Irony, sorrow, lou reed, mlk, syria and reinhold niebuhr...

All day long I have been thinking about the incongruity of President Obama exploring a potential military strike against Syria: it is all too much like President Bush almost 10 years ago.  To be sure, there is obvious aggression and possibly real chemical weapons being used by Assad against his own people; nearly all of the Bush information re: weapons of mass destruction was either fabricated or born of ideology.  In this, Obama is NOT like Bush. And yet the determination to act without evidence or broad-based support is all too similar and is profoundly troubling.

I understand that President Obama is a Niebuhrian - one who wrestles with the unintended consequences of actions especially when all the options are bad - in this he is unlike President Bush who was simple-minded and too easily persuaded by his ideological colleagues.  To be sure, both are decent men who have had to wrestle with unimaginable challenges.  And while I would always opt for the Niebuhrian in these moments - they are more always more circumspect and measured - in the heat of the moment all bets are off and leaders have to trust their instincts and advisers.  
I personally pray that Obama discerns it best NOT to act in a unilateral way against Syria.  Sadly there is going to be ever more bloodshed and chaos whether or not the US engages in a symbolic act against the Assad regime. This is now an all-out civil war and it will have to get worse before it gets better.  I grieve for the innocents who have been lost and those who will be killed in the days and months to come.  And, no matter what the US does at this point symbolically, it won't matter.  More agony and death is inevitable. We might engage in some strategic support of the opposition, but we don't have a great track record in this arena either. Think of Afghanistan and our alliance with those who opposed Russia: they were the brains and brawn behind the Taliban and September 11th just a decade later.  We often simply do not know how to hurry up and do nothing when nothing is the best of some very bad options.
There is another irony in all of this, too:  on the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington where MLK shared with America the depth and breadth of his dream, President Obama finds himself speaking publicly about the King legacy while planning privately for covert military actions.  I don't question the fierce urgency of now when it comes to foreign policy decisions like responding to Syrian evil, but I do grieve that this administration chose early on NOT to explore paths that make for lasting peace.  

What would have happened if in addition to whatever military actions was necessary in Afghanistan, President Obama had chosen to work with Greg Mortgenson's three cups of tea movement in the early days of his administration? What would have happened if we built schools and fed people rather than just listened to those committed to the military surge and zero sum solutions?  No one will know now, of course, and Obama is not going to make any bold changes in his last two years in office.  If he had started six years ago, however, we would be looking at a very different playing field in the Middle East.  And our integrity would be so much better than it currently is after two failed wars and only a legacy of violence.
I have also been thinking a little more about the whole tawdry Miley Cyrus/ Robin Thicke event. It isn't the end of the world and doesn't rank up there with our current war machinations, of course; but what really troubled me about that scene was not the totally UN-sexy groove - if you watched, it was simply stupid and course in the most vulgar way - but rather the pandering to what has been called our "cheap mysticism of promiscuity." In a culture devoid of awe and obsessed with the bottom line, the flutter of cheap sex is about as close as we get these days to something truly transcendent. Frank Zappa nailed t iin "Cruisin' with Ruben and the Jets" but Lou Reed cut deeper still in "Romeo Had Juliet."

Manhattan's sinking like a rock
Into the filthy Hudson what a shock
They wrote a book about it
They said, 'It was like ancient Rome"

The perfume burned his eyes
Holding tightly to her thighs
And something flickered for a minute
And then it vanished and was gone
Without the ability to wait - and grieve - without a connection to something deeper than tweeting and instant gratification - without the nourishment of grace and forgiveness and prayer we inevitably sink to the lowest common denominator.  And these days that is pretty freakin' low.  

I don't know about you, but I wept a little yesterday as I listened to the March on Washington speeches... mostly because 50 years ago we were a people of real hope and cooperation and today we are so saturated in our stupid selfishness that is killing us - and too many others, too.


Barbara Barkley said…
Thank you for saying what so many of us are feeling (I hope!!). Thank you for being this voice. I wish Obama read your blog... ;-)
RJ said…
I love and pray for him but feel so sad tonight on so many levels. Love to you, dear friend.
John D said…
I disagree about opposing intervention in Syria - but found this to be a very interesting and helpful post. Definitely agreed that all the options facing Obama now are heart-wrenching. Also the connection between personal superficiality and global crises you mention is really interesting/tragic. Finally, are you aware of the recent fraud revelations with the 3 Cups of Tea movement? I like that idea in principle but not with that specific org.
RJ said…
Thanks for your note, John, and yes I am aware of the allegations re: 3 cups of tea. I have also followed this story as my church has been a big supporter; and while the investigations found that Greg was not a great manager, there was no misappropriation of funds and no misconduct in the mission of the group. Sadly, that part of the story did not find as much publicity as the charges. We continue to support them as they are doing important work. Thanks so much for reading and writing.

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