In his July 20 commentary, James W. Skillen of the Center for Public
Justice struck a non-partisan note of honesty and
balance that I wish I heard more often.
He summarized the basic narrative of the Iraq War that both our
president and his party and many Democrats seem to share:
… first, America liberated Iraq from Saddam Hussein; second, we returned
sovereignty to the Iraqi people; third, sectarian violence tragically
increased; and now, in the fourth phase, we are “deploying
reinforcements and launching new operations to help Iraqis bring
security to their people.”
The elegant word Skillen chooses to describe this narrative is “delusional.”
U.S. forces did not liberate Iraq; they wiped out its
government, and the Bush administration then failed to exercise
American responsibility to govern the country so it could be rebuilt
and eventually governed by Iraqis themselves. We opened the floodgates
to chaos, civil war, the death or flight of tens of thousands of Iraqi
civilians, and a continuing influx of terrorists whom our ‘war’ was
supposed to destroy. That is not liberation.
He follows with a withering critique of both the “stay the course”
proposal of the executive branch and the quick withdrawal plans
increasingly popular in Congress. Both lines of reasoning, he says,
lay the blame for our dilemma on “the nearly powerless Iraqi
government for not climbing out fast enough from the hole we dug for
it.” We may well criticize the Iraqi government for taking a long
summer vacation in the midst of its crisis, but that doesn’t negate
our culpability for them being in this particular crisis in the first
He chooses another elegant word to describe a nation that creates a
crisis and then blames the victims for it: “immoral.”
Delusional and immoral are strong words. Whether you believe the
invasion was an ill-conceived and badly-planned mistake or you believe
that the invasion was justifiable
but the problems have been in the execution, either way, we’re in a
mess. We need a way out.
A friend of mine says that we’re only as sick as our reactivity. If
our reactivity to Sept. 11 played a part in getting us into this terrible
situation, we will not be well served by reacting to the status quo
with still more reactive behavior.
For those of us who supported the war, and for those of us who opposed
it but failed to stand up and speak up strongly enough, this is not a
time for reactive behavior. It’s an opportunity, as Senator Obama
recently said, to be as careful in planning our next steps as we were
careless in planning our steps in the past. With more foresight and
forethought, with less blame-gaming and partisanship and more
deliberate collaboration, we can take the next steps—whatever they
and less reactivity than we have employed so far. Voices like
Skillens’ can slow us down to indulge in second and third thoughts,
perhaps breaking the cycle of unwise and destructive reactivity into
which we have plunged the Iraqis and ourselves.
Brian McLaren (brianmclaren.net) serves as board chair for Sojourners/Call to Renewal. His next book, Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Hope, will be released in October.