Sunday, September 26, 2004

I'm on a email list for The National Council of Churches from my Methodist days. They just sent me another email discussing the cost of war. I've heard more and more complaints about the cost of the Iraq war and how the money spent there could be better used for health care, or feeding the poor, or put towards AIDS.

Raise your hand if you think Congress could rally the vote to open their purse (our purse) to the tune of $140 billion, borrowed, for any of those problems. Now why, I ask, why have they voted to open their purse for the war and not for social ills?

The USA is split, it seems to me, between the urban and rural areas of the country. Rural people believe, by necessity, that people need to do for themselves and for their neighbors. In rural areas, the government is distant: animal control is not going to come out to your house and take care of rabid skunks, if the electricity goes out, you're going to be late on the list of getting your power back on, you control your own water, your own sewer, your own garbage, you control trimming your own trees, nobody cares if your grass gets long. If you have trouble, you're going to call your neighbor or your family first because they're closer and because they would do the same for you.

In urban areas, people expect, again by necessity, the government to solve problems. You just can't have people in the city blasting away at wild animals, garbage has to managed, water and sewage have to be managed, snow has to be managed, trees have to be kept out of wires, noise and weeds and criminals have to be taken care of. Areas of blight need to be renewed, parks, streets, rivers all have to be taken care of. The people need to be taken care of. People who live in cities agree to live by certain rules and expect certain services in return. If you have trouble, you have a list of service lines to call: animal control, city code control, police, leaf pickup, etc.

Since our country is rather evenly split between rural and urban, we have two competing philosophies. Congress would never vote to spend $140 billion on social problems because they cannot agree on what is needed let alone how to spend it best. But all areas of the country can (and did) agree on war. The vote in congress was 296-133 for the use of force to remove Saddam in Iraq. The Senate vote was 52-47 for the war.

To say that the money going toward the war is shorting social programs is wrong. It's money would would never have borrowed except for war. The point, though, of the Council of Churches, is not really to spend that money on social ills, but to use money to point out another reason this war, or any war, shouldn't be waged.

In 1998, the NCC wrote a letter to Bill Clinton about war with Iraq before he launched a bunch of cruse missiles without a vote from Congress and without the support of the UN. Here's an excerpt:

February 16, 1998
The Honorable William Jefferson Clinton
The White House
Washington DC 20005

Dear Mr. President:

The burden of leadership in the face of the Iraqi government's defiance of UN mandates is now, we believe, especially heavy and it is unavoidably yours to bear. As religious leaders, we write respectfully to offer you counsel rooted in the experience and the deeply held commitments of numerous religious communities both within and beyond our membership:

Continue diplomacy patiently, even doggedly. Insist on UN compliance but practice restraint. Pursue a humanitarian, not a military, option.

The overwhelming reality is that there are no easy or readily apparent solutions to the current impasse. No options appear that are free of risks altogether. Our counsel: Listen to that reality. Quick solutions pursued in a clouded landscape are morally suspect and historically dangerous.

On the other hand, here is a letter the NCC sent to President Bush before the Iraq war. Another excerpt:

It is detrimental to U.S. interests to take unilateral military action when there continues to be strong multilateral support for a new weapons inspection regime and when most governments in Europe and the Middle East resist supporting military action. It is important for the U.S. to cooperate with international efforts to control Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, if possible, through a regional weapons-of-mass-destruction control initiative.

Rather than attacking Iraq, we urge that your priority in the Middle East be an Israeli-Palestinian ceasefire and peace settlement. As do many in the world, we look to the United States government to set an example for the international community. As Christian religious leaders responsible for millions of U.S. citizens we expect our government to reflect the morals and values we hold dear - pursuing peace, not war; working with the community of nations, not overthrowing governments by force; respecting international law and treaties while holding in high regard all human life.

I found the two letters telling: though both called for peace, the letter to Clinton was very nice, very thoughtful and respectful. The letter to Bush was more harsh, with no words about the burden he must be under. In addition, the NCC didn't call on Clinton to solve the Jewish/Palestinian problem before he lobbed 40 some cruise missiles into Iraq, but they added that impossible hurdle for President Bush.

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