Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Frank Schaeffer lectures Both Sides on ISIS

Frank Schaeffer knows a lot about Christianity, Christian fundamentalism and the Christian Right and its politics, his father having been a key figure in the latter.

When it comes to politics generally, and to the politics of war more particularly, he seems to have pretty much conventional, MSNBC-Obama-loyalist views. And his knowledge of Islam lags considerably behind his knowledge of Christianity.

In American Liberals and Conservatives Created ISIS Together Deal With It 09/08/2014 at his Patheos blog, he indulges a bit of both-sides-do-it-ism over the latest Greatest Threat We've Ever Faced, ISIS.

He provides a series of paired lessons for Each Side. Like this:

Liberals can't get their minds around the fact that we needed Saddam Hussein, Muammar [Gaddafi] and Bashar al-Assad they were doing us a favor by keeping brutal order

Conservatives can't get their minds around the fact that American military power is creating wars and that we'll never "win" another war
The first is kind of fair; the humanitarian hawks among Democratic liberals were often lacking in realism about the role those unsavory leaders have played in keeping order in a way that benefited the US.

And it's true that conservatives tend to indulge in magical thinking when it comes to the abilities of the US military to achieve political results in wars. And they also tend to be excessively gullible about military claims of winning and winning and winning. But the idea that ""we'll never 'win' another war" doesn't exactly make sense. A war like the first Gulf War of 1991 could occur again, in which the US military faced a conventional army occupying a foreign country that didn't want to be occupied.

On the whole, his criticism of conservative limitations comes off stronger. That may be because he's concentrated on countering the Christian Right political and religious ideology and is more deeply familiar with their thinking.

Even so, I wonder about a line like this, "Conservatives can't get their minds around the fact that they are responsible for undermining President Obama at every turn thus weakening our country at a critical time." Actually, the Republican strategy of "undermining President Obama at every turn" has been explicit and conscious. Certainly among Republican officeholders, activists and conservative commentators, they understand that's what's happening.

And the "weakening our country at a critical time" is Joe Liebermanesque bathos. And in the matter of military action against ISIS, there doesn't seem to be any "weakening" when it comes to cheering for military action. Polls show wide support for it, even though that will very likely prove to be thin.

And there seems to be a bipartisan consensus in the Congress for Obama's plans, though we can expect the Republicans to complain constantly that it's inadequate. As Robert Hunter writes, "Much of what challenges us today [in the Middle East] derives directly from the misbegotten US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, which we blundered into willy-nilly, with intense support from an unthinking commentariat. Well, these chickens have come home to roost and have caused the hen house to overflow." (Obama's Speech on ISIS: The Big Picture LobeLog Foreign Policy) 09/10/2014)

That situation is replaying itself with ISIS. And the commentariat is, if anything, more vapid that in 2002-3. (Eric Boehlert, How Lazy "Optics" Chatter Replaced Beltway Analysis Media Matters 09/09/2014)

But Schaeffer's advice to liberals on the topic is generally pretty thin.

Liberals can’t get their minds around the fact that radical Islam is evil
I'm not at all sure what Schaeffer puts under the umbrella of "radical Islam." Especially since in the same post he conflates Wahhabism with violent Salafism of the al-Qa'ida/ISIS type. In the conclusion, he also makes the fanciful claim, "The Saudis have been the source of all global radical Islam." Except for, you know, all the Egyptians, Pakistanis, Afghans and others who helped develop it. And there was that US-sponsored guerilla war in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union that spawned the al-Qa'ida version of violent Salafism.

Conservatives tend to hate Muslims, radical or otherwise, and to cheer indiscriminately for war against them. Many of the same conservation conflate The Libruls with whoever else they hate. So we frequently see conservative complaints about how the evil libruls admire Islamic terrorists.

But this is spacy white-guy ditsiness. How pro-democracy, pro-religious freedom, pro-women's rights liberals would find a way to admire even mild political Islam, like that of the current ruling party in Turkey, much less loony theocrats like Osama bin Laden, has always been a puzzle to me. More to the point, you don't find the webpages of The Nation or The American Prospect or Think Progress filled with admiring tribues to "radical Islam." We're lucky if we get liberals analyses that make realistic distinctions between Islamist groups and clear-headed assessments of the actual challenges they propose.

