Saturday, September 29, 2007

More From the Comedians at BP

Here is more head-shaking foolishness courtesy of Baptist Press.

Richard Land says, for the 4,456th time, that we've turned the corner in Iraq. "By most informed accounts, the strategic ground has shifted in America's favor in Iraq," said General Land, commenting on the testimony of the sycophantic David Petraeus and Ryan Crocker.

Land says that disorder and the sinister chicanery of non-state actors makes religious liberty in Iraq more difficult to achieve than capturing a greased pig.

What's needed, you see, is an Iraqi state: "Clearly, the cause of religious freedom is enhanced by civil order being restored through the defeat of Al Qaeda and armed and dangerous sectarian militia." says Land thoughtfully. "Religious freedom is more likely to flourish in societies where there is a commitment to civil order and where non-state actors are not permitted to perpetrate atrocities on those who oppose, or merely disagree with, them."

Clearly it would have been nice if Mr. Land had reached this thoughtful consideration before braying for the destruction of the Iraqi state, the elimination of the Baath Party, and the disbanding of the Iraqi army. In short, he should have considered the consequences of destroying the Iraqi regime before becoming a shill for administration policy in the Middle East.

And now Land says that bringing relief to Mesopotamia requires more--more blood, more treasure, more sacrifice, more maimed GIs, and more dead warriors.

There were approximately 1.2 million Christians in Iraq prior to the war. They were largely free, admittedly imperfectly, to practice their faith without molestation. Today, that number has been halved. The rest have been killed or forced into other Arab lands as a consequence of the disorder brought by the "Coalition of the Willing." Without the political support of Evangelicals, the destruction of Iraq's historic Christian communities would not have occurred, and we all have their blood on our hands.

Finally Back

I've spent some time traveling the last few weeks to Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Ann Arbor. I've also had to prepare some Bible studies I've been leading at a local half-way house, and hence haven't had much time to aimlessly pontificate from my perch here at Dow Blog.

There is much I would like to write about, particularly my experience in a few of America's "great" cities. Being a keen observer of the human condition I've got a few thoughts on the decline and fall of Western Civilization on display in the urban megalopolises dotting the American landscape.

But before I get to such musings in later posts, I'd like to spend a few moments reviewing some "news" pumped out from Baptist Press in recent weeks. As a Southern Baptist, I feel obliged to comment when the leaders and institutions of my church write things publicly that need correction. In this case, it is what's not said that is the problem.

In his weekly column, Kelly Boggs provides his "Thoughts on the Jena Six." After a relatively measured rehashing of the facts, Boggs comments on the good, bad, and ugly on display in Jena.

"Under the category of good," writes Boggs, "it is clear that the criminal justice system has thus far worked in this case. The charges originally filed against the Jena 6 were disproportionate to their crime. Also, the teen that stood trial should not have done so as an adult."

Similarly, "On the bad side of the ledger are the district attorney and the presiding judge," says Boggs. "It was a very bad move to charge the Jena 6 with attempted murder. It was equally bad to try one of the teens as an adult. The DA should never have done it and the judge should never have allowed it."

Why should the perpetrator, Mychal Bell, not be tried as an adult? Biblically speaking can Boggs point to anything textually to defend his position? The answer is no. Rather he accepts the myth of adolescence, that at the "tender" age of 16 a man is not yet responsible for his actions. Such thinking renders justice impossible and leads to a group of thugs beating a kid senseless with no punishment, hiding under the fig leaf of their age.

I'm not sure exactly how to interpret Deut. 21:18-21, but the clear intent of the law in Israel was to eliminate the possibility of an habitual criminal class. The family, likewise, was to stand with justice rather than a guilty family member. Mr. Bell has a lengthy criminal record including multiple violent crimes. Yet he has become a celebrity, defended by everyone from Jesse Jackson and Al Shartpon, to T. D. Jakes and Dr. Phil.

