The Revolution is Not a Dinner Party

It's Just Lunch....or IS IT??

Friday, January 21, 2005

Bush's Speech: Cheapening God and Elevating Terror

“For a half a century, America defended our own freedom by standing watch on distant borders. After the shipwreck of communism came years of relative quiet, years of repose, years of sabbatical. And then there came a day of fire. We have seen our vulnerability and we have seen its deepest source. For as long as whole regions of the world simmer in resentment and tyranny prone to ideologies that feed hatred and excuse murder, violence will gather and multiply in destructive power, and cross the most defended borders, and raise a mortal threat.”

- There’s certainly nothing new here. But, as a codification of the dogma of Bush, it is still worth thinking about. Obviously the millenialist reading of 20th century history is troubling. But, the sad fact is that too many people in America today lead nasty, brutish, and short lives. These people (and their slave-drivers) are Bush’s polity. That they take refuge in the opiate of the masses is hardly surprising and it should not be surprising that Bush finds himself peddling the opium. That their particular opiate revolves around an intense yearning for the end of the world might reflect nothing more than the extreme intensity of the nastiness, brutishness, and shortness of their lives. Furthermore, the failures of liberal policies to actual do anything about the quality of these people’s lives cannot escape blame.

- What I find much more troubling is the duelist undertones- the idea of abstract (independent?) forces of freedom and anti-freedom battling out the End of Days here on mortal earth. On a practical level, this is completely nonsensical and predicated entirely on the concept of “them hating our freedom.” I’ve never once heard a Bush apparatchik explain the mechanism whereby people “simmering in resentment and tyranny” are driven to attack the symbols of freedom that they presumably yearn so dearly for. Furthermore, I’m not sure if it is philosophically coherent to force freedom on anyone. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve never taken this president’s words at face value (that would be like listening to god’s parrot’s shadow). But, here the rhetoric itself is dangerous. Establishing Osama et al as a necessary and intrinsic counterpart to our society and our freedom does more to legitimate terror than a thousand poorly worded fatwah’s. If I understand the “thought” behind the speech it would seem to be that as long as 1) we have freedom 2) other people don’t 3) Osama will happen. Now, I understand that the conclusion in Bush-world is that this is justification to go out and make everyone free. However, this is practically (we don’t care about un-free people in Sub-Saharan Africa, and we care too much about freedom-hating oppressors in places like Pakistan and Uzbekistan) and philosophically (see above) impossible. He’s actually legitimating our enemies, bringing them up to the level of geopolitical necessity, w/o an end in sight.

- The reason why Bush et al would do this, I think, has everything to do with the end of the Cold War. The wall falling threw our entire foreign policy establishment in flux. It would be as if the NFL suddenly required all players to wear ice skates and replaced the football with a frisbee. No one knew what to do. The simple fact is that its easier to wage foreign policy against an enemy than against a bunch of friends. In fact, the 1990s saw a real (arguably necessary) degradation of U.S. economic power vis-à-vis international treaties and the regionalization of international trade and finance. Fast forward to 9/12/01. The only lens by which our current foreign policy establishment had to deal with the new threat was the Cold War. The main ideological divide between scholars during the Cold War was on the relative merits of containment. Containment’s proponents argue that it worked. Its detractors say we were lucky. By historical accident (and a politicized Supreme Court), containment's detractors were sitting in power as a new threat manifested itself. Arguably, the best solution to 9/11 would have been to marginalize Osama et al and embrace the peace-loving family-oriented middle ground of most people in the Arab world (contain the threat). In a sad coincidence, political expediency and bad scholarship coincided to eschew this path and go on an all out offensive. The problem with this path, obviously, is that it creates more enemies than friends. Furthermore, the threat itself was never as serious as Soviet Russia. So now, we are left with an administration in the awkward position of elevating a weak threat that should have been contained because the current administration is philosophically opposed to containment in any form.

“We will persistently clarify the choice before every ruler and every nation: The moral choice between oppression, which is always wrong, and freedom, which is eternally right.”

“We go forward with complete confidence in the eventual triumph of freedom. Not because history runs on the wheels of inevitability; it is human choices that move events. Not because we consider ourselves a chosen nation; God moves and chooses as He wills. We have confidence because freedom is the permanent hope of mankind, the hunger in dark places, the longing of the soul. When our Founders declared a new order of the ages, when soldiers died in wave upon wave for a union based on liberty, when citizens marched in peaceful outrage under the banner Freedom Now they were acting on an ancient hope that is meant to be fulfilled. History has an ebb and flow of justice, but history also has a visible direction, set by liberty and the Author of Liberty.”

[note: there are many other oblique references to God in the speech, you can check out the whole speech here]

- Can God be all-powerful and NOT mysterious? The God of Bush’s speech is inexorably wound up in the practical day-to-day of this badly malfunctioning earth. She is the Author of Liberty, the guide of history, and the moral weight behind our country. This is hardly a new conception of God. But, responsible people who invoke God in this way have almost categorically (across all religions) invoked the idea that God is mysterious and we cannot definitively know what He wants. Absent this, God becomes merely a reflection of the will of historically and currently powerful people. Such a God is no God at all, merely an instrument of tyranny. Using God to justify the will of the powerful is not new, but it remains loathsome and it cheapens the faith of truly religious people everywhere.


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