Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

“Handing the Terrorists a Victory”

Recognize the phrase? It is a stock phrase used by the Bush admin. whenever they want to explain why we cannot end the occupation of Iraq.  It has captured the minds of many ordinary citizens because, of course, no one wants to “hand the terrorists a victory.”  But I am not impressed with the phrase as meaning anything other than an emotional propaganda tool to keep support for a the biggest foreign policy disaster in this country since we took over the Vietnam war from the French!

1) Which terrorists would we be “handing a victory” if we stopped occupying Iraq?  The Iraqi insurgents? It’s their country.  No matter if we send 400,000 troops (which would take a draft) and stay 10 years, they will NEVER give up trying to rid their country of occupiers–even if they stop the killing between Sunni and Shi’ia.  A guerilla war against an occupying army ALWAYS wins eventually, because eventually the occupiers lose enough money and soldiers that they just get fed up and go home.  Hello? That’s how the United States became independent, remember? It wasn’t because George Washington was a military genius (his own diaries show his knowledge that this wasn’t true), folks. The Continental Army lost most of the battles.  But England was also in a war with France (that’s why the French supplied us arms and some “military advisors”) and was about to have one with Spain. We “terrorists” (that’s how the British saw the rebel colonists) simply made it too expensive for the occupying British to keep it up when they had other fights, too.  In Vietnam, the U.S. won nearly every battle, but could not win the war after 10 years any more than the French could after 5. Algeria drove out France the same way.  Guerilla war is ugly, but effective for the home team, especially when the opposing team doesn’t speak the language, know the culture, and has other matters to deal with–all of which is true about Iraq and the U.S.  If the “terrorists” to which we are referring are the insurgent Iraqis who don’t feel “liberated” by our presence, then the question isn’t whether they will be victorious, but when.  Because we will leave, eventually.  And there is zero evidence that we will leave behind a modern democracy and a flourishing country.  How many more refugees will we create in Iraq, first? How many more dead civilians–killed by insurgents and us?

2) If we mean that we will be “handing a victory” to al-Qaeda, if we leave Iraq, then we did that the moment we invaded Iraq. Al-Qaeda has been trying to convince Muslims to join its “jihad” (mainstream Muslims disagree that a true jihad can be called in these circumstances) against the West, especially the U.S. because, among other things, they claim we occupy Muslim countries.  It seems reasonable to believe that one of their purposes in the horrible 9/11 attacks was to make us react in ways that would seem to back up their claims about the wicked Americans.  Helping Afghans overthrow the Taliban and remove Afghanistan as an Al Qaeda stronghold was a logical response. Most Muslims who were not already in Al Qaeda’s ideological camp did not object.  But invading a nation which had nothing to do with 9/11, when every nation in the Middle East (except Israel) was against it, played right into Al Qaeda’s hands.  Iraq has now become a training ground for Al Qaeda terrorists: they sneak into the porous borders, learn to kill Americans with guerilla tactics, and then disappear into the scattered Al Qaeda network to plan terrorist attacks on the West.

3) Claiming that ending the Iraqi occupation will “hand the terrorists a victory” is much like the claim that if we left Vietnam there would be a domino effect and Communism would spread throughout Asia.  It’s a scare tactic used so that we don’t examine the logic of the policy and whether the policy is working–and we have been in Iraq now longer than the U.S. involvement in World War II!

4)The Bush administration claims that the invasion/occupation of Iraq is one front in a generations long “war on terror.” Now, I think this is just a slogan and a metaphor and not a coherent policy. But forget that for a moment. Suppose they are right? Well, in any real shooting war there are victories for either side, but the key is who wins the war. So, if Iraq is draining treasure and lives and resources needed to fight terrorism elsewhere (and it undeniably is), then maybe it would be smarter tactics to let “the terrorists” (all of them? in all their disparate groups? including the ones in Latin America we train at the School of the Americas in Ft. Benning, GA? including the notorious terrorist we just released from prison in Miami because we wouldn’t extradite him to either Venezuela or Cuba where he is accused of terrorist crimes?) claim victory for Iraq (they will anyhow) and leave so that we can fall back, regroup, and use our resources more widely in this “war against terrorism?”

