I am presently reading Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq (New York: Penguin Press, 2006), by Pulitzer Prize winning author Thomas E. Ricks. Any one who knows of a critical review of this best-selling book would help me by suggesting where I can find said review. The book is, to my mind at this moment, a powerful and fair-minded critique of much that has gone wrong in our Iraq military adventure. According to Ricks blame for our multiple failures, if we are to assign primary blame, lies with the civilian leadership at the Pentagon. This begins with Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who has called most of the shots in this war, and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, the neo-con genius who has been a principal architect of the philosophical thinking that led us into this conflict.

The question I would like to pose about the philosophy that is behind this war is quite simple. President Bush and his advisors have consistently argued (since 9/11) that democracy is an inherent desire that lies in the heart of people. By this argument the Iraqi people deeply desire to live under some form of democracy and we are there to build a nation that allows this desire to be expressed politically. This argument is based upon several intellectual arguments that have been presented by influential thinkers in and out of this administration.

My question: Is the desire for political freedom a value or an instinct? Bush and his advisors argue that it is an instinct. (And on this basis they are seeking to build a democratic nation in Iraq that will become a beacon of hope to other peoples in the Middle East.) I think the desire for political freedom is clearly a value. And it is a value that took us centuries to develop. We value democracy in the West only because of the influences that have come into our way of thinking through both Christian social thought and Enlightenment insights, neither of which is an influence on Iraq at all. Even in the West it took us a long time to come to our present understanding and commitment to democratic values; e.g., we fought a Civil War to define these values less than a hundred and fifty years ago. I do not see a biblical or philosophical basis for arguing that a desire for democracy is instinctive to the human heart. If this is true then how do you explain the people of God under the Old Covenant? And how do you explain the ancients who settled, except for a limited experiment in Greece, for something less? And what about the Middle Ages? There just seems to be little evidence for this argument thus I think it should be challenged in the court of public debate. This challenge does not constitute a capitulation to the far left. Many social and political conservatives have made it before me.

Let it be noted that I personally believe in democracy. I believe it is the best system of government that we know for a people like ourselves, a people with our values and influences. What I question here is the assumption that it is the right, or best, system for all other people. I also seriously question how a Muslim country can truly understand and embrace democracy. Certainly the democracy that we have already introduced is extremely limited given the religious expressions in the Iraqi Constitution.

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  1. David L. Bahnsen September 29, 2006 at 5:38 pm

    John –
    Well, brother, you did it! After several years of mostly writing delightfully agreeable stuff, I have found a bone to pick! =) Yes, I do believe democracy is an instinct, AND a value, and I believe the attempt to juxtapose the two is a brutally false dilemma. However, rather than make the argument on a blog, I will send you my review of Natan Sharansky’s classic work, “A Case for Democracy”, which solidified my full-scale conversion to Wolfowitz-esque neo-conservatism this year. Not only do I hope you will read (and critique) my review, but I heartily recommend the book as well. His ability to show the parallels in the Kissinger-esque argument that your aforementioned author makes with Iraq, and the former Soviet Union, are simply incredible.

  2. Frank December 20, 2006 at 1:34 pm

    You wrote: “I think the desire for political freedom is clearly a value. And it is a value that took us centuries to develop. We value democracy in the West only because of the influences that have come into our way of thinking through both Christian social thought and Enlightenment insights, neither of which is an influence on Iraq at all. … What I question here is the assumption that it is the right, or best, system for all other people. I also seriously question how a Muslim country can truly understand and embrace democracy.”
    To which I offer the remarks of Rev. Roger Wagner in support:
    “It is very hard for any nation, especially one as allegedly well-intentioned as the United States, to resist the messianic temptation, especially when we see the genuine political and social needs of the nations of the world.
    “But it is very important to remember that the Biblical fruits of covenant-keeping faithfulness to God cannot be exported without first exporting the source of those blessings — the preaching of the gospel of Christ and His life-transforming (and culture-transforming) work. This is the essential difference between 18-19th Century colonialism and the imperialist efforts of the super powers in the 20th Century. The former usually sent missionaries first, where the latter have sent the army.” ~ Roger Wagner, “Vietnam: Biblical Reflections on National Messianism” [http://tinyurl.com/y7yru2]

