Friday, December 2, 2011

Post #100 - Leaders Courageous and Wise

"...Judge me, O Lord, according to my righteousness, and according to my innocence that is in me." (Psalm 7:8)

Howard Zinn, author of A Power Governments Cannot Suppress, wrote, in 2007, about the common tendency to acquiesce in compromise, to say “I guess that's the best deal we can get.” "Except for the rare few," Zinn wrote, "our representatives are politicians, and will surrender their integrity, claiming to be 'realistic.' We are not politicians, but citizens. We have no office to hold on to, only our consciences, which insist on telling the truth. That, history suggests, is the most realistic thing a citizen can do."

But why should we the ordinary citizens, voters and taxpayers have to do all the heavy lifting? I, for one, have not yet given up on the electoral process or on the idea of representative government (not that it doesn't need a rigorous 300-year overhaul). In the words of the U.S. in the World project, what we need instead is:

"…smart, effective, far-sighted problem solving from our elected and appointed leaders…It’s time to get serious about America’s long-term national interests. We need to enhance regional security and encourage Iran’s continued evolution toward greater political, social, and economic freedom. Policies that undermine our chances of achieving these goals are not in America’s interest… Smart, tough diplomacy is far more likely than force to produce a satisfactory resolution of this problem. Getting serious about dialogue and diplomacy is the best way to protect America’s security."

James Turner Johnson, a professor of religion and author of Morality and Contemporary Warfare, wrote recently on just war theory applied to use of torture. He pointed out that traditional theories of what constitutes just war included a particular conception of who was going to be conducting such war:

"The sovereign, for example, was not conceived simply as whoever happened to be head of a political community, but as one who needed to possess the virtues necessary to exercise political leadership and serve the common good. Similarly, the soldier was not simply anyone who happened to carry arms but one who had had the virtues of the profession of arms inculcated in him...a ruler who misused the armed power at his command was understood to be a tyrant, not a sovereign, and a soldier was reminded of what his professional virtue required by the just war lists of wrong intentions, illicit targets and wrongful means."

It is imperative, therefore, that the commander-in-chief, our military and civilian leaders and the soldier, sailor or marine on the front line are each imbued with the fullest sense of the parameters that have been established by religion, constitutional protections, international law, social decency and personal honor.

George Washington is reputed to have said, "Government is not reason, it is not eloquence, it is force; like fire, a troublesome servant and a fearful master. Never for a moment should it be left to irresponsible actions."

During the past few years, many elected officials have distinguished themselves by their greed, their timidity or their narrow-mindedness. This is a time that demands that men and women who know themselves – their own frailty as well as their inner strength – to provide leadership for our country. If they can only see as far as the end of their own district and only as far into the future as the next election, they will not be able to bring us through the choppy seas that threaten to sink our ship of state.

With House Joint Resolution 14, fifty-eight members signed on as co-sponsors (including six Republicans) to state that unless there is an “attack by Iran, or a demonstrably imminent attack by Iran, upon the United States, its territories or possessions or its armed forces,” the President must consult with Congress and receive specific authorization prior to initiating use of military force against Iran. (There have been similar measures started in the U.S. Senate.) It was referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, and never heard from again.

While it may strike many as strange, even perverse, to quote a leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran in this context, perhaps openness to the view from the other side of the chasm that separates us is precisely what we need to have. Here, then, are some words from one of their political figures: then-president of Iran Seyyed Mohammad Khatami, speaking before the U.N. Security Council in 2002, introduced his idea (later adopted by the United Nations) for a “Dialogue among Civilizations.” Khatami approached the question of international relations in a decidedly spiritual and poetic -- and typically Iranian -- vein:

"…The Hand of God granted humankind history, will and freedom of choice; the image of God provided him with culture, spirituality and liberty; and the spirit of God bestowed upon him life and vitality…
"…so long as imprudent potentates can obliterate flowers and trees, laughter and hope from the face of the earth with a quick stroke of their folly and cruelty, it is premature to celebrate the ultimate triumph of the Logos over the sword."
"Among the worthiest achievements of this century is the acceptance of the necessity and significance of dialogue and rejection of force, promotion of understanding cultural, economic and political fields, and strengthening of the foundations of liberty, justice and human rights. Establishment and enhancement of civility, whether at the national or international level, is contingent upon dialogue among societies and civilizations representing various views, inclinations and approaches. If humanity at the threshold of the new century and millennium devotes all efforts to institutionalize dialogue, replacing hostility and confrontation with discourse and understanding, it would leave an invaluable legacy for the benefit of future generations…
"Terrorism is a product of desperation and nihilism…Eradication of terrorism must be concurrent with a global search for justice. This assertion should in no way be interpreted as a justification for any form of terrorism. We unequivocally oppose, as required by our religious, moral and cultural values and norms, all forms and manifestations of terrorism and we shall combat it vigorously and earnestly…At the threshold of the third millennium, the world needs to be liberated from the nightmare of nuclear war and weapons of mass destruction…We, in the Islamic Republic of Iran, as the victims of the use of weapons of mass destruction, are cognizant, more than anybody else, of their horrifying impact…As a first step in this direction, I invite our neighbors in the Persian Gulf region – who have witnessed two destructive wars in the span of one decade -- to establish a security and cooperation system in the area."

At the height of the Cold War, according to an article in Inside Russia, “nearly 80% of Soviet science was focused on armaments,” . Could that scientific effort not have resulted in a much better life for Soviet citizens if used for medical research or environmental mitigation? A symposium was held in late April, 2007 at IAEA headquarters to bring together representatives of the United States, Russia and a dozen other countries to “determine precisely what kind of nuclear energy each of those countries requires, and what sort of help each needs.” If Iran were also part of that kind of process, what might it mean for Middle East peace? Must we have another 50 years of stand-off -- or worse?

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