5) Some citizens in the U.S. have been especially sucked into this “hand the terrorists a victory” mantra after it was used by Australian Prime Minister John Howard in his attempt to influence U.S. elections and claim that electing Barack Obama would be a “victory for the terrorists” because Obama has promised to end the Iraq war (as have all the Democratic candidates). I haven’t decided whether or not to vote for Obama, but I notice that Howard didn’t back up his words by sending more Australian troops to Iraq! Howard’s stand on the war is not popular in Australia. He became the first sitting PM to be censured by Parliament when he joined the “coalition of the willing,” but the number of troops sent is small. 

In all, it seems to me that this phrase “hand the terrorists a victory,” like “support the troops,” is not really an argument for the “surge” or any foreign policy strategy (much less military strategy), but simply a slogan to keep people from asking tough questions about how long we will be in Iraq, why we are building permanent bases there, why we are supporting a new law in Iraq that will give most of its oil profits to international oil companies (when it needs all the money it can get for its own reconstruction), etc.  Let’s ask the hard questions and not have minds clouded by mantras like “handing the terrorists a victory.” In my view, our current policy is like a flood of lemmings running over a cliff–and anyone shouting “there’s a cliff ahead” gets told to shut up so we don’t “hand the terrorists a victory.” So, we keep running over the cliff until we’re all dead.  I hope the American public is smarter than that.


April 28, 2007 - Posted by | Iraq


  1. Excellent reasoning, Michael.

    Comment by Dan Trabue | April 29, 2007

  2. Michael, while I love your site, your energy and your pacifism, I urge you to be careful in unqualifiedly using the word ‘us’ to refer to U.S. citizens. To be fair, I think your points are essentially correct, but there is a very real temptation for Christians to forget our identity as a community of ‘resident aliens’ and to get ‘entangled in civilian affairs’ in what, ultimately is not ‘our’ country.
    The country some of us reside in is being stupid (so what else is new?), to be sure (you’ve made a convincing case of that), but ‘we’ need to maintain the primacy of a Christian we, not an ‘American’ we.
    Hope I’m making sense… thanks for the good thoughts.
    Rich blessings,

    Comment by Daniel | April 29, 2007

  3. Daniel, I agree, partly. I think that Christians’ PRIMARY loyalty is to the Rule of God and not any particular nation. But we also have earthly ties (Paul was proud of his Roman citizenship, for instance). Our “one faith, one baptism, one Lord” relativizes other identity markers: nationalities, races, gender, language group, even family–without negating those other identity markers. We must “get entangled” in the affairs of our various nations–it is part of our calling to be salt and light; it is the missionary strategy that Jeremiah gave to the Exiles in Babylon–but we have to get entangled AS CHRISTIANS, i.e., in ways that always show that our first loyalty is to Another Kingdom.
    One of the problems inherent in using Just War Theory–even to communicate to others–is that it can obscure that greater trans-national loyalty. So, I accept your critique that these last posts had me sound as if the primary identity of U.S. Christians was as “Americans” not as Christians. Partly because that was because I wrote realizing that while I have readers from around the globe (mostly Christian), I also have readers, mostly from the U.S., who aren’t necessarily Christian and who DO think mostly as “Americans.” In trying to address two (somewhat overlapping) audiences (Sisters and Brothers in the Lord, and “my fellow Americans”), I probably obscured the loyalties issue.
    If you use the blog search engine, Daniel, or click the category “politics” in the archives, you should find a post I did on whether Christians can join political parties that speaks more on this issue of loyalties and in a clearer way. Thanks for reminding me to be clear. I find that transnational mindset dominant when I think like the pacifist I am, but when I go to use JWT to communicate with others, I sound more nationalist–which is probably one more clue as to why JWT is a heretical doctrine.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | April 29, 2007

  4. Also, Daniel, I say “we” and “us” when talking about the U.S.A. because, for better or worse, these are people God has given to me. This is my country. My tax dollars help to finance this war. My inability to mobilize enough of my fellow citizens, Christian and otherwise, against it meant that I did not prevent it and have not stopped it. There is a solidarity of guilt which I cannot deny.

