Benedict vs. the War Party

Pope Benedict XVI, in his annual "Urbi et Orbi" declamation, has drawn a picture of the global landscape that bodes ill for the cause of peace, exclaiming: "How many wounds, how much suffering there is in the world!" From the Solomon Islands to Somalia, from Latin America to the volatile Middle East, it’s bad news all the way – and it’s especially this last that draws the pontiff’s anguished attention:

"Afghanistan is marked by growing unrest and instability; 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. In Lebanon the paralysis of the country’s political institutions threatens the role that the country is called to play in the Middle East and puts its future seriously in jeopardy. Finally, I cannot forget the difficulties faced daily by the Christian communities and the exodus of Christians from that blessed Land which is the cradle of our faith."

The United States is never mentioned, and yet we all know who is responsible for the suffering inflicted on those troubled lands – and what is the source of the trouble. And there’s more trouble on the horizon, with Iran in this administration’s sights and the Democrats complicit before the fact. The recent dustup over the 15 British sailors and marines caught poaching in Iranian waters prefigures a Gulf-of-Tonkin-style incident that sparks a major new conflict. As the Guardian reports:

"The U.S. offered to take military action on behalf of the 15 British sailors and marines held by Iran, including buzzing Iranian Revolutionary Guard positions with warplanes, the Guardian has learned. In the first few days after the captives were seized and British diplomats were getting no news from Tehran on their whereabouts, Pentagon officials asked their British counterparts: what do you want us to do? They offered a series of military options, a list which remains top secret given the mounting risk of war between the U.S. and Iran. But one of the options was for U.S. combat aircraft to mount aggressive patrols over Iranian Revolutionary Guard bases in Iran, to underline the seriousness of the situation. The British declined the offer and said the U.S. could calm the situation by staying out of it."

The Bush administration is looking for a pretextany pretext – to provoke the Iranians, and thank God the Brits resisted sacrificing their sailors on the altar of the neocon war god. Yet this just shows how close we are to attacking Iran: as I’ve said before, U.S. troops in Iraq are but a border incident away from drawing the Iranians into a regional war that will be fought from Beirut to Bombay. In a horrific paradox, this is perhaps the key to finally stopping the Iraqi civil war and unifying the Shi’ites and the Sunnis – because an attack on Tehran will demonstrate to the entire Muslim world that Bush and his neocon courtiers aren’t fighting a "war on terrorism," but a war on Islam. Sunnis and Shi’ites will drop their internecine blood feud and take up arms against a common enemy – the Crusaders conveniently stationed right in their midst.

These new Crusaders, however, are not Christians: they are pagans who worship Ares and celebrate the "warrior ethic" of the Spartans while disdaining the Sermon on the Mount. They represent a new theology of power that has claimed the allegiance of much of the secularized West, a kind of anti-Church Militant intent on usurping the gospel of Christ and replacing it with the gospel of – well, of Satan. Remember that Lucifer, the Light-Bearer, was cast down from heaven for the sin of hubris: he thought he was a god, rather than a mere angel, and aspired to challenge even God Himself – a delusion only slightly less megalomaniacal than the neoconservativesMiddle Eastern project.

The pope’s bold statement is a sign of the rebirth of the resistance to the plainly evil forces that have had the upper hand until now. How appropriate that it happened on Easter, a celebration of regeneration and the resurrection of hope. Ah, but every bright cloud has a darker lining: as if to dramatize the biblical warning that the Devil often cites Scripture, we have the neocon theologian Michael Novak justifying America’s unholy crusade – and where else but in that formerly pro-Catholic magazine, National Review? Novak writes:

"Benedict XVI’s Easter Sunday remarks in St. Peter Square hit a low point, I would think. He said that ‘nothing positive comes from Iraq.’ 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.’"

Yes, the pope, AKA Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the most conservative of Catholic theologians prior to his ascension to the papacy, is a shill for the American Left. What kind of incense is Novak inhaling? To Novak and the very few practicing Catholics who take him seriously, the Church’s just-war theory is really just Marxism with a Catholic face, and the pope is a Chomskyite. Well, I say better a Chomskyite than a Trotskyite – or Trotskycon, as they’re known these days.

