The Common Good

The Timetable Begins Now

Sojomail - July 19, 2007


"These things matter. It is not about party; it's about eyeballs. And there are sights that need seeing."

- Dee Davis, director of the Center for Rural Strategies in Whitesburg, Kentucky, on presidential candidate John Edwards' tour of rural American poverty. (Source: NPR)

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The Timetable Begins Now

In the few weeks of the defense authorization debate in the Senate, Republican senators began falling like dominoes—Chuck Hagel (NE), Susan Collins (ME), Richard Lugar (IN), George Voinovich (OH), Pete Domenici (NM), Olympia Snowe (ME), and even John Warner (VA) are looking for a way out, although not all are willing to vote for a withdrawal timetable. The Republican defections are bolstered by public opinion. Columnist Robert Novak wrote about Sen. Hagel: "As the first in a succession of Republican senators to be critical of Bush's Iraq policy, Hagel feared the worst when he returned home to conservative Nebraska for Fourth of July parades. Instead, he was pleasantly surprised by cheers and calls for the troops to be brought home." And the Democrats seem to be getting stronger in their willingness to follow the public mandate against this war that gave them a congressional majority in 2006.

The most recent USA Today/Gallup Poll showed that change in public opinion. Sixty-two percent now say the United States made a mistake in sending troops to Iraq, the first time that number has topped 60 percent.

U.S. casualties now exceed 3,600, with the number of those wounded or emotionally and mentally scarred almost as countless now as the stories about returning veterans not receiving the help and attention they need. The human cost of this war has been as enormous as it has been discriminatory and unjust, with almost all the burden borne by working-class families whose sons and daughters chose military service, and not by the families and children of the elites who fabricated the case for it, grossly mismanaged its prosecution, and politically force its continuance.

The financial cost is staggering—a new Congressional Research Service study reported that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan now cost $12 billion per month. When that monthly price tag is compared to the $10 billion per year it would cost to educate the world's 800 million children under six years old, the contrast opens up a real debate on what truly makes for national and global security.

While the troop "surge" has failed to bring the stability and security it promised, the progress report on Iraqi political benchmarks remains completely unsatisfactory. Nobody even pretends any longer that American young men and women are not dying daily in the cross-hairs of a civil war. Meanwhile Iraq has become an unlivable country, bleeding itself to death in a tribal sectarian conflict that is modeled by its so-called political leaders and not just by its violent insurgents.

And while the president continues to talk about the threat of al Qaeda, the Los Angeles Times reported the following on the author of a new "National Intelligence Estimate on the Terrorist Threat to the U.S. Homeland," released this week: "During a briefing with reporters, the principal author of the estimate, Edward Gistaro, the national intelligence officer for transnational threats, said flatly that Al Qaeda in Iraq did not exist before the U.S. invasion. He also said that the group's 'overwhelming focus' remains confined to the conflict in Iraq."

As the legislative battle continues into the fall, our message must be clear: Bring all U.S. troops home safely on a timetable that begins now. They are caught in the middle of a civil war where the U.S. occupation is the problem. The solution to Iraq is political, not military. The war was wrong and it's time to do our best to right the wrong.

This brutal, ugly, and wholly unnecessary war may finally be coming to an end. And the role of the church could and should be decisive in making it so. I hear no more voices who still say this is a "just war." Many of us don't believe it ever was and that the nonviolent path of Jesus has again been vindicated. But regardless of past positions, we should all now agree that unjust wars must be ended as an obligation of faith.

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According to a poll released last week, 45 percent of American adults think President Bush should be impeached and 54 percent believe that Vice President Cheney should be. A few days before the poll hit the news, I was at my high school reunion in Scottsdale, Arizona. Sipping margaritas at a lovely hotel, many of my classmates—almost all of who had been Teenage Republicans back when—confessed anger about the current administration. I do not like George W. Bush. I never voted for him. Following Sept. 11, when Bush had a 95 percent approval rating, I was one of the skeptical 5 percent. I think his policies have been consistently divisive, dangerous, and disingenuous. But I do not favor impeaching him.

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It is indeed time for a new populism, a new progressive era. Charges of class warfare will certainly be raised, and when they are, let us point out that it is indeed—the class warfare of tax cuts and budget priorities that make the rich richer while decimating low-and middle-income families.

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When you think of labor unions, do you think of men in coveralls, meeting in dingy buildings late at night, trying to get the public's attention through strikes or maybe a small newspaper clipping? (I'll admit it, I kind of do). Well, it's time to reset that union image—the fight for fair labor practices just got a lot hipper. They're spoofing the new Harry Potter movie, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, to raise awareness about the evil practices of Lord Waldemart (aka Wal-Mart).

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A friend recently brought to my attention the July 8, 2007, column by Rod Dreher in the Dallas Morning News. Dreher, famous as a "Crunchy Con"—a conservative who cares deeply about the environment—provides another excellent example of the important shift taking place on the fault line that for too long has polarized and paralyzed "left" and "right." His title, "Evils of Capitalism," and the subhead, "Big business can be as dangerous a threat as big government," tell you that he defies old binary categories. The greatest challenge facing American conservatives today, he says, is not liberalism but capitalism, which he says, "in its current form, undermines not only the virtues necessary to the kind of society conservatives claim to want, but ultimately risks subverting itself."

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Last Wednesday, over 40 internally displaced people gathered in a local Mennonite church to reflect on congressional movement regarding U.S. policy toward Colombia. According to the latest U.N. reports, Colombia now contains the second highest number of internally displaced people in the world—more than Iraq, and second only to Sudan. As victims, they are tired of war and discouraged by the preferential treatment for some victimizers: For every dollar given by the U.S. to help a victim of internal displacement, $50 goes to help a demobilized paramilitary combatant. Safety and a life without fear are still far off for these victims, but recent achievements in Congress represent steps in the right direction. Nods, smiles, and lively responses affirmed that they speak to our distant hope.

Jim Rice: A Nuclear Warning
A 6.8-magnitude earthquake shook Japan on Monday. The quake caused a leak of radioactive water at the Kashiwazaki Kariwa nuclear power plant—and that should shake the rest of the world. According to a report from the Associated Press ("Japan Quake Causes Nuke Plant Leak, Fire"), the power company that runs the nuclear plant initially announced that a fire in the plant had been put out with no damage to the reactor and no release of radioactive material. But later in the day, the company admitted that 315 gallons of water had spilled from a tank at one of the plant's reactors and been flushed into the sea.

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Ryan Rodrick Beiler: Turning a Robber onto Wine
This story in today's Washington Post made my day. As a pacifist Mennonite, I can't count the number of times someone has posed "The Question": If someone had a gun to your loved one's head, and you could use lethal violence to save them, what would you do? This scenario that unfolded in a D.C. backyard doesn't fit that exact hypothetical scene in every detail, but it does help point out the absurdity of it—what are the chances that reacting violently in such a situation is guaranteed to save your loved one and only hurt or kill the "bad guy"?

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We don’t need another election. We need an exorcism. It is this that leads me from vigil to vigil and I burned with it on the evening of March 16, when I participated in nonviolent civil resistance and was arrested with more than 200 others as part of the Christian Peace Witness for Iraq. I shook from it in court some three months later when I pleaded “no contest” to failing to obey a lawful order.


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