    It’s why I still call myself “white” despite all the damages of the myth of race. Because my history is tied up with white supremacy and I still benefit from the color of my skin. So, although I work to deconstruct the myth of “whiteness,” I don’t refuse the label because I don’t want to play leapfrog history and abdicate my responsibility for some of that history. The same with my male sex and socially constructed masculine gender, etc.

    I don’t think any Iraqi, Sunni, Shi’ia, Kurd, Christian or other, would buy it, if I said, “that’s not my country, I am not part of those who did this.” Because I am, like it or not.

    No, the nation-state is not my primary identity–but it is part of my identity. I don’t live above history but in a particular historical context. That’s something Hauerwas’ “resident aliens” perspective seems to lack. It’s not fully incarnational.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | April 29, 2007

  5. Michael–thanks, that’s helpful. Your clarifications make good sense (and I get the warm fuzzies whenever someone calls JWT heretical). Hauerwas can certainly gloss over aspects of our historical situatedness, but I think his emphasis on the ‘alienness’ of our earthly residency is a constant reminder to second guess our earthly allegiances in light of our Kingdom allegiance. In other words, given the all-too-human propensity for forgetting our Christian calling, I welcome his overcompensation.

    Comment by Daniel | April 30, 2007

  6. […] “Handing the Terrorists a Victory” « Levellers (tags: politics Pacifism Faith) Posted by Brandon { article rss } Trackbacks […]

    Pingback by links for 2007-05-01 | May 1, 2007

  7. Hey, Michael.

    I largely agree with your response to Daniel, but I would take issue with you on two points:

    1) You made the claim that Paul was “proud” of his Roman citizenship. There is no indication of any such pride in the text. The only time he ever mentioned his Roman citizenship was in order to save himself from a flogging, and there were several instances where he opted not to invoke his rights as a citizen in order to save his skin. Neither should his appeal to Caesar be read in terms of Paul’s respect for Roman law. Paul knew that if they sent him back to Jerusalem like the governor was planning, there was a group of Jews waiting there to assassinate him. Appealing to Caesar was, once again, the only way to save his skin and press on with the Gospel. Retrojecting pride in his citizenship entirely ignores the dominant Jewish mood toward pagan empires, especially toward Rome.

    2) Have you read, “On Being a Texan and a Christian”? I think it would be a bit of a straw man to attack Hauerwas for not taking into account the narratives he’d rather leave behind. Elsewhere he makes it clear that he is an American, and that to a certain extent that is inescapable.

    To accuse the “Resident Aliens” typology of being “not fully incarnational” seems to me a) not to take into account Hauerwas’ full corpus (which is admittedly not an easy thing) and b) not to pay attention to the claims he is making about the peoplehood of the church. Without denying our less desirable narratives, we are still called to be conformed to a narrative that stands as a challenge to them.

    This relates to an email I sent you a while back. I am still anxious to hear your thoughts on what’s problematic about reading Yoder through Hauerwas. In many respects I am much more inclined to Yoder than to Hauerwas. For instance, Hauerwas’ high church proclivities cause him to diverge from Yoder’s ecclesiology on the issue of “voluntarism.” There I happily side with Yoder, as in many other instances. But I am still very curious what your thoughts are here.