In one of the only reasonable pieces from the commentariat I've seen, Steve Sailer gets it right. "On this particular Earth, everybody who is anybody in the media feels that the stompers are the victims, not the stompee...In the end, the Jena Six should be thankful they stomped a mere white boy. If, like possibly prison-bound NFL quarterback Michael Vick, they had instead stomped a dog - well, then, there would be hell to pay."

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Amusing Ourselves to Death

The Internet provides countless opportunities and places to find the news of the day. But regrettably most folks still rely on television and their local paper.

Yesterday, after writing my post about events in Iraq, I stumbled outside to grab my local newspaper, the fine Louisville Courier Journal. Back in the old days, the CJ actually covered events. You could read about WWI from an actual reporter, writing from a place like France, rather than relying on AP feeds or some schmo spitting up a Pentagon press release. Today the CJ reads more like a local version of USA Today without the nice graphs.

In any case, above the fold in the Saturday paper were two headlines. The first read, "Fans gripe over cost to see IU on cable." The gist is that many residents in southern Indiana who subscribe to Insight cable, which is in Louisville, will have to pony up an extra $13 a month to get digital cable if they want to watch The Big 10 Network, where they can watch IU hoops.

The second headline was "Fired up for football." Here a CJ sportswriter discourses on the annual University of Louisville-University of Kentucky football game.

Below the fold was this: "Iraq report highlights little progress on benchmarks."

Does anyone else think our priorities a bit strange?

Saturday, September 15, 2007

More Thoughts About Iraq

"Today, we lack metrics to know if we are winning or losing the global war on terror. Are we capturing, killing or deterring and dissuading more terrorists every day than the madrassas and the radical clerics are recruiting, training and deploying against us?"

Don Rumsfeld in 2003

So what exactly has changed since Rumsfeld penned these words in 2003? It is virtually accepted that the military "surge" in Iraq is working. After all, GOP candidates (with the exception of Ron Paul) all say so, as does the president. Oh, and don't forget those libs O'Hanlon and Pollack. The same narrative of success spun by GOP politicos and the White House is also regurgitated by an ever compliant media.

Can someone explain why we should believe these fellas? Isn't it entirely likely that they are cherry-picking data to support their cause? It certainly would not be the first time.

For example, at the heart of administration claims is the assertion that violence in Iraq is down. As I wrote last month, the claim doesn't stand up to scrutiny. There are numerous reports that civilian casualties are rising, and even those likely undercount the reality on the ground.

Likewise, conflicting data is frequently produced by different tentacles of the regime. The General Accounting Office, using methodology adopted by the CIA and DIA, published a bleak assessment of the security situation in Iraq.

The GAO was clearly pressured by the Pentagon and made several changes to the report, but still concluded that "Iraq had failed to meet all but two of nine security goals Congress had set as part of a list of 18 benchmarks of progress."

Speaking to the issue of disparate numbers related to violence in Iraq, Comptroller General David Walker told Congress, "Let's just say that there are several different sources within the administration on violence, and those sources do not agree."

One intelligence analyst put it this way: "Depending on which numbers you pick you get a different outcome. If a bullet went through the back of the head, it's sectarian. If it went through the front, it's criminal."

Moreover, military statistics do not include violence created by the escalating warfare between rival Shiite militias in southern Iraq or attacks by Sunni tribesmen aligned with the U. S.

During congressional testimony Walker said, "The primary difference between us and the military is whether or not violence has been reduced with regard to sectarian violence...It is unclear whether sectarian violence in Iraq has decreased -- a key security benchmark...We could not get comfortable with (the military's) methodology for determining what's sectarian versus nonsectarian violence."

In short, don't believe everything you're hearing about the military success of the surge. The situation is always more complicated than the state will admit.

But even if there is some military success, the political situation continues to disintegrate, and daily life for Iraqis remains extremely difficult. Nearly half the cabinet ministers have withdrawn support for Maliki's government.

