Free Inquiry magazine does not endorse political candidates nor political parties. We recognize the wide diversity of political viewpoints among secular humanists. We do, however, take positions concerning two vital issues: first, we support humanist ethical principles on grounds independent of religion; and second, we defend the separation of church and state.
By both these standards, the United States faces an urgent crisis today, for the Religious Right has virtually captured the Bush administration. Increasingly, the administration’s moral ideology is that of evangelical Christianity. This directly impacts on U.S. foreign policy, which shows strong overtones of self-righteous moral indignation and seems guided by the sense that we face a battle between “good and evil.” This can be read in the speeches of Bush, Rumsfeld, Rice, Wolfowitz, and others. Unfortunately, in its extreme form the War on Terrorism smacks of a Holy Religious Crusade against Islam. This impression has been created by some administration rhetoric and reinforced by a torrent of inflammatory language from right-wing pundits and clerics of the Religious Right. Disturbingly, millions of Muslims around the world now believe that the War on Terror constitutes an American Christian jihad against their religion. As we go to press, the War on Terrorism has morphed into an impending war against Iraq, which may have erupted by the time you read these words. President Bush has repeatedly condemned Saddam Hussein as evil (surely Hussein is no angel—far from that—but that is true of many world leaders). Bush has further demanded the disarming of Iraq and the replacement of its government with a regime to our liking.
We object to the impending war on Iraq on moral grounds. What especially bothers us is the crescendo of drumbeats advocating, however incoherently, a preemptive strike. This marks a fundamental reversal in American foreign policy. Never before has the U.S. openly announced its intention to strike first in the absence of an immediate threat.
America has previously gone to war in response to ambiguous or arguably fabricated threats (the Spanish-American War, Vietnam, and the Panama incursion come to mind), but the very fact that U.S. leaders went to such lengths to craft threat scenarios demonstrated that Americans considered the resort to force unthinkable without at least the pretext of aggressive provocation. In dispensing with such niceties and espousing an open doctrine of pre-emption, Bush blazes a disturbing trail.
One might conceivably justify a first strike when there is danger of imminent attack by a threatening adversary. Iraq currently does not fit into this category. Defeated in the Gulf War of 1991, its population impoverished, its economy in shambles, its no-fly zones constantly bombarded by American and British aircraft, Iraq hardly poses a threat to the safety of the United States.
If the United States reserves the right to engage in preemptive warfare (even nuclear1), what are we to say about the confrontation between India and Pakistan—would they or anyone else be justified in taking the same action? We believe in a world in which there are certain norms of established international conduct and in which one power (in this case, a hyperpower such as the United States) does not arrogate to itself the right to dictate acceptable behavior across the globe.
We thoroughly approve of the administration’s earlier decision (under the influence at that time of Colin Powell, who has since become more hawkish) that U.N. inspectors return to Iraq and that retaliatory measures be taken only if explicitly authorized by the U.N. Security Council. But we hope that war could be avoided, for we believe that the best method of resolving international conflicts is by the negotiation of differences. We thus agree with efforts to disarm Iraq peacefully.
Obviously, current U.S. policies threaten to undermine the entire fabric of collective security so carefully developed by the world community after the Second World War. As a result of our policies, will the United Nations be rendered impotent like the League of Nations and left unable to resolve international conflicts? If so, this could have tragic implications for the future of humankind.
Indeed, the Bush administration’s recent policy choices, such as its refusal to sign the Kyoto Treaty on global warming or to accept the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice in the Hague, illustrate an increasingly chauvinistic character.
Mr. Bush expresses his reasons for war in high-flown rhetoric about defending ourselves from the weapons of mass destruction of Saddam Hussein. Interestingly, his speeches are drafted by evangelical speechwriters (such as Michael Gerson), and they express a dismaying level of religious imagery. They convert the presidency into a bully pulpit for God, which simultaneously masks underlying imperialist economic ambitions while it suggests divine sanction for American policy. We wonder whether the real motive in all this is oil, for Iraq has the second-largest oil reserves in the world; and we suspect that the underlying goal of the United States and Britain is to replace the Iraqi oil contracts bestowed upon France and Russia with new ones benefiting them-selves. Nevertheless, we deplore the undermining of the United Nations and NATO and the disenchantment of our traditional allies, who view our foreign policy as a form of unilateral nationalism.
There is one measure the president has recommended that we thoroughly support: the decision to provide economic assistance to African and Caribbean countries suffering high rates of AIDS. Some 15 million Africans have already died from the disease, and there are an estimated three million new cases a year. There is a desperate need for medicines, and the president is to be applauded for proposing financial assistance to purchase them.
Will his administration also undertake the preventive measures that Africans so desperately need, namely, contraceptive education and the free distribution of condoms to the millions who cannot afford them? Or will the administration’s dominant theological-moral position cause such assistance to be choked off, as it was in the past, in the name of a “higher” religious morality, which instead urges abstinence and offers no promise of reducing AIDS transmission? The first measure that the administration adopted upon Bush’s inauguration was to cut off all contraceptive aid for the developing world, fearing that it might lead to abortion. In this area as in others the foreign policy of the United States suffers from being dominated by a theologically driven conception of morality, and this has had dire consequences for the entire world.
Parenthetically, we wish to express our approval of the uprisings among students and other dissidents in Iran, and especially to commend the views of Prince Reza Pahlavi, son of the deposed Shah, who courageously demands democracy, human rights, and a secular state in a future Iran. The Prince should not be simply identified with his father; for he is a strong advocate of a new constitutional democracy for Iran. Iran has suffered a terrible religious Inquisition at the hands of the Ayatollahs; and it is encouraging that there are today genuine calls for secular democracy. Were that to take root in Iran, what an enormous difference it could make in the Middle East.
That’s Rev. Mr. President!
The startling intrusion of evangelical Christian language into President George W. Bush’s official statements is typified by his brief address to the nation fol-lowing the tragic loss of the Space Shuttle Columbia. These two concluding paragraphs constitute fully one-third of the entire presidential statement.In the skies today we saw destruction and tragedy. Yet farther than we can see there is comfort and hope. In the words of the prophet Isaiah, “Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry hosts one by one, and calls them each by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.”
The same creator who names the stars also knows the names of the seven souls we mourn today.
The crew of the shuttle Columbia did not return safely to Earth. Yet we can pray that all are safely home. May God bless the grieving families, and may God continue to bless America.
Paul Kurtz, founder of the Council for Secular Humanism, is editor-in-chief of Free Inquiry and professor emeritus of philosophy at the State University of New York at Buffalo.
Paul Kurtz, Editor-in-Chief
Tom Flynn, Editor
Norm Allen, Deputy Editor
Andrea Szalanski, Managing Editor
Tim Madigan, Chair, Editorial Board
1. The Pentagon is eager to develop nuclear-tipped “bunker buster” munitions for use against, among other targets, buried structures in Iraq. See http://www.usgovinfo.about.com/library/weekly/aa08302a.htm.