    Comment by Thom Stark | May 3, 2007

  8. HttAV only a “emotional propaganda tool?” Come on. Next thing you’ll be saying is that “It’s the economy stupid” was just a meaningless political tool.
    HTtAV is an excellent way to state a Truth that denial by the left will not change. That is exactly what happened in Vietnam. Cut and run advocates will give us the same result in Iraq. The “insurgents” are nothing more than the criminal remains of Saddams supporters. Given free reign they will add Iraq to a list of killing fields that includes Cambodia, Yugoslavia, Rawanda, Darfur and Sudan.
    Yes guerilla war is ugly. That’s because war is about killing people and breaking things. It’s winner take all. It is not art. Had the UN found enough backbone to be more than just a paper tiger spouting resolutions this war could have been avoided. The failure of this primarily europe centered organization is eloquent testimony to its irrelevance. What is left behind is not important except that it benefit America.
    No one really cares about muslims in general. They are like a failed branch of social evolution as mankind moved on to a pluralistic world view. Islam is a failed idea clung to only by those who find themselves incapable of encountering a modern world.
    As regards al-qaeda, let them fight. Let them do their worst. It would they shot their bolt on 9/11 as they’ve not been able to manage much since then. Maybe they kill some of our folks, maybe they catch a few journalist, etc. but we kill lots of them and we keep killing their top leadership. Killing them in Iraq is a lot better than having to dig them out and kill them elsewhere. It’s easier to get the job done in Iraq. And from every account we are getting that job done in Iraq. But of course the “mainstream” media give that little air time.
    We did not lose Vietnam on the battle field. Vietnam was lost on the 6 o’clock news. Nevertheless Vietnam was 10 years well spent teaching the communist just how extreme would be US response to their efforts at expansion. Interestingly enough, they learned that lesson well. If it takes 10 or 20 years in Iraq to teach a similar lesson to equally evil people, then it will be time well spent. Such a War is not cheap. But failing to fight a “War” and ending up fighting a “war” is more than expensive. It bankrupts. Just ask the French, they had to be the biggest losers of WWII.
    Resources being “drained.” from failed domestic social programs most of which should never have never seen the light of day. The “war on poverty” of a earlier generation was lost because those who declared it were to economically inept and incompetent to understand how to win it. But resources for real war fighting are being restricted by those who have no stomach for real fighting. Not surprisingly these are the same folks who never saw a soldier worthy of admiration or a protester not worthy of knee jerk support.
    Say what you will, but as regards HttAV, Howard was and remains right. Genuine leaders often say what is not “popular.” Parliamentary censure is a badge of honor of which he should be justly proud.
    HttAV and “Support the Troops” are phrases that may be uncomfortable to some but these phrases communicate essential truth. We are at war. The strategy of some is to “cut and run.” The strategy of others is to “Stay and Win.” Killing the enemy is part of winning. Building permanent bases is part of winning. Helping facilitate the function of a freely elected Iraqi government is part of winning. The American people are indeed smart enough to recognize that. We remember waking up and discovering it was “morning in America.” We are not about to go back to the 6 o’clock news.

    Comment by HB | May 5, 2007

  9. Well, H.B., you are entitled to your view, but I believe it to be not only wrong, but wrongheaded. I especially take issue with your statement that “no one really cares about Muslims.” I do. And I submit to you that God does. I do not think Islam is true. (If I did, I would be a Muslim and not a Christian.) But I think you bear false witness in placing all Muslims in one category.

    Oh and thanks for reviving the rightwing myth that America “wasn’t allowed to win” in Vietnam. That the news media lost the war for us. Hadn’t heard that myth in awhile. You are right that we didn’t lose on the battlefield. Of course not. We won most of the battles. The Vietnamese just outlasted us. As the Afghans did the Soviets (although we screwed up in not rebuilding them when that happened), as we outlasted the British. If guerilla war is on home territory, all the home team has to do is outlast. We sent hundreds of thousands of troops into Vietnam in “surge” after “surge.” And we built at least 3 different elected governments and thousands of bases. And dropped more bomb tonnage than in all of WWII. And the Vietnamese still outlasted us. And the Iraqis will outlast us. In fact, the longer we stay there, the less chance the new government has because the longer we stay, the more people either flee the country (creating huge refugee problems and more resentment to America) or join the insurgents.

