Tag Archives: foreign affairs

Global Conflict Requires Caution

Foreign policy gets complicated very fast. Having lived in four U.S. states, I could discuss with you the hopes, fears, work ethic, values, worship practices and food that animate the various regions of America. Even without pulling in U.S. Census or Barna research figures, our observations would be fairly accurate—for we know our own culture and history from the inside out.

It’s a whole different ballgame when you start to compare, say, Latvia, Argentina, Uzbekistan and Singapore. I’ve met very smart people, usually with connections to these nations, who devote their lives to improving these dynamic places. But, personally, it would be overwhelming to try to take in decades (or centuries) of information affecting their current conflicts and issues.

All that to say: I am a big believer in foreign policy caution. Especially when it comes to any military action, where the lives of men and women on both sides are at stake, I pray that commanders of our Armed Forces (all the way up to the top) are circumspect, reluctant to use violence and making every effort at diplomacy to solve conflicts.

On the Radar Screen: Iran

Sometimes diplomacy gets us only so far. If 9/11 taught us anything, it was to stop navel-gazing and realize who in the world has ill intentions towards the West. When a country’s harsh rhetoric is backed up by building a bunker in a mountain for nuclear weapons testing, we should start to take notice. That country is Iran.

No one is saying the U.S. military should go in “guns blazing” to deal with this potential threat. From where I stand, the best defense strategy story of the past two years involves how the U.S. and Israel shut down some of Iran’s nuclear capabilities via a computer virus known as Stuxnet. Read the story at tinyurl.com/StuxnetVirus

What I am saying is: solving a problem starts with defining it. In this case, we are wise to admit that in Iran we face a totalitarian state that harbors terrorists, violates the human rights of its people and is determined to attack freedom wherever it exists. It’s no accident that murderous groups Hamas and Hezbollah are sponsored by Iran. Or that U.S. solders in Iraq have been killed by improvised explosive devices originating from Iran.

Santorum v. Paul on Defending Freedom

Returning to the Republican presidential hopefuls, one candidate offers a very different threat assessment on Iran than the others. “Why should we write people off?” asks Rep. Ron Paul. “Why wouldn’t it be natural that they might want a weapon? There’d be—internationally, they’d be given more respect.”

Now Congressman Paul has a strong record defending property rights and sound monetary policy. Yet considering how large a voice the President of the United States has on foreign policy, the venerable 76 year-old Congressman is not sounding very serious.

Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum has been willing to challenge Paul’s neo-isolationist rhetoric. “Iran is a country that has killed more American men and women in uniform in Iraq and Afghanistan than the Iraqis and the Afghans have.” Santorum’s clear perspective is backed up by his record. In 2006, he authored the Iran Freedom Support Act which imposed sanctions on Iran for their nuclear program.

The complexities of foreign policy make it even more difficult than domestic issues to handle in debate sound bites; indeed, trying to develop a cogent argument on global affairs can come across as scholarly and stuck-up, rather than snappy and sincere.

We need candidates who will take that risk. Instead of wasting time focused on personalities and gossip flying at the speed of Twitter, what must remain front and center are the principles we believe should guide our future president.

Cross-posted at ORU Oracle

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How 9/11 Changed Our World Forever

I was late. In only my third week as a freshman at ORU, here I was in a mad rush from my dorm room on Michael 12 to make it to American History. A strange sight in the fishbowl commons area slowed my speed-walking: a dozen students gathered around the big-screen TV watching images of a burning New York skyscraper.

My frame of reference led me to one thought: Why is everyone watching Armageddon so early in the morning? Arriving at class, I learned the images on TV were real. Classes were called off, the Chapel hosted an intense prayer and worship service a few hours later… and by day’s end, that American history textbook we discussed on September 11, 2001 was outdated.

Be Alert, not Afraid

A homemaker I met recently introduced me to her “9/11 TV” as she called it. “Oh, after 9/11 happened, I realized I knew almost nothing about what was happening in the world. So I installed a large TV in my bathroom – my 9/11 TV – and watch the news every morning as I put on my face.”

