Pope Benedict XVI – "Nothing Positive Comes from Iraq"?

Easter is over and I’m back to blogging. It was not my intention to commemorate my return to blogdom by kicking the dead horse of topics past — the war in Iraq, capital punishment, or political matters in general. But alas, events being what they are . . .

Out of Pope Benedict XVI’s 1,444 word Urbi Et Orbi Easter Message for 2007 devoted to an observation of all manner of human suffering throughout the world and the response of the Gospel, much is being made of the following sentence:

In the Middle East, besides some signs of hope in the dialogue between Israel and the Palestinian authority, nothing positive comes from Iraq, torn apart by continual slaughter as the civil population flees.

Amy Welborn has a roundup of pundit’s reactions to the Pope’s comment (along with the usual raging debate in the combox), including an editorial in the New York Sun (The Eyes of Hope, April 9, 2007):

If the pope wants to help Iraqis and the Americans and others who are risking their lives to help them, he could underscore this progress rather than denying it. . . . in citing a list of trouble spots from Zimbabwe to Sri Lanka, [Benedict] avoided in his Easter message the error the American left makes of focusing on the carnage in Iraq to the exclusion of all the other woes.

Michael Novak @ NRO’s “The Corner”

“This is a very skewed report on the realities on the ground. But it might mean that the message the Pope wanted to convey is that of the American Left: “Whatever the good or the bad achievements, it is time to get out.” In other words, not an accurate description, but a prescription for the near future”

and Fr. Neuhaus (First Things“Pope Benedict on Iraq” April 10, 2007):

There are many opinions on the probability of such success. I am impressed by the reporters and informed observers who have in recent weeks offered tentative but hopeful judgments about the success of the Petraeus strategy. (See, for instance, the recent interview with John Burns of the New York Times [“on Iraq and American media’s coverage of it”]). To judge by a few words in his extensive Easter Sunday survey of the world’s many troubles, Pope Benedict is not so impressed. Catholics in particular pay close and respectful attention to the words of the pope, also when he is offering only his own prudential judgment with respect to this or that world problem. Admittedly, it is galling when Catholics and others who are usually blithely indifferent to church teaching seize upon a papal opinion with which they agree and, suddenly becoming hyper-infallibilists, elevate it to dogmatic status.

Pope Benedict said that “nothing positive comes from Iraq.” The most plausible interpretation of those words is that he sees no improvement in the situation for the people of Iraq. He says the country is “torn apart by continual slaughter as the civil population flees.” He does not say who is responsible for the continual slaughter, the various factions in Iraq or the coalition forces trying to bring the slaughter to an end. His concern for the fleeing civil population is undoubtedly a reference to the rapidly declining Christian population there. The plight of Christians in the Middle East comes in for more extended treatment in his Easter Sunday address. I hope he is wrong about there being nothing positive in what is happening in Iraq. I am confident that he hopes he is wrong. It is inconceivable that he hopes there will be no positive developments in the months ahead.

* * *

Over at Evangelical Catholicism, Michael uses the moment to criticize what he perceives to be fellow U.S. Catholics “intellectually wedded to American interests.” Peering into the soul of the Commander in Chief, he also calls for “the conversion of President Bush and of all American Catholics who uncritically hold military violence to be more fruitful and ‘practical’ than the peaceful and submissive example of our Lord.”

On the one hand, I think all — be it Michael Novak or Fr. Neuhaus (or Sydney Carton or “Morning’s Minion” over in Amy Welborn’s combox), would wholeheartedly embrace Pope Benedict’s plea with which Michael concludes his post:

Brothers and sisters in faith, who are listening to me from every part of the world! Christ is risen and he is alive among us. It is he who is the hope of a better future. As we say with Thomas: “My Lord and my God!”, may we hear again in our hearts the beautiful yet demanding words of the Lord: “If any one serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there shall my servant be also; if any one serves me, the Father will honour him” (Jn 12:26). United to him and ready to offer our lives for our brothers (cf. 1 Jn 3:16), let us become apostles of peace, messengers of a joy that does not fear pain – the joy of the Resurrection.