Walker accurately calls the Iraqi government "dysfunctional": "Given the fact that significant progress has not been made in improving the living conditions of the Iraqis on a day-to-day basis with regard to things that all citizens care about -- safe streets, clean water, reliable electricity, a variety of other basic things. I think you'd have to say it's dysfunctional -- the government is dysfunctional."

Those we're helping don't appear to think things are getting better either. Obviously they aren't watching Fox News. In a recent poll, nearly 70% of Iraqis believe security has deteriorated in the area covered by the US military surge and 60% see attacks on US-led forces as justified. The number rises to 93% among Sunni Muslims. That's what I call winning hearts and minds.

But back to the question posed by Rumsfeld: Are we capturing, killing or deterring and dissuading more terrorists every day than the madrassas and the radical clerics are recruiting, training and deploying against us?

I believe the answer is demonstrably "NO." Robert Pape and Micheal Shuer have argued that our policies are largely at the root of the global Islamic insurgency. Speaking of suicide bombers, Pape says, "The central fact is that overwhelmingly suicide-terrorist attacks are not driven by religion as much as they are by a clear strategic objective: to compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces from the territory that the terrorists view as their homeland.” In short, the rotten fruit produced by an interventionist foreign policy is largely the reason for, and not the solution to, our problems in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Separate analyses by the Saudis and Israelis found that the overwhelming majority of foreign fighters in Iraq became radicalized by the war itself.

In recent Congressional testimony, Brookings scholar Daniel Benjamin also argued that the war has created more terrorists. "The invasion of Iraq gave the jihadists an unmistakable boost," said Benjamin. "Terrorism is about advancing a narrative and persuading a targeted audience to believe it [and we] have too often lent inadvertent confirmation to the terrorists' narrative" through ill-thought policies.

Changing tactics will not rescue American policy in Iraq. Moving 30,000 soldiers here or turning over security to Iraqis there is largely window dressing. The "strategy" from the outset was the problem. The delusion, as Bruce Fein writes, "that Kurds, Shi'ites and Sunnis would embrace American style democracy after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein by spontaneous combustion" is at the heart of our failure. The worship of a false god, democracy, has led to this.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Lessons Learned as a Homeschool Dad, Take One

This will be the first installment of an occasional series discussing lessons I’ve learned being a homeschool dad. These are in no particular order of significance or importance.

One important result of my homeschool odyssey is the increasing realization that I am dependent on my wife Kathy.

First, a bit of background: Kathy and I have been married for twelve years. Though she wanted to have children early in our marriage, I demurred. “We don’t have enough money,” I said. Chalk this up to faithlessness on my part; a fear that I would not be able to take care of my family, but in truth a lack of faith in God in and His provision.

We moved from our home in Michigan to Maryland in 1997 where we lived for about three years. Once we “decided” to have children, the time had come to leave for greener pastures. Living in the DC area was expensive and crowded. Moreover, it is a “cosmopolitan” and utterly rootless place. So we moved to the Louisville area where our first son was soon born.

I had grown up in an independent, fundamentalist church where I spent the first 25 years of my life. I’m thankful to have been raised in that environment, and yet there were limitations as well, specifically a strong whiff of anti-intellectualism.

Living in DC had not been good for my faith, either. Kathy and I attended a large Baptist church, but we never really became a part of the body or made any connections with the people there. We were not living in conformity to the biblical pattern, for upon leaving the city not a single person from that church would have known of our departure. That is a sad commentary on me as the supposed spiritual leader of my family.

Once in Louisville (southern Indiana, actually) we began looking for a Baptist church. God used the birth of my son in an unexpected way--to convict me of sin. I had not been attentive to my familial responsibilities. More importantly, I had been neglecting my worship of God and my relationship with Him through the precious work of Christ. I began to recall what I had read in Deuteronomy 6, 9, and 11. I recalled the words of Paul in Ephesians 6, and suddenly they took on a deeper meaning.

God was revealing the depth of my sin. Even as boy, I was a “good” kid, the problem was that I was more a Pharisee than a Christian. Christianity for me had been transformed over time to a list of proscriptions. It was entirely negative and I was far more concerned about my sins of commission rather than what I was failing to do. Specifically in this instance I was to reflect God to my wife and children, to teach them about his holiness and grace. I had work to do and I knew I was utterly incapable of doing it. More importantly, I needed to give up my individualistic pretenses, which had accumulated from a long flirtation with libertarian thought, and learn to depend on others and more specifically on the Holy Spirit.

Initially we struggled in our search for a church home. Not having grown up a Baptist, I didn’t understand the depth of the struggle that went on during the 70’s and 80’s as conservative elements in the church reclaimed the authority of Holy Scripture. What I found is that though the seminary was thoroughly orthodox and sound, the churches in Louisville were still largely pastored by men who graduated from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary during a different time.

In my discouragement I continued to visit church after church and also started reading two men—R.C. Sproul and Michael Horton. On various issues I may disagree with these men, but they really helped me during that time in developing a better understanding of God’s sovereignty in salvation and all of life. I also found in them an intellectual depth that had so often been missing in my little corner of Christendom.

Eventually, we joined a church that was pastored by a wonderful man named Tim Beougher. Tim had previously worked for Billy Graham and taught at Wheaton College. He was/is a professor at SBTS and theologically Reformed. I learned much from his teaching and example. Other SBTS students and professors played important roles, whether they know it or not, in helping to shape aspects of my theology and my relationship with God. I was finally beginning to grasp the totality of God. Where I had previously compartmentalized my “spiritual” life from my day-to-day existence, I now understood that everything flowed out of my faith and my understanding of God. Rather than sitting around waiting for the rapture, there was work to do.

Over next few years, Kathy and I had two other boys. Very early on I started thinking about education. Did I really want to give my kids to the state? Part of my concern about state education was the residue of libertarianism, but part was also my growing realization that on some level my children belong to God. I am not a paedobaptist, but I sometimes seem to function as one. It was at this point that I began to read Doug Wilson and a bevy of Christian Reconstructionists, particularly R. J. Rushdoony.

For the record, I don’t buy everything that these gentlemen are selling. But Rushdoony in particular has changed my thinking on many matters. A consistent theme in his work is the comparison of Christianity with competing worldviews, particularly humanism. Rush consistently demonstrates that most forms of humanism in the West have used the state as their primary element of evangelism. Thus it is the public schools that are the primary weapon in the hands of humanists.

Moreover, Rushdoony clarified something I had intuited: that the family is the primary institution in God’s economy to expand His dominion. The battle for the control of the future is in large part the battle for the next generation. Therefore, education is central to the battle for the future.

Doug Wilson made this clear to me in more practical terms that would take far too long to delineate. One thing I recall him saying during a lecture is that as fathers we are responsible for what our children learn whether we teach it to them or not. I knew that Wilson was right, but I wasn’t sure exactly what it meant for my family.

What it meant, of course, was that I would need to depend almost entirely on Kathy, though I didn’t realize it at the time. I had become convinced that a Christian education was necessary for our children and began considering homeschooling. Kathy was not immediately enthralled with the idea. Her primary concern was a sense of inadequacy. But God has given us His Spirit, and in so doing provided us with what we need.

Initially, we decided to try a local Christian school. Our oldest son attended pre-school and Kindergarten there and seemed to do fine. Nevertheless, over time we saw problems. Not that we were unhappy as such, but by the end of that year, we knew that homeschooling was something we should try.

I was delighted that my wife wanted to educate our children at home. It showed that she was willing to lay aside her desires and goals for her children, and ultimately for God. In our age, women that avoid the siren song of the marketplace to rear their own children rather than handing them to strangers are considered an oddity, a weird anomaly.