Do any of the talking heads on MSNBC see ISIS as not-evil? I don't watch the channel much, so I can't speak from my own observations. But I would be very surprised if that were so.

If only foreign policy were as easy as picking the Evil Ones to be the Other Side to the American Exceptionally good Our Side!

President Harry Truman declared in a speech in 1951 meant to rally Americans to support what we now call the Cold War against the officially atheist Soviet Union, with the hot war in Korea under way:

[O]ur nation is engaged in a great effort to maintain justice and peace in the world. An essential feature of this effort is our program to build up the defenses of our country.

There has never been a greater cause. There has never been a cause which had a stronger moral claim on all of us.

We are defending the religious principles upon which our Nation and our whole way of life are founded. We are defending the right to worship God - each as he sees fit according to his own conscience. We are defending the right to follow the precepts and the example which God has set for us. We are defending the right of people to gather together, all across our land, in churches such as this one.

For the danger that threatens us in the world today is utterly and totally opposed to all these things. The international Communist movement is based on a fierce and terrible fanaticism. It denies the existence of God and, wherever it can, it stamps out the worship of God. [my emphasis] (quoted by Andrew Preston, Sword of the Spirit, Shield of Faith: Religion in American War and Diplomacy, 2012)
Today's humanitarian hawks are hardly the first to invoke sharp contrasts of good and evil, of righteousness and sin, in favor of Our Side and against the Other Side.

Substitute "radical Islam" for "the international Communist movement" and, in the last sentence, "Christianity" for "God," and this could be from a boilerplate speech in today's War of Terrorism.

Unfortunately, being the American Exceptionally Good Side doesn't make the allies we're supporting in the Non-War War on ISIS Exceptionally Good themselves. Those include, to some degree: the Iraqi government, the Kurdish Peshmerga, Iran, the Shia Badr Army in Iraq, the Syrian government, the Free Syrian Army, Lebanese Hizbullah, Turkey. Not all of them play nice. (See, for instance: Isabel Coles, Iraq's Shi'ite militia, Kurds use U.S. air strikes to further own agendas Reuters 09/09/2014)

Juan Cole writes in 3 Years War? Obama to Bomb Syria in fight against ISIL Informed Comment 09/10/2014:

In other reports, Obama officials have leaked that they think this is a 3 years war. (Ronald Reagan began vastly increasing the aid to Afghan rebels against the then Communist government in Kabul in 1982, and US counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency in that country is still going on in 2014, 32 years later; so three years have a way of becoming multiplied by 10). ...

At the same time, Obama appears to envisage arming and training the “moderates” of the Free Syrian Army, who have consistently been pushed to the margins by al-Qaeda offshoots and affiliates. Private billionaires in the Gulf will continue to support ISIL or its rival, Jabhat al-Nusra (the Succor Front, which has pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda). Strengthening yet another guerrilla group will, again, likely prolong the fighting. Moreover, in the past two years, Free Syrian Army moderate groups have gone radical and joined Nusrah or ISIL at an alarming rate. Defectors or defeated groups from the FSA will take their skills and arms with them into the al-Qaeda offshoots.
Sadly, when it comes to the real-world fight against ISIS, the boundaries of Good and Evil aren't quite so clear as Frank Schaeffer's simplistic formula might suggest.

And when Schaeffer gets into a peroration like this in his conclusion, he's just indulging hysteria: "ISIS is establishing a world-threatening caliphate from the Mediterranean to the Indian border ... and maybe beyond. They also have supporters in nuclear-armed Pakistan. They also will send radicalized Americans back ready to kill us here."

ISIS controls a stretch of discontented, sparsely populated desert in Syria and Iraq thanks to its cooperation with Sunni tribes. But anyone who thinks it's "establishing a world-threatening caliphate from the Mediterranean to the Indian border" just needs to get a grip.

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