Remember the movie The Blues Brothers? I lived in Chicago at the time it came out, and back then, it was relatively rare to see a movie set in the Windy City, so watching that movie remains a vivid memory for me.
A nun asks two paroled convicts to earn $5,000 to save the orphanage in which they grew up, so whenever any obstacles turn up, the brothers trot out the phrase "We're on a mission from God." It was one of the biggest punch lines of the movie.
I admit it, I laughed. In the context of the movie, it was a funny line.
It's not so amusing when Sarah Palin says it.
On June 8, she said the following in a speech:
Pray for our military men and women who are striving to do what is right. Also, for this country, that our leaders, our national leaders, are sending [U.S. soldiers] out on a task that is from God.
In a democracy which has separation of church and state as one of its basic principles, "God's will" has no place in the justification for going to war.
The ayatollahs of Iran use "God's will" as their reason for going to war. The United States should not.
Our country is not a theocracy. It is a democracy based on rule of law. I have felt for a long time that the concept of "rule of law" is not stressed sufficiently in our social studies classrooms. Quite simply, it means that no one is above the law--not the president, not the chief justice of the supreme court, not the richest person in America or the poorest.
When we invaded Iraq, we did it to take down a dictator and supporter of terrorism. The trouble is that the international community has conventions for when war is justified. This situation doesn't meet any of those standards. Yes, Saddam Hussein had done many terrible things in the past--and the first Gulf War was justified under international law. The war in Afghanistan is justified. The 2003 invasion of Iraq is not.
We simply cannot go around invading every country that we think is building up weapons or that we think opposes us. International law isn't really that much different from criminal law. If I see someone carrying a gun across the street, and I shoot him before he can come into my yard, that's not self-defense. It's murder. If, however, he is actually crawling into the window of my bedroom and I act, it is self-defense.
I can hear the sputtering coming from some quarters now: "But, but, but, you mean we have to wait until we're hit to fight back?"
More or less, yes. That's what determines the difference between an illegal war of aggression and a justified war. If an act of aggression is committed against you or one of your allies, then you can fight back with complete justification. In Iraq, the situation was a little more complicated because the country was under UN sanctions because of Saddam Hussein's past international crimes. Under those sanctions, Iraq was forbidden to engage in creating weapons of mass destruction, and violations of the sanctions would have been grounds for further punishment. That's why it was so necessary for the Bush administration to prove the existence of WMD before they invaded, a task they failed miserably. We did not establish adequate grounds for the invasion, and in fact lied about the "evidence" that we had. That puts us in the position of being the one who initiated hostilities.
We have been in the wrong with this war since day one. It doesn't matter if you think Saddam "had it coming" or you feel convinced that he would have gotten around to sponsoring an attack on us eventually. Under the rule of law, we don't have a leg to stand on, and the whole world knows it. Many people like to portray this situation as being like World War II, in which the United States lent its might to save the world from dictatorship. This is not the same situation at all. We were the aggressor, the initiator. We're the criminal here, not Saddam Hussein.
Do you know why the Soviet Union occupied Eastern Europe so long? Sure, they wanted to spread communism, but that was only one motive. The other motive was the desire for self-defense. Russia has no natural defenses on its western borders. The Northern European Plain is a vast flatland that makes it easy for armies to invade Russia (or the Soviet Union) from the west. It happened during the Napoleonic Wars and it happened again in World War II. The Soviet Union had one of the highest death tolls of any country in World War II. They wanted to defend themselves by creating a buffer zone of "friendly" states. So they occupied Eastern Europe and set up Communist governments there.
Their desire to protect themselves was perfectly understandable, but they went about it the wrong way. An illegal and ultimately futile way. They did it in an oppressive way that was bound to make people rise up against them in opposition. Which is exactly what happened.
What we're doing now in Iraq is not much different from what they did. We invaded and are occupying a sovereign nation that had not attacked us because we think it will make us safer. But all it has done is earn us the animosity of much of the world. And Iraq is no safer now than it was when we invaded five long years ago.
When I hear the Republican vice presidential nominee speak of this illegal war as a task from God, it chills me to the core. That's jihadist talk, the rhetoric of holy war. It's the kind of propaganda used by Osama bin Laden.
Is that what this country has come to? Have we become the very thing we're fighting?
Or can we turn back to our democratic principles before it's too late.