She reflects a much larger trend: we’ve become more aware of how complex and interconnected our world is. In the process, we’ve become more fearful at times. 24/7 media is complicit; thanks to much larger potential audiences following 9/11, cable news networks ratchet up the drama—with Red Alerts often interrupted by sirens-blazing Breaking News.

In the wake of 9/11, the clips on repeat were indeed scary. These terrorists could legitimately be feared. Their methods flipped Washington’s accepted security doctrines on their head: a group not acting officially under a state government launched a suicide mission that killed three thousand Americans. Even with overwhelming military might, that’s a difficult threat to overcome.

Discretion and Debate

“The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States,” states Article II, Section 2 of the United States Constitution. While it provides Congress an important role in approving all funds spent in military action, our nation’s guiding charter gives the President discretion in waging war to ensure our nation’s safety.

How President George W. Bush and his administration exercised this discretion following that fateful day remains a topic of intense debate. Launching an aggressive attack against Afghanistan, where the terrorists were trained and organized, as well as later Iraq, continues to involve trillions in U.S. taxpayer dollars, overwhelming amounts of data gathered by intelligence agents, millions of foreign nationals affected overseas, and the personal sacrifice of hundreds of thousands of military families.

Then there’s the results. Reasonable evidence exists on both sides; some friends of mine point to how average wages in Iraq have actually decreased since before the conflict, while others emphasize Iraq and Afghanistan’s unprecendented free elections and human rights improvements. “Unmitigated disaster” or “The liberation of oppressed peoples”: the truth likely lies somewhere between these two extremes.

What’s indisputable is the Bush administration’s good sense to reorganize our intelligence programs to stop another large-scale strike from happening. This effort has been a great success. Over 40 attempted terrorist attacks have been thwarted since 9/11. Opening secure channels between CIA, FBI, NSA, OSD and other acronym agencies surely involved a lot of boring internal politics. Yet it’s exactly what was needed to save lives.

United We Stand… Divided We Fall

Of the movies and TV specials produced to date, United 93 gets closest to the heart of 9/11. Telling one story well, it becomes a microcosm of our national decade-long struggle.

Confusion reigns as stewardess and control tower alike have no idea what’s happening. Then shock when we realize what is happening. Followed by impatience when we hatch our own plan but cannot take action right away.

Ultimately, the pivotal moment comes when Todd Beamer rallies other passengers to storm the cockpit and stop United Flight 93 from reaching the U.S. Capitol. Race, income, religious background, occupation: none of this mattered. Pulling together is how these everyday heroes stopped the madness.

America learned from their courage. According to The Economist reporting on a string of recent in-air incidents, “After 9/11, the vast majority of airline passengers are now inclined to resist any attempts to hijack a plane.”

Their example carries through to the larger struggle. Those serving in the US Armed Forces have learned and sacrificed most in this fight. (Full disclosure: my brother Tim, also a former ORU student, is currently deployed to Afghanistan.) Early on in the war, Defense and State Departments alike faced a steep learning curve. Where do we engage this unknown enemy? How do we ensure safety and sanity of people on both sides? And when the fighting stops, how do we spark a national culture shift?

Maybe answers are not so far from our grasp. Imagine a future business graduate in dialogue with social workers, crafting a plan for all to benefit from oil discoveries. Engineering and psych experts have safety and sanity questions to tackle. Teaching children drama and music opens up new directions in their culture. Yes, we even need philosophy majors: Just War Theory may once again be at the forefront of discussion.

This strategy of synergy—pardon the marketing buzzwords—isn’t fantasy. A friend of mine here in DC, who happens to have a theology degree, embeds Old Testament history in his briefing reports to top-ranking officers at the Pentagon. (Like all theologians, he says his greatest struggle is keeping his insights to the standard one page.) Thank God he didn’t dismiss it as a useless degree.

Everyone was late in grasping the enormity of 9/11. How we think and interact must continue to change. Rather than fear and lethargy getting the better of us, let’s roll.

Originally published in The Oracle, Sept. 9 2011 edition

Warming a Seat, or Using Your Feet?

