June 16, 2008

"The temerity to act upon faith"

Spengler, as usual, sees below the surface...

Acting on faith in politics means exactly what it does in personal life: to do what is right even when it is dangerous to do so, when received opinion howls against it, and when the ultimate consequence of such actions cannot be foreseen. After Pope Benedict XVI showed unprecedented courtesy to visiting American President George W Bush last week, much has been written about the Christian faith that binds the pope and the president.

It is not only faith, but the temerity to act upon faith, that the pope and the president have in common. In the past I have characterized Benedict's stance as, "I have a mustard seed, and I'm not afraid to use it." (See Ratzinger's mustard seed Asia Times Online, April 5, 2005.) Despite his failings, Bush is a kindred spirit. That is what horrifies their respective critics within the Catholic Church and the American government, who portray the president and the pope as destroyers of civilizational peace. The charge is spurious because there was no civilization peace to destroy, but like many calumnies, it contains an element of truth.

Never before did a pope descend to the Vatican gardens to greet a national leader as Benedict did for Bush, returning the unprecedented deference that the president showed in meeting the pope's plane at Andrews Air Force Base in April. More than mutual courtesy is at work here; the two men evince a natural affinity and mutual sympathy. Prelates in the Vatican's permanent bureaucracy fumed at the warmth with which Bush was received, the Italian daily La Repubblica noted June 12, given that the US president "is very distant from papal exhortations condemning war", the Iraq war in particular.

Benedict XVI, like his predecessor John Paul II, disagrees with American policy in Iraq, but not the way that the European or American left would like. "There was not a word from the papal throne about the possibility of an attack on Iran during the coming months, the catastrophic results of which terrify all the bishops of the Middle East," Marco Politi fulminated in La Repubblica June 14. "In the Holy Land, the Holy See is being towed behind the snail's pace [in peace negotiations] of Washington and the Israeli government."

Despite his position on Iraq, Benedict's critics within the church regard him as a civilizational warrior as dangerous as the US president. Bush might denounce "Islamo-facism", but continues to believe that Islam is a "religion of peace". Muslims suspect that the pope wants to convert them, a threat they never have had to confront in Islam's 1,500-year history...

"Convert them." That's the "other shoe" that's finally dropping. If our Faith is true, then there is no way it does not require the conversion of the nations. We are not able to live in "peaceful coexistence" with Islam or Buddhism or Hindooism. Why? Because we have what those people need. We have the Living Bread. If someone is starving in front of you, and you are holding a loaf of bread, what must you do? Can you say, "Isn't peace wonderful, pal?" and walk away?

A couple of other bits from Spengler's column..

...Bush was magnificently right to conduct a punitive expedition against Saddam, but horribly wrong to wade into the mire of nation-building. He should have found a cooperative dictator to replace Saddam and marched out, as American neo-conservative historian and political commentator Daniel Pipes suggested at the time...

My money says Spengler's wrong on this. Bush is operating on the level of "Grand Strategy" here. He's playing the same deep game Benedict is, but in a more secular realm. The risks are high, but the stakes are higher. If freedom is "God's gift for all men," as Bush says, then we have, (on a much lower plane) the bread they need. My guess is that it was no more likely that Bush would install a "friendly dictator" in Iraq and then scoot, than it would be for Benedict to acquiesce in the "detente" which Dall'Oglio wishes to keep with the various tyrants of the Islamic world.

...Why should Muslims fear Benedict?

For the first time, perhaps, since the time of Mohammed, large parts of the Islamic world are vulnerable to Christian efforts to convert them, for tens of millions of Muslims now dwell as minorities in predominantly Christian countries. The Muslim migration to Europe is a double-edged sword. Eventually this migration may lead to a Muslim Europe, but it also puts large numbers of Muslims within reach of Christian missionaries for the first time in history....

Very true. But globalization is doing the same to the Muslim heartland. Opening it up. Success in a global economy requires openness and freedom, as China is learning. If Iraq can become any kind of democracy (it will doubtless be a very flawed and rough one for a long while) then Bush has cracked open the Arab world.

....Bush chose Iraq simply because existing United Nations Security Council resolutions provided a pretext in international law...

At a conscious level, perhaps. It makes perfect sense. But I suspect something else was going on. I think Iraq is different. This is nothing I have evidence for; just an impression gained from ten-thousand dust-motes of information that I have seen floating in cyber-space since 2002, and which seem to form some sort of pattern. I suspect that if knowledgeable people had contemplated the Arab Islamic world in the year 2000, and pondered where change might start, where new things might be catalyzed, where the diamond might be cleaved with a single blow, they would be drawn inevitably to Iraq. That's my suspicion.

Posted by John Weidner at June 16, 2008 10:36 AM
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