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The Republican victory of November 4 was a summary dismissal of the Obama agenda by the American people. From runaway deficit spending, to the health care disaster that is Obamacare, to a rudderless, bumbling, reactionary foreign policy, Americans overwhelmingly voted against this administration, but will there be a new direction? And does a new direction include new wars?
That is a poignant question that Pat Buchanan asks, and with good reason. No matter who wins the elections, there is a perennial element that seeks to engage in wars. Our first President, George Washington, warned Americans about the dangers of foreign entanglements in his farewell address. President Eisenhower, in his farewell address, warned Americans about the dangers of the military-industrial complex.
On September 10, 2001, President Bush’s biggest headache was the menacing recession in the wake of the dot-com bust, but 8:45AM on September 11, 2001, his priorities radically changed.
While sending armed forces after the parties responsible for the attacks is perfectly legitimate—although Congress did not formally declare war, its Constitutional responsibility—since when did the mission of America’s military become one of nation-building?
We toppled the Taliban within weeks, but have spent the last 13 years in Afghanistan, attempting to establish a first-world government, rooted in a Christian understanding of law and justice, among an Islamic people with an 8th-century mindset.
Whereas the Soviet Union wasted a decade trying to impose communism on Afghanistan, President Bush, emboldened by his cadre of neoconservatives, took on the mission of imposing a Jefferson-Franklin style Constitutional republic on a people having no Christian consensus to make it work. To date, 2,347 Americans have died in Afghanistan.
In 2003, Bush, again with a vision drawn by the likes of neocons—Perle, Wolfowitz, Abrams, and Rice—embarked on an elective war in Iraq, a nation carved out in the aftermath of World War I. While Saddam Hussein toppled in short order, we created a power vacuum that violent Islamic factions quickly filled. By 2005, Sunnis and Shiites were engaged in open civil war, long after we declared an end to “major hostilities”. Ultimately, 4,491 Americans died in Iraq.
The removal of military forces from Iraq, as well as our support of Syrian rebels battling Syrian President Bashar Assad, have given birth to a menacing new Islamic group—the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)–which has overrun most of Iraq. Today, Iraq is struggling to survive the onslaught of ISIS, whereas the Taliban controls Afghanistan just as they did on September 10, 2001. President Obama, who marketed himself as an anti-war President in 2008, has now committed more than 3,000 “military advisors” to Iraq to combat ISIS.
The Middle East is worse-off today than on September 10, 2001. And much of the blame for this rests firmly on the backs of Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
Against this backdrop, Buchanan rightly questions the wisdom of the neocons who from their foxholes in US think tanks promote military action against Iran and increased saber-rattling with Russia.
Whatever his faults, Russian President Vladimir Putin is exerting the same influence in his region that the United States has influenced in her hemisphere. If Europeans consider Putin a threat, then they can take it up with him; it’s none of our concern. War with Russia is about the worst idea on the table: two nuclear powers engaging in the very escalated conflict that we won by avoiding in the Cold War. To paraphrase Clancy (Red Storm Rising), neither side can win, but both sides can lose.
As for Iran, while the Islamic regime is not friendly toward the United States, their having nuclear weapons would hardly be without precedent in that region, as India, Pakistan, Russia, and Israel—each within a stone’s throw of Iran—are nuclear powers. Nor would a nuclear Iran be the only country hostile to the United States to have such weapons, as North Korea has them, and Pakistan and Russia, at best, are “frienemies”. And while Khameini and Rouhani are hardly the stable, pro-Western leaders we would prefer in Iran, they are perfectly rational compared to the Kim regime in North Korea.
For all their noise, Iran is not a viable threat to the security of the United States. If they are a threat to Israel, then Israel can fight them. It is hardly our job to fight Israel’s wars. To suggest otherwise has no Biblical precedent. The church must decide “who” or “what” is Israel – real estate or a person/people.
As ugly as the Cold War was, our victory was possible in no small part due to President Reagan’s ability to pick his battles wisely.
Reagan held a hard line, even as he welcomed Russian President Gorbachev to the table. Reagan built a military capable of defending our borders without engaging in unwise brinkmanship with our enemies. In the aftermath of the Marine barracks bombing in 1983, Reagan wisely chose not to become entangled in the bottomless pit of war in the Middle East. Instead, he focused on the real threat: the Soviet Union.
On January 20, 1989, President Reagan left office with a Cold War victory, and with a Middle East that was no worse than when he took office. He did not allow hawks of the day to draw him into endless wars.
Just as Americans dismissed the Obama agenda on November 4, they must also dismiss the corrosive agenda of the neocons.
They have cost Americans more in lives and dollars than the September 11 hijackers.
Against this backdrop, Buchanan rightly questions the wisdom of the Neocons who from their foxholes in US think tanks promote military action against Iran and increased saber-rattling with Russia. He cites in particular the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, whose leaders were given generous space to promote their war-mongering in the Wall Street Journal. The Foundation is highly funded by a small billionaires club who would buy U.S. foreign policy to start a preemptive nuclear war against Iran and Syria. Who are these billionaires? Buchanan names Home Depot’s Bernard Marcus who gave $10.7 million, hedge fund billionaire Paul Singer who gave $3.6 million, and Sheldon Adelson, the Vegas-Macau casino kingpin, who gave $1.5 million to the foundation. It is naive indeed to believe that making the whole world a democracy will solve centuries of violence and hatred that are inbred in Middle East dictatorships. But when you put that many millions behind it, the idea gains traction no matter how ill conceived.
In the early 1980s—during the Cold War–the military wanted Christians, and aggressively pursued them. Recruiting magazines would profile outstanding Airman, Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines, many of them Christians.
Christians answered the call in droves. They would enroll in West Point, Annapolis, and Colorado Springs. They would attend college with ROTC scholarships. They would join the ranks of the Rangers and Special Forces and Reconnaissance Marines. They would become infantrymen, tank commanders, fighter pilots, bomber pilots, cargo pilots, and parajumpers. They would ascend the ranks and transform the United States armed forces—the morale of which was in tatters in the wake of Vietnam—into the Cold War force that beat the Communists.
That is not today’s military.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the once Christian-friendly military began to push the Christian aside. The staunch conservative Reagan had given way to a more pragmatic Bush, who would give way to the draft-evading social engineer that was Clinton.
A military that, for over two hundred years, refused to send women into combat began contemplating exactly that. A military that, for over two hundred years, had found homosexuality to be incompatible with military service, was forced to enact a “Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell” policy as a compromise to Clinton’s desire to allow to gays openly serve in the military.
A military that once openly courted Christians became increasingly hostile to them, first in a passive-aggressive manner, then just plain aggressive. First, it was packaged as a crackdown on “proselytizing”. The argument was, “No one is forcing you to recant your faith; you just need to keep it to yourself.”
Now, caving to the harassment of the American Humanist Association, the United States Air Force enlistees are no longer required to say, “so help me God” in their enlistment oaths. This is no surprise being that the federal courts have become hostile to the Judeo-Christian bedrock that has served as our basis for law and justice.
Sadly, the military is the one institution for which the sobriety and severity of service and obligation cannot be understated. Whereas our Founders pledged life, fortune, and sacred honor, our military delivered that in blood.
Whereas bureaucrats obsess over policies that cost much and mean little, a military officer must make life and death decisions in combat. At his order, men and women will fight, if necessary, to the death. If a situation becomes sufficiently dire, he may order them to “stand and die”, refusing them the option of retreating. If an officer loses men in combat, he never completely returns home.
“So help me God” provides a stunning reminder of the high honor and responsibility of a Soldier, Sailor, Airman, or Marine. “So help me God” implies accountability to an authority greater than any court of Man.
While the military is not, and has never been, a monastery, our military leaders have long understood the importance of the Christian foundation of our society, and the place of the military in upholding those high ideals, even as servicemen at times fall short of them. This is why General George Washington gave thanks to God in victory; this is why Col. Henry Mucci—addressing the Rangers of the 6th Ranger Battalion prior to the Cabanatuan POW rescue mission—insisted, “One more thing, there will be no Atheists on this trip.”
To take God out of the oath of enlistment undermines those fundamental ideals and reduces the accountability of servicemen at a time when they need more of it.
The United States is at a critical juncture. Benjamin Franklin, once said, “A Republic, if you can keep it,” we are well on our way to giving up that Republic. While Franklin was no evangelical Christian, he, like John Adams, respected the influence of the Christian in matters of law and justice, as well as public discourse.
There are so many aspects of American life that are rooted in Christianity: the work ethic; the equality of persons before the law; free exchange of goods and services; the premise that, no matter your past, you can live a reformed life and gain both property and respect; even charity; all of these are rooted in Christian doctrine.
When a society dismisses God, then the worst becomes possible, as this welcomes an insidious pluralism that invites a new era of barbarism.
A military that dismisses God neither upholds the ideals that made America a great country, nor reflects the values to which Americans should aspire, and in fact openly courts the very elements antithetical to the values and virtues that made American exceptional and won the Cold War.
It’s Winter in America.
The latest generation to reach adulthood has often been criticized for being lazy, selfish and, in general, lacking any sense of a moral compass. Many of the critics turn to our country’s straying from Christian principles as the cause for this, and that very well may be the case. But it goes much deeper than that.
It seems that when critics of Christianity worked valiantly to eradicate all traces of the religion that led our country to be a global super power from public schools, workplaces, and government offices, they inadvertently removed all morality along with it. And it appears that morality actually plays a role beyond the confines of church.
The New York Times recently ran an Op-Ed titled, The Mental Virtues, where author, David Brooks, lays out the moral values necessary to be a person of character in boring old workplaces across the country: love of learning, courage, firmness, humility, autonomy, and generosity.
According to Brooks these characteristics are what separate the everyday heroes from the schlumps who think they don’t matter and their choices don’t matter either. As the article points out heroes aren’t just soldiers on the battle field, but can be anyone who possesses the values and actions of a hero. Intellectual virtues are attainable and needed in every school, office building and government complex.
“In fact, the mind is embedded in human nature, and very often thinking well means pushing against the grain of our nature — against vanity, against laziness, against the desire for certainty, against the desire to avoid painful truths. Good thinking isn’t just adopting the right technique. It’s a moral enterprise and requires good character, the ability to go against our lesser impulses for the sake of our higher ones.”
This ‘moral enterprise’ sounds eerily like Biblical morality. Wouldn’t it be amazing if practical morality was once again taught to children in school? Wouldn’t it change the game if employers and teachers measured success based on one’s character and morality rather than their performance record?
While Brooks is definitely on to something with his identified moral values, unless they are coupled with the underlying beliefs of Christianity they are not only unattainable, but they become a rigid measuring stick in which no one can ever be good enough. In fact, that sentiment is precisely what led to morality being tossed out the window over the last century. When Christ and grace and mercy were pushed to the back and the rules of Christianity became the focus, their appeal lessoned, leading to the mess we are in now.
The education establishment in the United States—from K-12 to higher education—is in serious trouble on many fronts. Students are graduating high school with scant job prospects, ill-prepared for the demands of the workforce. Even worse, college students are graduating with 6-figures of non-dischargeable student loan debt and little connection between their education and the demands of the workforce. Except for some STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math)-based fields, the costs of a college degree are fast-becoming out of touch with the benefits. If the problems stopped here, it would be bad enough.
Now, we have even more bad news: not only are workers not technically-qualified for many of the good jobs, they are lacking basic common-sense skills: communication, basic professionalism, even team orientation. This is reflective not only of a breakdown in our education system, but at the basic building block of society. Historically, these intangible skills are learned in the home.
While Burstein correctly points out the lack in such skills, she is errant in thinking that Common Core will resolve this dilemma. It will not, and in fact will only exacerbate the existing problems in the education system. While the technical skill gap reflects a failure in schools, the intangible skill gap reflects a larger failure in homes.
Critical thinking is not learned solely from reading literature—although that can help—but is also gained from managing complex situations with varying levels of risk. You don’t learn that on a smartphone or a video game.
A wise engineering professor once said, “You don’t really start learning until you encounter a problem that you cannot solve.” He was spot-on: when you have to dig outside your body of knowledge to arrive at an answer, then you begin to really learn. This isn’t merely about engineering, it’s about life.
In childhood and adolescence, one must learn the rigorous subjects: addition and subtraction, multiplication tables, algebra, grammar, spelling, punctuation, and even chemistry and physics. That necessary body of learning also includes playing team sports, doing odd jobs, learning to prioritize, and working with people. In the process, one learns the complexities of decision-making, as well as responsibility and accountability.
Just as you begin learning when you encounter a problem you cannot solve, you also begin learning when you fail. In homes and schools alike, students often aren’t allowed to fail; this deprives them of a very hard reality of life, as failure is an opportunity to learn risk management and responsibility, not to mention integrity.
While schools—to include colleges—can help on these fronts, these are the intangibles that children and teens need to learn at home.
The workforce is, and has always been, fickle and demanding. Employers need workers who will show up on time and ready to contribute, who have interpersonal skills, who can work with a team to solve problems, who will put in the extra time when that becomes necessary, who will take prudent risks and accept responsibility.
That begins with parents.