson is nothing more than a side show in this whole affair. The real outrage belongs to those on the top. Too many want to have it both ways though. They want to condemn Robertson for his remarks and the "instability" it has caused U.S-South American relations, but give the administration a free pass on the real causalities and instability that have been caused since March of 2003 and which seem to have no end in sight. Only honest liberals and antiwar conservatives have been consistent on these issues from the beginning.

How about this: enough picking fights with leaders on every continent. Come up with a clear timetable to exit Iraq and let the Iraqi’s run their own affairs, even if that means they want to morph into some strange hybrid of a constitutional republic and an Islamic theocracy as they apparently want to do. Stop trying to drum up problems in Iran with the same sort of unsubstantiated nonsense we heard in 2002 about Iraq, and let’s stop inserting ourselves in this centuries long pillow fight over East Jerusalem. In sum, let’s work towards the "humble" type of foreign policy George Bush said he wanted in 1999 and 2000.

Where is George Washington when you need him?

August 25, 2005

Bill Barnwell is a pastor in Flushing, Michigan. He spent most of his undergraduate college career studying politics and government before feeling called to the ministry. He has completed a Master of Ministries degree and is currently working towards a Master of Arts in Theological Studies degree at Bethel College in Mishawka, Indiana.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Sacrificing Justice

I was reading today an article about a recent Dateline NBC program regarding the Ugandan Civil War, specifically the children of the war. Untold thousands of children in Northern Uganda have been, and continue to be abducted by rebel leader Joseph Kony and forced to fight for a cause they can't even comprehend. Many have had to face the horrible choice of killing or being killed. I read of one 13 year old boy who watched his father killed in front of he and his siblings and then witnessed his mother beaten within an inch of her life. He was then given the choice of killing his own mother or being killed himself, or worse.

For those who don't know, the Civil War in Uganda has been on-going for nearly 20 years and has produced over two million dead and over a million refugees. Joseph Kony has continued his fight with almost zero public support and as a result and taken to abducting 8, 9 and 10 year olds and forcing them to become his warriors. Often young girls are abducting and turned over to his captains and other high-ranking members of his army as sex slaves.

As I read about this war and the effects on the children, I read the story of a mother whose two daughters were abducted from an all girls boarding school. This mother, a humble mid-wife named Angelina, soon began to speak out around her neighborhood and village as only a mother can do. She become a voice for parents throughout Uganda who have had their children abducted, literally stolen away from them. Single-handedly, this woman began to raise the profile of the lost children of a war that most people don't even remember the cause of. Eventually Angelina was asked to speak before the United Nations thereby gaining even more attention for a cause that was deeply personal for her.

Joseph Kony began to hear stories about this woman with a big mouth. He secretly sent emmisaries to invite her to a clandestine sit-down. There he told Angelina that if she would mind her own business, she could have her daughters delivered to her safe and sound. One daughter, Charlotte had been given to one of Kony's commanders and had already given birth to two children. Angelina thought about those daughters she loved and then thought about the countless thousands of other parents who had lost their own daughters and sons. If she were to be quiet, she would have her daughters back in her arms. But that left a nagging thought. What of all the parents whose children would not be returned if she became quiet. Would the abductions continue? Angelina knew that it would and so, with a heavy heart, this mother of mothers declined their offer.

One day recently, Angelina received a call. A voice on the other end of the line said "we have your daughter." Charlotte had escaped with one of her children and now, at 22 years of age, she has added her voice to that of her mothers and is also working to bring about a change to her world. They are working for peace! A peace that many of Joseph Kony's fighters because of their age know absolutely nothing about.

As I read this article, and the amazing profile of this humble mid-wife, something she said struck me like a ton of bricks. It is so diametrically opposed to our Americanized way of thinking that I initially thought it to be the ramblings of a crazy person. Angelina talked about forgiveness, in fact, she talked about forgiving Joseph Kony the man who had taken away her own daughters and forced them to be the playthings of his soldiers. And then she said, "We are sacrificing justice for sustainable peace." This mother is tired of fighting! She wants peace and she realizes that the only way to effectively produce a peace that can be sustained is to forgive the man who nearly destroyed her life. And not just on a personal level, she is calling for the Ugandan government to implement an across the board forgiveness of this man.

For we Americans that just doesn's work. I know it as well as you do. We've been programmed to clamor for justice! "An eye for an eye!" "A tooth for a tooth!" We demand justice! And yet, this little woman who has suffered so much in her life might just be able to teach us a little something about leading a healthy, happy, fulfilled life even after we've been pushed down the trash shute of life and left to rot among the maggots.

As I've thought about this amazing woman, I am reminded that she is simply following the pattern laid out by God. God, as presented in the Bible, was a pretty mean, vengeful being desirous of justice. Wars were fought and many thousands slaughtered. A flood was sent to destroy the entire world. Justice was served! And yet, apparently God didn't feel very good about all the justice that was being served out and so, a plan was devised. Justice was sacrificed in the form of a baby born in a manger who would one day be nailed to a cross and buried in a borrowed grave on a hill outside of Jerusalem. Because of that sacrifice, because God let go of an obssessive need to see justice prevail, every person who walks on this earth has been given the opportunity to live in peace.

I've been thinking a lot lately about justice and about forgiveness. If I got all the justice I deserved for all the crap I've pulled, I would be a very sad individual. Instead, I've been offered an escape from justice. It's through forgiveness. In fact, it is only as I learn to forgive those in my life who have caused me so much pain, only by sacrificing justice, that I can experience true, sustainable peace.