What is striking about Novak’s little encyclical is its utter amorality: he wants "an accurate description," not a moral prescription. In the moral universe of the Church, no "achievement" could balance out the Iraqi casualty count of 650,000, an estimate based on a methodology recently endorsed by the British government. In Novak’s neo-pagan moral universe, 650,000 dead Iraqis are disappeared, and in their place are the "achievements":

"Even as he was speaking, an immense protest meeting among Iraqi Shiites was taking shape in the holy city of Najaf. Here were TWO positive things taking place in Iraq on account of the deposing of Saddam Hussein. First, the Shiite holy cities are free and open for feast days, festivals, and pilgrimages from all over, as they were not under Saddam. Second, this particular protest, against the Americans and in favor of Iraqi nationalism, was also free, peaceful, and not only unopposed by Coalition forces but protected and assisted by them."

Could anyone be so utterly clueless as to hail the Sadrist demonstration that demanded a complete U.S. withdrawal and was rife with anti-American rhetoric as evidence that we ought to stay? I have yet to see or hear of such a perfect example of Bizarro World "logic."

I don’t know what Novak means when he claims the demonstration was "protected and assisted" by coalition forces, unless he recognizes that the very presence of an occupying force in Iraq is the main impetus for the growth of violent nationalism. And if he does so recognize this, then is he really hailing the prospect of an all-out U.S.-Shi’ite confrontation as another one of his vaunted "achievements"?

Novak’s isn’t a Christian conception of a just outcome, but a quintessentially pagan rationale. In the Novakian view, it doesn’t matter how many lives have to be sacrificed in order to build the great Mesopotamian monument to American hubris and his own overweening pride, just as long as the great pyramid of Middle Eastern "democracy" rises over the graves.

As for the opening of the Shi’ite mosques and holy places, paradoxically, these places are now centers of anti-occupation sentiment, the source of the Sadrists’ growing support. Remember that the Mahdi Army, Moqtada al-Sadr’s militia, fought the Americans to a standstill. Sadr eluded capture, however, and his party won big in the parliamentary elections long after U.S. military commanders were ordered to take him and his followers out. This is another one of Novak’s "achievements" on the road to a "noble vision," one bound to take a heavy toll in Iraqi and American lives.

It is the pope, not the heretical Novak, who gives a more accurate picture of what is happening today in the Middle East. We in the peace movement are grateful to him for bluntly – as always – rebuking the evil in our midst and defying the would-be princes of the earth in the name of a higher power.

There is more than a little irony in the evolution of Benedict XVI, widely reviled in the liberal media for all the usual "tolerant" reasons, into the de facto spiritual leader of a global antiwar movement. Surely this baffles the type of trendy, airheaded Left Coast liberal who pores over the Huffington Post and sees the Catholic Church and all its works as somewhere between Halliburton and the Carlyle Group in the hierarchy of bad guys. After all, how could someone who opposes abortion, not to mention the ordination of woman priests, possibly be anything other than malevolent? It’s odd that this crowd, which has pretensions to "spirituality," would be so disdainful of religion per se, yet their dogmatic anticlericalism displays an ignorance of history as well as a woeful inattention to recent events. The Catholic Church hierarchy has stood like a rock against the war hysteria that has been sweeping over the West since 9/11. Pope John Paul II opposed the invasion of Iraq and explicitly denounced the Novakian schismatic heresy that revises or denies Catholic just-war theory and would turn the Church into an instrument of Washington’s "benevolent global hegemony."

In the heartless, pagan world of the would-be empire-builders who have seized control of the American government and made it the center of evil in the world, power is measured in purely politico-military terms. By these standards, the Pope is utterly powerless, and his pronouncements have no more effect than a nonbinding congressional resolution, perhaps less.

This materialistic, mechanical view of how the world works will be the War Party’s undoing. Remember that Stalin’s querulous remark about how many battalions the pope commands came back to haunt his successors. The Red Army was no match for the battalions of Christ, because ideas, specifically moral ideas, rule the world, not armies. The Vatican used its moral authority as a mighty lever via the Polish Solidarity movement, an effort that eventually led to the overthrow of the Kremlin and the humbling of the Soviet empire. Have the warlords of Washington forgotten this lesson of the Cold War so soon? They had better pay attention, lest their empire go the way of the Bolsheviks’. In Benedict, the Vicar of Christ, the War Party has a formidable enemy – which is why he is a hero to us.

NOTES IN THE MARGIN

I did an interview with the heroic Scott Horton of Antiwar Radio yesterday. Check it out here. We’re thinking of making this a weekly supplement to my column, but I make no promises yet.

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Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo is editor-at-large at Antiwar.com, and a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He is a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and writes a monthly column for Chronicles. He is the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].