Having lived most of my life in the Bible Belt cities of Dallas, Tulsa and Colorado Springs, I have observed how the American church is growing – getting butts in seats, as it were. If statistics are to be believed, this in itself could be a good thing.

Now on the East Coast, word has it that church was less of a social institution. Surprise! I arrive here and observe the church is also growing in many areas of Virginia, Pennsylvania and other states. Probably a great thing… but do peoples’ lives look different? Or does our 21st century culture not allow for a God-centered life?

Hot on the heels of these questions comes Hillsong United, a group of young believers from Australia who have consistently given bold new songs to the global church. Now they up the ante by filming their two-year world tour and kicking off the movie with this verse:

“I can’t stand your religious meetings. I’m fed up with your conferences and conventions. I want nothing to do with your religion projects, your pretentious slogans and goals. I’m sick of your fund-raising schemes, your public relations and image making. I’ve had all I can take of your noisy ego-music.

When was the last time you sang to me? Do you know what I want? I want justice—oceans of it. I want fairness—rivers of it. That’s what I want. That’s all I want.” – Amos 5:21 (The Message)

Clearly we were in for something radical with this I-Heart Revolution film. Seven observations about this remarkable movie:

  1. Our culture is fundamentally in conflict with a biblical perspective. We have trained ourselves to look past need – I know I’m guilty, passing by DC panhandlers everyday. Since six companies control 90% of popular media, we are programmed to accept things like consumerism. Like Alcoholics Anonymous, realizing the problem and removing my own importance is step one.
  2. The conflict plays out uniquely in the world of “worship rock stars.” This film digs into the disconnect of staging stadium-size worship events in regions of abject poverty: band members often alternated nights of sleeping in slums and lounging in posh hotels. They desire to make a difference, yet they confess, “We’re not just sleeping through the fires raging in our world, we’re fanning the flames.”
  3. For inspiration and understanding, look to the past. I-Heart Revolution features a half-dozen segments that briefly recount stories of young revolutionaries throughout the world: South Africans who ended apartheid, William Wilberforce in England, the Little Rock Nine, etc. The entire film is book-ended by audio clips of Robert Kennedy’s Day of Affirmation Speech. In history we see that living God’s call may mean you’re a rich man (like Wilberforce) or a missionary to Hong Kong: sacrificing all for Jesus never looks the same.
  4. Martin Smith plays the Paul McCartney of modern worship quite well. As a lifelong fan of delirious?, it heartens me to see Hillsong United give the band props as forerunners of this movement. From a studio backdrop Martin serves up bits of inspiration throughout, along with delirious? music cues used at key points (i.e. “Kingdom of Comfort” plays during a segment on how modern Christianity is missing the point.) 
  5. Indifference and injustice are real problems. They tell of visiting Rio de Janeiro and spending time among destitute families. You see children at age 4 who are carefree, loving life as kids do. But by age 9, their faces are reduced to a cold stare after years of impossible living conditions. Leaving blankets and sweets with these people is nothing if we ignore the bullet holes in the nursery.
  6. It’s a danger to think this is all about charity. I appreciated this plumb-line in the film, as some of I Heart‘s 20 Causes veer close to a hand-out agenda (which studies show can actually be destructive). Absolutely, every human should have access to food, water and shelter — that doesn’t mean we want a massive world-government program instituted to bureaucratically provide said needs. To hear a UNICEF rep say flatly that the church plays an important role is a beautiful thing. Now we have to step up.
  7. The agenda is love. You cannot talk about love, you have to show love. Just Walk Across the Room is the title of a popular evangelism book, also a point from the film about how to start simply. Seek God, then do something.

Your thoughts on all this?

P.S. So I looked at the post just below this one (with a Wish List link, no less) and I thought, “Yep, the film was a good message for me.” I was tempted to edit that post, but the dissonance itself says something I suppose.

It is very, very rare…

…that I agree with nearly everything an opinion journalist says in a wide-ranging 4,000-word interview. Charles Krauthammer has that sort of wisdom: I strongly encourage you to go read his recent interview with a popular German newspaper. Then comment here if you so desire.