On the other hand, I have to wonder (as a fellow anonymous commentator did at Evangelical Catholicism):

What is the proper Christian response to Islamic terrorism? How does it translate, on a practical level, into national foreign policy?

It is one thing to lecture the President from the safe and secure confines of a blog. It is quite another to bear the weight of his responsibilities, along with those presently engaged in formulating our foreign policy in securing a free and liberated Iraq and the greater “war on terror.”

The dilemma brought to mind the following passage from an essay written by my father — “War and the Eclipse of Moral Reasoning” – presented by Dr. Blosser at the Tenth Annual Aquinas/Luther Conference held October 24-26, 2002 at Lenoir-Rhyne College and reprinted with kind permission. Forgive the extensive quotations, but I think it relates to the problem at hand:

John Courtney Murray was once asked by a puzzled friend what foreign policy had to do with the Sermon on the Mount. He answered, “What makes you think that morality is identical with the Sermon on the Mount?” Moral reasoning, Murray insisted, was not simply a matter of quoting Scripture. . . .

To put the matter in contemporary terms, this view asks: “What would Jesus do?” The problem with this is that there are some basic ways in which we can’t take Jesus as our example, because He came to do for us what we could not for ourselves, namely to die for our sins. The real question, rather, is “What would Jesus have us do?” And He tells us to love our neighbor, and leaves it to us to think through what that means.

Moralism provides no resources for moral judgment amidst the complexities of world affairs, because it denigrates the peace of a rightly ordered political community as something sub-Christian and unworthy of the Christian calling to a higher peace, the Shalom of the eschatological Kingdom.

There is also a similar confusion here involving the concept of “love.” The diverse demands of love in the manifold relationships of temporal existence — love of parents, children, spouse, community, co-workers, church, country, each with its unique and particular demands — are eclipsed by the unconditional and absolute meaning of love expressed in the command of Christ to love God with your whole heart and your neighbor as yourself. This is what the Dutch Calvinist philosopher, Herman Dooyeweerd, calls the “Cape Horn” of Christian ethics (II, 149, 154; cf. 141), because it represents the temptation of the Christian ethicist to displace the irreducible temporal modes of love demanded by moral reasoning in favor of the transcendent fullness of Christian love in which there is no Jew or Greek, no slave or free, no male or female, but all are one in Christ (Gal. 3:28). But the fact is that our world remains full of such distinctions, as evidence by Paul’s own letter to the slave owner, Philemon.

Excerpt from “War and the Eclipse of Moral Reasoning, by Dr. Philip Blosser. Presented by Dr. Blosser at the Tenth Annual Aquinas/Luther Conference held October 24-26, 2002 at Lenoir-Rhyne College, and reprinted with his kind permission.

It is questionable whether the problem in Iraq at this point is so much as an internal “civil war” between Sunni and Shia Muslims as an actual war against Iraqi civilians by external forces (or to quote Iraqi cleric Sadroddin Ghabanchi: “a number of Takfiri groups, which have been imposed on us from outside, have come into harmony with the Ba’thist groups and kill Iraqi Shiites and Sunnites”; see also Iraq’s Real “Civil War” Wall Street Journal April 5, 2007).

Suffice to say the counsels of scripture do not easily translate into a practical course of action in response to this situation. Some might think “the peaceful option” — the only Christian option — would be one of immediate withdrawal from Iraq and a foregoing of the use of military force. I do not think that is the case. And I think we would be reading too much into Benedict’s remarks if we were to decipher from them such a call (or even a call “to repentence” on the part of President Bush).

A reader refers me to an article in http://www.Chiesa“Between Venus and Mars, the Church of Rome Chooses Both” — which dispels the foolish notion that John Paul II was a “pacifist” or necessarily opposed to the use of military force. With respect to the Church’s position on Iraq we glean the following:

. . . So during the months of the war in Iraq, various and sometimes opposing approaches operated at the highest levels of the Church, under the insignia of pope Wojtlya. But these different approaches were essentially reconciled beginning in the autumn of 2003. The turning point was the terrorist bloodbath in Nassiriya on November 12. And the new orientation was marked by cardinal Ruini’s homily at the Mass for the nineteen Italians who were killed:

“To love even our enemies: this is the great treasure that we must not permit to be stolen from our consciences and our hearts, not even on the part of the terrorist assassins. We will not run away from them, but will face them with all the courage, energy, and determination of which we are capable. But we will not hate them; on the contrary, we will not grow weary of exerting ourselves to make them understand that all of our effort, including our military effort, is aimed at safeguarding and promoting a humane coexistence in which there is room and dignity for every people, culture, and religion.”

* * *Lastly, on the matter of whether “nothing positive comes from Iraq” — it’s important to recall the bias of the media. As Bill Roggio discovered in his tour of Fallujah, Iraq alongside U.S. troops (The Military and The Media The Fourth Rail Dec. 3, 2006):

In nearly every conversation, the soldiers, Marines and contractors expressed they were upset with the coverage of the war in Iraq in general, and the public perception of the daily situation on the ground.

In nearly every conversation, the soldiers, Marines and contractors expressed they were upset with the coverage of the war in Iraq in general, and the public perception of the daily situation on the ground. They felt the media was there to sensationalize the news, and several stated some reporters were only interested in “blood and guts.” They freely admitted the obstacles in front of them in Iraq. Most recognized that while we are winning the war on the battlefield, albeit with difficulties in some areas, we are losing the information war. They felt the media had abandoned them.

During each conversation, I was left in the awkward situation of having to explain that while, yes, I am wearing a press badge, I’m not ‘one of them.’ I used descriptions like ‘independent journalist’ or ‘blogger’ in an attempt to separate myself from the pack.

Back in 2004, a single blogger by the name of Arthor Chrenkoff took it upon himself to comb the web for (suprise!) positive news from Iraq – simply to counter the usual news from the mainstream media (hey, nothing sells like the latest carbomb or bloodbath). Over the course of about two years, Chrenkoff produced 35 roundups of “good news” from Iraq AND Afghanistan. Unfortunately, he took on a position whose employer forbade blogging, but I think it’s an example worth following. So to end on a good note, I’d like to direct my reader’ attention to:

  • An extensive “Good News from Iraq Roundup at BlackFive – between the capture Al Qaeda militants responsible for murdering Iraqi civilians, to the news that 42 local Sunni tribal chiefs have dedicated themselves to expel Al Qaeda from Iraq (in cooperation with the United States), to the graduation of Iraqi police from training (learning to police themselves) . . . there is some cause for hope.
  • Likewise, see National Review‘s Good News from Iraq: “The Other Side”, by Bill Crawford, providing occasional updates of Iraqi reconstruction;
  • USAID Assistance for Iraq, which posts the latest Iraqi success stories (see their report on “Top Strategic Accomplishments in Iraq”)
  • Multi-National Force Iraq publishes Iraq Reconstruction Reports on a regular basis – find out for yourself what is being done to assist Iraq on a social-economic level.
  • For some visuals, see Good News from Iraq: Photos From The Frontlines
  • Myths of Iraq, by Ralph Peters (RealClear Politics. March 14, 2006):

    During a recent visit to Baghdad, I saw an enormous failure. On the part of our media. The reality in the streets, day after day, bore little resemblance to the sensational claims of civil war and disaster in the headlines.

    No one with first-hand experience of Iraq would claim the country’s in rosy condition, but the situation on the ground is considerably more promising than the American public has been led to believe. Lurid exaggerations and instant myths obscure real, if difficult, progress.

  • What do the troops in Fallujah think about what’s happening in Iraq? Citizen-journalist Bill Ardolino spent time with the troops in Fallujah and got their opinions, asking one question: “What do the American people need to know about the war in Iraq?”

Now ask yourself: how much of the above do you hear on the evening news? In the papers? Not to wed myself intellectually to “American interests” (sorry, Michael) — but only to say that, when it comes to what is being reported by the MSM, don’t let the New York Times have the last word. Do some exploration and judge for yourself.

* * *Sorry for the tedious excursion into politics. A long-overdue Pope Benedict Roundup is currently in the works, along with some other posts on more pertinent topics.

Blessed Easter to all.

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