  3. Turtlecurls August 19, 2007 at 12:48 pm

    You folks have it backwards. It’s not Christian values that prop up democracy. It’s Jewish values. Christianity has a hiearchy with Jesus a human and a g-d, and priests and ministers are more knowledgable and the people following the dogma they are taught, using “faith” which is blind trust (for good or bad). Judaism places all people as of equal value, with Jews have extra obligations of rules to follow due to their agreement to accept those obligations. While Rabbis are more knowledgeable, any one, can have an opinion about g-ds word and we are taught to disagree with, think through for ourselves, and evaluate everything. We are individually empowered. Many of the democratic and US values come straight out of Jewish experience. The Jewish reading of the passage “an eye for an eye, a burn for a burn, a bruise for a bruise (continues)” concluded that since burns and bruises can’t be equally recreated, in fact, this is g-ds statement that a person should be compensated for harm to him by equal standards based on the injury and not on his or the perpetrator’s stature. Judaism believes it living amoungst others with a sense of acceptance of multiple belief systems in the world, and has proven this by living peacably amoungst all sorts of people for around 2000 thousand years. It’s Christianity that needs other people to change to their way of thinking in order to validate themselves, and doesn’t not see the good in, nor respect other belief systems, but instead came forth during imperialism to annilate them.
    The question, is democracy a choice all people would make, is a good one to ask. We, living in demcracy, arrogantly believe we have the best way and everyone else would want the same. Maybe there is something even better out there yet to be invented. However, you can’t tell ANYTHING about Iraq desire by the current experiement. Taking away a g’vt and replacing it with a bandage job, does not give people the time needed to learn how to do a democracy. Not knowing how, is a very different concept than, not inheritly wanting it. Babies have an instinct to want to walk, but it sure takes them time to get the strength and knowledge of balance to be able to do it.
    I am forever disappointed in people’s misconceptions about Judaism and their lack of knowledge about it. I find many Christains are so enclosed by their own beliefs and style of teaching it, that they have no idea there are completely other ways to think (not just other ideas, but other ways to do the thinking process). Everything fits into their paradigm or outside it. An example is that I’ve explored “new age” spirituality. I take the techniques and integrate them back into my Jewish faith and it has enhanced my ability to feel g-d. The Christains around me do a black or white. They’re rejected Christianity as dogma that’s not meeting their needs, so they use the spirituality as their new dogma religion.
    Those democractic “values” we’ve come to appreciate are actually a contract agreement. We get security and respect (with limits) of our wants in life in exchange for offering the same to others with the g’vt as overseer. The founders desired that contract immediately as they wrote it. However, as with any contract, it takes time to learn to trust that it will continue to exist, which is how the valuing of the contract develops. So, the answer isn’t one or the other, it’s both.
    I haven’t spent much time here, but I hope you can use some of this as thoughtful and not just get mad at it.
    I want to add another comment “Paul Wolfowitz, the neo-con genius”, assuming this comes from Rick’s book, it’s notable that only the Jew is a neo-con and genius. There’s an anti-semitic undercurrent (including Jews are dangerous because they are overly ambious and smart) as well as him being the only neo-con in the summary. If this is from the book (and not just an accidental wording), I would question deeply this author’s ablity to analyse anything. I find when people are and can’t recognize the bigoted beliefs within themselves even when they should be double-checking for them as routine, then those people don’t think well.

  4. Turtlecurls August 19, 2007 at 12:54 pm

    I should add, that I find value in Christianity as I do in every religion I’ve encountered. I am not writing any of this as a putdown of the religion. Just an analysis of some of it’s limits of not appreciating other religions.

  5. John H. Armstrong August 20, 2007 at 9:37 am

    Turtlecurls has given us some pretty good insights that we should listen to more carefully than we will be inclined to do in our all too willful blindness. I resist the way the Christian Right sometimes speaks of Judeo-Christian values but he is right that we Christians owe our basic principles to the Jews and to the Jewish Scriptures, which are a part of our own canon. Both anti-Semitism and sheer ignorance have often cut us off from this contribution and the results are not good.

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