    “Morning in America” was another conservative lie. Ronald Reagan brought the country two recessions in 8 years, millions in debt due to his failed economic policies, and brought us to the brink of nuclear war at least 5 times. Yes, I’d just as soon not return there, thank you.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | May 5, 2007

  10. Interesting. Nevertheless the fact remains that “cut and run” did not work in Vietnam and it will not work in Iraq.
    The current government of Iraq is freely elected rather than tribally determined. As Iraq develops into a modern nation state tribalism will be put in the attic along with the berka, etc.
    As regards Reagan, those who write the books tell the story. It is no secret that the “mainstream” media has relentlessly sought to reshape the Reagan era into something that will be more “explainable.” The facts are that when Reagan took office Carter’s Rose Garden diplomacy had with a failed economic model led our nation to double digit inflation and massive unemployment. Further we were on the ropes trying to contend with a out of control USSR that gave every indication of preparing for a major European war that would have made WWI/II look like a playground spat. At the conclusion of he Reagan administration America stood pre-imminent in the world with the USSR a broken wreak of a former empire and the rest of the world standing with its mouth hanging open but nothing to say except “Bravo!” I lived through those years and am exceedingly thankful for his leadership as President of our nation. His administration in every way changed the future of our nation. Hopefully the next President of the United States will walk in Reagan’s footsteps.

    Comment by HB | May 5, 2007

  11. Iran-Contra.

    Comment by Thom Stark | May 5, 2007

  12. I lived through those years and hated every moment–except now our leadership is so much worse it makes Reagan’s look positively brilliant.

    The truth is Carter was only an average president (and a great ex-president), but he inherited an incredible Republican debt from the Vietnam War and cut it in half in 4 years. He gave us the Dept. of Education and our first Energy Policy–a policy that if it had been continued would have made us energy independent already and a long way down the road toward curbing global warming. Carter gave us the only Middle East peace treaty that has lasted–not one sentence has ever been broken.

    He created the first (and, so far, only) U.S. foreign policy that placed human rights on the front burner (within Cold War constraints) and, thus, he remains the most respected U.S. president around the world.

    Meanwhile, Reagan coddled dictators throughout Latin America, had more Americans captured by terrorists than any other president (and did NOTHING on most of their cases while Carter sacrificed reelection to free the ones captured on his watch), rolled back environmental protections, weakened labor, and started the disastrous fiscal policies that now have China owning us. He also sold weapons of mass destruction to Saddam Hussein, covered up his attacks on the Kurds and blamed them on Iran, coddled the apartheid government of South Africa, and, again, repeatedly came within minutes of blowing up the world. Iran-contra was the tip of the iceberg.

    By the time Reagan left office, he had more members of his administration under indictment for petty crimes than any administration since Taft and the teapot dome scandal. And he slept through most of his two terms in office while his wife ran the White House via astrology.

    That’s the true legacy of Ronnie Ray-gun. Don’t give me revisionist history. I was there, struggling against it every day.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | May 5, 2007

  13. Carter was handicapped by debt from a war Kennedy entered, Johnson expanded and Nixon ended. He was further handicapped by a weak Congress dominated by Tip O’Neal Democrats who as Washington insiders scorned Carter who they saw as just a mildly successful governor of a solidly southern Democratic state. Thankfully most of them are now gone. Carter’s Dept. of Ed. has never produced any meaningful positive outcome for the children of working class Americans. It has only served as a expensive experiment in failed educational theory and as a means for radical liberals to try and shove their extremist views down the hallways and into the heads of our children. His energy policy did nothing except raise the price of gas for working class Americans and slow the speed of cars on Interstate highways to the pace of a snail. As much as anything that saved America from his second term. His Camp David accord is historially insignificant. Like another “scrap of paper,” it has accomplished nothing. The only reason Egypt has never again attacked Israel is because they are not prepared to sustain what would be horrendous losses of manpower as well as equipment that now the USSR can no longer freely replace.

