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God's Politics

Jim WallisOK. I’m going to respond to some of the rants in the blog comments. Yes, I read them, and you know who you are. There are also some very insightful comments each week on our blog, but those are not the ones I’m talking about today. As I said, you know who you are.

Every time I write about Iraq some of you go crazy. Here are your arguments:

1. Wallis just hates Bush and that’s what’s really behind all this anti-war stuff.

Not true. I actually know Bush, have met with him several times, and found him quite personable. He even invited me and about 20 other religious leaders down to Austin before he came to Washington to discuss poverty and his idea for a faith-based initiative. At the time I was attacked by my left-flank and Democratic friends for meeting with him and, even worse, for being open to his new faith-based office in the White House (a friend of mine, John Dilulio, was the first director of the program). The best comment I got from the left was, “This thing might really work and we wouldn’t want to see that.” Such wonderful bipartisanship. I told the new President that partnerships between faith-based organizations and government can be a good thing (I still believe that) but he needed to adequately fund the program, not politicize the effort and, most importantly, lead with a well-thought out and well-funded domestic plan to reduce poverty. “Surprise the nation,” I told him, “Be a Republican who actually gets something done on poverty.” But he didn’t do that. As David Kuo’s new book pointed out and all of us who worked with the effort had seen—the Republicans shamelessly politicized the faith-based initiative, grossly under funded it, slashed and burned many effective programs for low-income families, and cut taxes on the richest Americans. I was very disappointed and criticized the failure of the program after a while, but even the White House told me they were always very appreciative of the fact that I never demonized Bush (I never hated him like Michael Moore seemed to), but just disagreed with him. Bush and I actually seemed to get along, and had several personal conversations around the edges of the meetings I attended. After one, he marched down from the podium, walked right up to me, grabbed my cheeks, and said, “Jim, How ya doin, how ya doin!?” I tell the story in God’s Politics about what I said after he let go of my cheeks. The press actually began asking me if Bush had a nickname for me yet, which he gave to people he liked.

But I’ve been kicked out of the last two White Houses—when, after being invited in to talk for the first couple of years, I started to criticize some of the administration’s policies. They both showed me the door, and there were no more invitations. With Bush, yes, it was Iraq.

So, I don’t hate Bush, but I do hate this war. I am very angry about this horrible, unnecessary, and stupid conflict that an evangelical mega-church pastor (and a friend of mine), calls “a senseless slaughter.” Our kids are being killed and maimed unnecessarily, Iraqis are dying in untold numbers, and the region and the world are much less safe because of this war.

And don’t start in about Saddam. I was against him when Washington treated him like a pal—guess who was the liason to the Butcher of Baghdad: Donald Rumsfeld. We helped Saddam in his war with Iran and even helped him target his use of WMD’s against Iranians (boy, do they not want that to get out). You remember the old American foreign policy adage, “He’s an S.O.B., but he’s our S.OB.”

I would have supported the disarming of Saddam of whatever weapons of mass destruction he had and removing him from power by exerting both internal and external pressure in a focused campaign, but not by bombing the children of Baghdad. Church leaders even put forward a “Six-Point Plan” aimed to accomplish those two goals that got a lot of traction just before the war started. The inspections were working! Saddam could have been isolated and perhaps even deposed in time. Instead, we went to war, found no WMD’s, showed massive incompetence combined with amazing arrogance (always a great mix), and threw the nation into chaos. Good job neocons! Here’s the facts: half of the country was against the war before it began and the vast majority of the rest of the world’s people were too—including a huge majority of British citizens (who watched in bewilderment while an otherwise pretty good prime minister ruined his career by going to war alongside Bush) and a vast majority of church bodies, church leaders, and church people—including evangelicals world-wide. I want to tell you that most people in the State Department were against it. They even brought me in to discuss the Six Point Plan just two weeks before the war, but nobody down the street was listening to them either.

2. Wallis is just against the war (because he hates Bush) but has no plan to get out.

I have been saying, over and over again, that this war was WRONG—from the very start. And I will continue to say that, because until we admit the war was just wrong, we will never find a way out. We are not winning, nor are we going to win in Iraq. We have already lost. We just made a very bad situation much worse, and have to just stop doing it some more. When a war is so wrong and so bad, there are not often any good solutions to be found. Let’s just say it—there are no longer and good solutions to the war in Iraq. There is only responsible withdrawal. Of course, it is a civil war, with factions that are far less committed to a unified nation than to their own tribe (read Tom Friedman), and no number of American troops can solve a political disaster with mostly military means. I did say “responsible withdrawal” so don’t give me any “cut and run” stuff—nobody is saying that. Unless the Iraqis change their behavior and unless far more international involvement is achieved, everything will just get worse and worse. I have suggested concrete things the U.S. should do to make more international engagement with establishing security and long-term stability in Iraq more possible:

1. The U.S. must announce it will retain no permanent military based in Iraq.
2. The U.S must give up any proprietary claim on Iraqi oil.
3. The U.S. must fund the reconstruction that our great damage makes us responsible for in Iraq, without control of the contracts and contractors.

The Baker/Hamilton report supports much of that, but the Bush Administration doesn’t. You want concrete? There it is. And let me just offer a little hint of something in the works—perhaps another six-point plan to get the U.S. out of Iraq, offered by the religious community. Stay tuned.

So there you have it. I don’t hate Bush but really hate this war. I’m not just against it, but have offered concrete ways to responsibly end this disaster—and more is on the way. So, with some of you, here is the real issue: When you talk about “victory” or “winning” in Iraq, or that your endless neocon wars against “Islamo-facism” are the best way to make my kids more safe … I JUST COMPLETELY DISAGREE WITH YOU.

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