But if the family is God’s primary institution, then it is in the home where women will most clearly find their identity and purpose. Rushdoony writes:

“Biblical law had restricted woman’s governmental role, not because of any incompetence, because Proverbs 31:10-32 makes clear her high potential, but because of the division of labor ordained by God. Moreover, the male spheres of church and state are in Scripture clearly subordinate to the female sphere of the family. The 'limitation' thus has as its goal the maintenance of the priority of the family in society and in the woman’s attention.”

I believe in God’s sovereignty in salvation, but I take comfort in believing, too, that he will bless my faithfulness to my sons. That they are indeed arrows which we will one day shoot from our home, working to expand God’s rule and reign in every sphere of life.

Though I am responsible and accountable for my kids, ultimately Kathy will really be shaping them day after day. Our goal is a godly division of labor and a living representation of the idea that we are one flesh, joined metaphorically at the rib, slaves to our Master. More importantly, I pray that our sons see in our efforts the love of a mother and father for them which while indescribable is nothing compared to the love of God.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Mitch McConnell, Homer Simpson, and the Flypaper Strategy

Earlier this summer, Senate GOP head honcho Mitch McConnell was making noises about the need to change course in Iraq. Since then, Senator McConnell has had a change of heart.

Earlier this month, McConnell held a press conference where he reverted to the "flypaper defense." You know, "If we don't fight them in Baghdad, we'll be fighting them in Biloxi." On his recent excursion to visit troops in Iraq, George Bush made a similar argument. "If we let our enemies back us out of Iraq," said the president, "we will more likely face them in America. If we don't want to hear their footsteps back home, we have to keep them on their heels over here."

Commenting on the forthcoming Petraeus report, Senator McConnell argued that withdrawal from Iraq makes us susceptible to attack at home:

And I hope that this reaction to Iraq and the highly politicized nature of dealing with Iraq this year doesn’t end up in a situation where we just bring all the troops back home and there by expose us once again to the kind of attacks we’ve had here in the homeland or on American facilities.

Remember Al Qaeda attacked the World Trade Center in ‘93, they blew up our embassies in East Africa in ‘96, they blew a hole in the side of the US Cole in 2000 and killed over 3000 US citizens on 9-11. They were very much at war with us before we decided to go to war with them. Since we’ve been at war with them not a single successful attack here at home. So the question is regardless of how you feel about the state of things in Iraq at the moment what’s the best way to protect the homeland, us here, civilians in America for the future and I think it involves at least some level of American troop deployment in that area of the world…”

Reporter: “In Iraq or…..?”

McConnell: “Well that would be up to the generals to recommend where the troops ought to be but I think we need to be in the neighborhood of where the biggest problem is so we can deal with it there and not have to deal with it here.

The logical fallacy employed by McConnell reminds me of one of my favorite episodes of "The Simpson's." A bear comes into town early in the episode, but after imposition of a "bear tax" airplanes and armored vehicles patrol Springfield, protecting residents from another inevitable bear attack.

Homer Well, there's not a bear in sight. The Bear Patrol is sure doing its job.
Lisa That's specious reasoning, Dad.
Homer Thank you, sweetie.
Lisa Dad, what if I were to tell you that this rock keeps away tigers.
Homer Uh-huh, and how does it work?
Lisa It doesn't work. It's just a stupid rock.
Homer I see.
Lisa But you don't see any tigers around, do you?
Homer Lisa, I'd like to buy your rock.

The GOP Debate

Unable to sleep the other night, I flipped to a repeat of the Faux News New Hampshire GOP food-fight as a means of inducing slumber. Instead, my blood pressure soared as I endured the smugness of Fox News journalists and the smarmy ignorance of our would-be emperors.