    One is hard pressed to think of any significant accomplishment by Carter while president or even following his presidency. He has done a great deal of work with Habitat for Humanity, work that is justly to be commended. But how is that of any real significance compaired to the efforts of other common men and women who with less notice render the same service? That he is “respected” is of no significance for these are the same folks who “respect” Clinton.

    As regards Reagan, he did what was best for America. It was not always nice and neat. It was not always with a soft touch. But it was what was best for America. The dictators of Latin America were not our problem to solve. In this one wonders why that task did not fall to the OAS. And while Americans captured by terrorist is not a good thing it is hard to remember very many being captured. Certainly not on the scale of what happened in Iran. In that sad affair Carter sacrificed nothing but demonstrated an inept understanding of how to deal with the “student” terrorist. It was by overwhelming majorities that Americans voted for Reagan not once but twice. Americans voted for him because he was clearly preferred over the Democratic candidates. Apparently America thought his restraining environmental activist and standing up to the political machine of organized labor was a good thing. If our relationship with China changed, it was Tip O’Neal and the Democats who wrote and voted into law those changes. At least he did not sell nuclear secrets to the Chinese and allow them to give him campaign donations as did Clinton.
    Oddly, how is it possible Reagan could have sold WMD’s to Hussein when we all know that Hussein had no WMD’s. After all the mainline media have all in chorus determined that there were no WMD’s in Iraq. How is that possible if Reagan sold them to Hussein?

    As regards the Kurds, where was that great watchdog of human rights known as the UN? If there was wrong committed, why did they not act? Oddly enough the Iraqi courts did act. They found Hussein guilty and executed him. As far as SA is concerned, why was that of earth shaking concern for the US? The UN did not seem to think the situation in SA merited extreme measures. It was bad, but no less so that that which existed in the USSR. While US policy was bringing the USSR to it’s knees, maybe the UN could have been doing a little something more to resolve the situation in SA. But that would have required something more than talk. As far as an imminent nuclear exchange, there very reason that threat worked was because the USSR knew that Reagan was not bluffing. No one has ever had any similar repect for or concern about the UN. As far as Iran Contra is concerned, Reagan thumbed his nose at Congress because he was more concerned with stopping communism than asking their permission to act. Congress learned a lesson about the limits of Congressional authority. No President should allow such a collection of political aspirants to limit his executive authority. Each of them only represents a small number of people. It is the President who is nationally elected.

    By the time Reagan left office the world had changed. As a result of a dramatic sweeping reform of domestic tax policy the American economy was booming. And old Europe was standing in the shadows thankful that for the third time in the century that bears its name, America had destroyed an enemy that for to long had threatened peace and world stability. That is quite a outstanding result for getting in a little sack time and playing with a Quija board.
    The truth is that Carter may have been less the simpleton than Tip O’Neal thought him to be. Nevertheless though percieved as well intentioned in practice he was weak and inept. And Reagan was a better President than many who so bitterly hated him will ever admit. He restored confidence and expectation to Middle America. He acted forcefully to confront and stop communist expansion. The true legacy of President Reagan endures exactly because so many people remember what he did. It really would require serious revisionism to view the administrations of these two presidents in any other manner.

    Comment by HB | May 7, 2007

  14. HB, you have clearly drunk the Kool Aid. Drop me a post card every once in awhile from whatever planet you’re on, o.k.? Meanwhile, I have to live and work in a little place called “the real world.”

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | May 8, 2007

  15. Kool-Aid and cookies! Add some children and you’ve got the makings of a wonderful afternoon of joy and happiness. They run and play and if at times they should disagree it is no surprise as that is part of growing and maturing. The next afternoon many if not all of these same children will again be seen running and playing and no one will be surprised for that is the nature of childhood, that is the experience of growing and maturing.
    Perhaps we all need to become men enough that we can put aside at least some of our childish ways. Meanwhile, since I’m fresh out of Kool-Aid, I think I’ll go have some Oreo’s and milk.

    Comment by HB | May 8, 2007

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

%d bloggers like this: