During the Golden Globes on Sunday, movie and television actors and actresses treated the audience to a series of foreign policy speeches. They all opposed war with Iran and wanted us to be opposed, too. It was very encouraging to know that we, as Americans, are all on the same page. But reading the reams of commentary pouring forth from the commentariat the past couple of days, it struck me just how delusional many of our fellow Americans are or, what I think is more probably the case, how willfully ignorant.
Many people who should know better still paint fantastic worlds of peace and harmony, if only we would just choose it. That’s right! We can just choose not to go to war. It’s a simple choice between war and peace. People for most of history did not know this great truth. But since we are really smart now and know better than our benighted and morally obtuse ancestors, we now “know” that it’s simply a matter of choosing peace. That’s what one would have to infer from so much balderdash conjured up by commentators. One can forgive the general public that relies on journalists, experts, and commentators for not having a completely accurate view of things, but mercy runs short for people who know better but continue to spin fantasies about how the world works.
President Barack Obama indulged in this sort of rhetoric when he was a presidential candidate. Touring the world, he spoke with soaring humanitarian pathos for unity and harmony, only to turn into a steely-eyed realist in office who exponentially increased the use of drones strikes and left Syria to the wolves. Experience with the world’s instability and violence sobered Obama, perhaps too much.
Many US representatives, senators, political pundits, former military officers, and CIA agents alike often pretend, willfully, that we have not been in a state of near-constant conflict with Iran for the past 40-odd years. These are the same people who pretended that Obama’s dramatic escalation of the policy of “decapitation” was not going on, who were meek little lambs when terrorists were being blown up on an unprecedented scale. But this is all a show, a Kabuki Theater where politicians and pundits claim that Donald Trump is somehow, inexplicably, the cause of all this chaos.
If only it were that simple. If only America really were, as many believe, the real cause of evil in the Middle East, then we would have a clear solution. But that is a willful lie and one that many will shamefully make with a straight face. It’s a mirror image of American exceptionalism in that it sees America as special, but rather than especially noble we are especially terrible. We are exceptional for our vice. But the complexity of the world and the inability to manage events belies these cartoonish views of the conflicts we face.
We hear declarations from the likes of Shane Claiborne that we should simply oppose war with Iran. But peace, often, must be won through the use of force and cannot be merely chosen. What do they think we’ve been doing all this time imposing sanctions, fighting proxy wars, engaging in covert operations? Congresswoman Ilhan Omar claimed we assassinated a “government official,” a supreme demonstration of Orwellian doublespeak. One wonders if they actually understand what the American military under the control of the president and oversite of Congress has actually been doing.
The bigger point is this: it is hard for me to take serious the moral hand wringing and hysteria by people who know better. The world is filled with bad people with guns who wish to do violence upon us, the West, and even people of their own nation, tribe, ethnicity, and religion. There are nations who, like Iran, are committed to fomenting violence and destabilizing the Middle East as a national mission. That does not mean America is a nation of saints or sinners. The truth is both. But the moral equivalence that many on the left and some on the right like to draw is perverse.
The American military, often for good, sometimes for ill, uses its means (i.e., guns and bombs) to kill other people who wish to harm us and our allies because they are not open to moral suasion. When they chant “death to America,” they mean it. That’s real. That’s not just something that Donald Trump dreamed up in order to get votes. In fact, that is the inescapable reality of life after the fall. Fear, misunderstanding, anger, lust for power, and fanaticism will never be solved. We can manage them. We can seek to diffuse situations, and, in some instances, peace has been won through diplomatic means. But when they are not, we need other means, which is the fundamental and first duty of all governments appointed by God.
But the peace we enjoy in America, both in the past and present, is the direct result of us using weapons to kill people. That is the reality of the world this side of Eden. Oh, that it was not so! We can debate the morality, legality, and prudence of killing Qasem Soleimani. We ought to hold our military and foreign policy to high moral standards, but the reality of the need for bombs and guns is not going away anytime soon. We should lament this necessity but not kid ourselves about it.
The debate is not about war vs. peace. That is not the debate because that is not the choice, regardless of what Shane Claiborne, Ilhan Omar, or someone else pronounces. Shane Claiborne, Ilhan Omar, Nancy Pelosi, or any other person in this country who sleeps safely in bed at night does so because men with guns stand willing to use violence on any who would harm us. That is a basic fact that we must accept if our conversations about security are going to be honest.