The most crucial question of this presidential campaign is the legitimacy of the Iraq war and the continuance of the U.S. occupation there. So much of the national discussion has skirted the real issues by framing the war with polarizing sports metaphors like victory, defeat, hit-'em-there, and surges. Americans must look beyond these and talk honestly about our country's approach to foreign policy.
The original reasons for the war: Saddam Hussein's ties to 9/11, the weapons of mass destruction, and the alleged support of terrorists, are nothing but a series of red herrings, abandoned even by the initiators. The unspoken reasons -- access to the world's second-largest oil reserves and our supposed need for permanent bases to protect oil supplies -- are authentic but secondary. The primary reason for the war comes from evangelical roots and is embodied in the Bush Doctrine -- pre-emptive war.
After 9/11, Bush felt that the United States could not allow Islamic fundamentalism to spread in the Middle East, and if we Westernized a single Middle Eastern country, it would influence others and they would follow suit. The effort would not be missionary in the religious sense but cultural -- not to convert Muslims to Christianity but to convert the country to a Western ideology.
This is wrong both theologically and practically. Islamic fundamental extremists do not represent the world's billion-plus Muslims anymore than the Timothy McVeighs of America represent fundamentalist Christians. The evangelical point of view, that the world is black or white, saved or not-saved, "with me or against me," has put us on a path that is inconsistent with our own moral and ethical tenets -- love, compassion, and understanding. One cannot love thy neighbor if one's starting point is: I'm right and you're wrong and I'm going to change you. Theologian Wilfred Cantwell Smith asserts that we urgently need to reconcile missionary theology and Christian ethics. For him, the study of how God reveals himself to others (Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus) has deepened his own Christian faith and understanding, not undermined it.
Bush's missionary-driven foreign policy includes imposing a free trade agreement on the Middle East, and the building of armies in Georgia along Russia's border. This represents a new colonialism that puts the United States on a collision course with anyone who is not-with-us. The Bush Doctrine is arrogant and morally unsound.
The administration has built permanent bases in Iraq and has plans for a long-term presence, as in Korea. America should abandon this policy and get out of Iraq as soon as practical. Americans need to let the presidential candidates know that permanent occupation is unacceptable.
Darrell Keifer lives in Anchorage.