Krauthammer touches briefly on President Obama winning the Nobel Peace Prize. I got a lot of flak for posting the following Facebook status when the Prize was announced: “When an African American man became leader of the free world, the dreams and aspirations for millions of kids worldwide changed. They began to think bigger. Though I disagree with the President’s policies – and have little regard for the Nobel Committee – I see no need to heap abuse on today’s news.”

My point may have been good, but in retrospect it was irrelevant to the Nobel Prize. It did get some interesting discussion going, so words well spent. Any thoughts on the Krauthammer interview?

Hatchet vs. Scalpel (Recap of the First 2008 Presidential Debate)

Watch the full video now:

“Build the defense with wisdom and efficiency. We must achieve both security and solvency. In fact, the foundation of military strength is economic strength. A bankrupt America is more the Soviet goal than an America conquered on the field of battle.” – President Dwight D. Eisenhower

With this quote, the First Presidential Debate between Senators McCain and Obama began. By all appearances there was no clear winner: both stumbled at times, both got the crowd to laugh, neither seemed too bloviating or bold.

If anyone was strange, it was host Jim Lehrer who kept egging the candidates on: “Say that directly to your opponent, Senator… look into his eyes.” Creepy.

Essentially it came down to the two issues Eisenhower raised: the economy and defense.

The economy. This lead-off discussion revealed only a few differences in the two candidates, but they are major. Both expressed support for the bailout, somewhat surprising. Senator Obama said that “$700 billion is potentially a lot of money.” Yeah, potentially it is.

McCain then let loose with his views on earmarks, aka pork or wasteful government spending. He’s been called the Sheriff of the Senate, with little support in fighting “the biggest budget increases since the Great Society” (under Democrat President LBJ, 1964).

Citizens Against Government Waste catalogs the crazy spending happening currently in Congress, I encourage you to read their reports and sign up for CAGW e-mails. You should know where your money is going.

When McCain mentioned the possibility of a federal spending freeze, excepting a few categories, Obama had had enough. “You’re using a hatchet when you need a scalpel.”

Wait… the federal budget is slated to be $1 TRILLION OVER BUDGET; keep in mind that budget itself is $3.2 TRILLION. I don’t think a scalpel–used for arts, crafts and dentistry–is going to do the trick on this budget. It needs a hatchet.

Though pressed for what he would cut, Obama only brought up that he plans to bring government-funded broadband internet to rural areas. Nice use of the “scalpel” there.

Fact check: Obama said that “effectively, the U.S. has one of the lowest corporate tax rates in the world.”

False. The accounting firm KPMG analyzed global tax rates in 106 countries, finding that the U.S. is ranked one of the highest — with 40% of corporate funds going towards taxes.

Fact check: McCain said the United States is the largest exporter in the world.

False. Germany is, according to The World Factbook. The U.S. is ranked third.

Defense. To say this was heated is a gross understatement. Both sides scored points along the way, with Obama’s mention of the $600 billion spent in Iraq raising eyebrows while McCain’s stand behind General Petraeus’ strategy showed his military understanding.

Side note: it was around this point that Obama stopped referring to McCain as “John” and began calling him “Senator McCain.” McCain got off a couple zingers here, including “It’s hard to reach across the aisle from that far to the left” and “I don’t even have a seal yet” (a reference to Obama’s presidential seal which many find presumptive.)

Fact check: “Admiral Mullen suggests that Senator Obama’s plan is dangerous,” said McCain. “That’s not the case,” Obama interjected.

McCain is correct. Admiral Michael Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, actually called Obama’s plan “very dangerous” when appearing on Fox News Sunday.

Despite the negativity surrounding Iraq, it was crystal clear that McCain has a much better grasp on foreign affairs. He talked through his 20 years of experience. He knew the current troop counts in Afghanistan from memory. And McCain forced Obama to frequently resort to “Me too” responses on several major policy questions.

Favorite quote, following McCain’s story of a young hero he remembers by wearing the soldier’s bracelet:

“Let me just make a point: I have a bracelet too.”

– Senator Obama, then glances at his wrist to remember the name