With the noble exception of Dr. Paul, these mighty warriors want to take the fight to the “Islamo-Fascists.” Here is a sampling of the tough talk from swaggering presidential wannabes in the thrall of the War Party:

Sam Brownback—“I think you’re going to need a long-term U.S. presence in, I think, particularly in the Kurdish region in the north and the Sunni region in the west, that you’re going to have a long-term -- invited by those governments, and you’re going to need it to assure the Turks that the Kurds aren’t going to pull out and to assure the Kurds that the Turks aren’t going to come in. I think that’s what you have to do in looking at the reality.”

Mike Huckabee—“We have to continue the surge. And let me explain why, Chris. When I was a little kid, if I went into a store with my mother, she had a simple rule for me. If I picked something off the shelf of the store and I broke it, I bought it.

I learned don’t pick something off the shelf I can’t afford to buy.

Well, what we did in Iraq, we essentially broke it. It’s our responsibility to do the best we can to try to fix it before we just turn away because something is at stake.”

John McCain—“It’s working because we’ve got a great general. We’ve got a good strategy. Anbar province: Things have improved… are succeeding, and the great debate is not whether it’s apparently working or not. The great debate is going to take place on the floor of the United States Senate, the middle of this month. And it’s going to be whether we set a date for withdrawal, which will be a date for surrender, or whether we will let this surge continue and succeed.”

Duncan Hunter—“We’ve got 129 battalions in the Iraqi army that we’re training up. We’re training them up, we are getting them into the fight. When those Iraqi battalions are battle-hardened and they start to rotate into the positions on the battlefield, displacing American forces, the American forces can then rotate out, come back to the U.S. or go to other places in Central Command. That’s the right way to win; it’s called victory. That’s how we leave Iraq.. if you think we’re going to be there for a long time, you don’t understand the determination of the U.S. Marines and the U.S. Army. We’re going to turn it over.”

Tom Tancredo—“But let me get back to a central point here, and that is why we’re there and, in fact, with whom we are at war. The war is not actually in Iraq; the war is with radical Islam. That’s who we are at war with -- (applause) -- and we have to understand it. Iraq is a battlefield in that war.”

Mitt Romney—“This is not about broken pottery, and it’s also not about just getting out because we made a mistake. This is a global conflict going on. Radical, violent jihad. This effort ranges from Indonesia, Nigeria, and through Europe and into America, and this battlefield of Iraq is a place where we have to be successful because the consequences of what will happen on this global battlefield are enormous. And that’s why it’s so important for us to be successful with the surge, and I agree, it looks successful. I certainly hope it’s going to be fully successful. And as we are able to do that, we’re going to see ourselves able to continue in our efforts to overwhelm jihad.”

I’m perfectly willing to concede that we have an Islamic problem, but “victory” will only be achieved through defensive means. As Serge Trifkovic has written, “The victory will not come by conquering Mecca for Americans but by disengaging America from Mecca and by excluding Mecca from America. Eliminating the risk is impossible. Managing it wisely, resolutely, and permanently is something attainable."

The goal should be isolation from sources of disorder. That implies first and foremost sealing our borders. But it also must mean a change in foreign policy, disengaging from the Middle East and extricating ourselves from the suffocating impact of The Lobby.

Non-state actors like al-Qaeda thrive under conditions of instability and disorder, the very conditions we have created in Iraq. Creating a permanent presence in Iraq via huge embassies and military bases simply breeds instability by making the creation of legitimate Iraqi institutions impossible.

What is disturbing is that after four years of this nonsense, most of the GOP is still committed to the enterprise and seems eager to spread the disorder and destruction throughout the rest of the Middle East.

Among presidential aspirants, Ron Paul is the only principled non-interventionist. During Wednesday’s debate, Paul identified the Neocons as the problem and with deftness and precision put the issue into perspective. "I am less safe, the American people are less safe for this. It's the policy that is wrong. Tactical movements and shifting troops around and taking in 30 more and reducing by five, totally irrelevant. We need a new foreign policy that said we ought to mind our own business, bring our troops home, defend this country, defend our borders.”