The Necessary Failure of Crusading

Dimitri Simes writes in today’s Wall Street Journal:

But sending more brigades to pursue the same crusade is unlikely to bring success — at least not on an American political timetable. The problem is not just the incompetent management of the war’s aftermath. The problem is that the crusade to reshape the Middle East that led to the U.S. invasion of Iraq precludes anything that could be legitimately called victory.

The debacle that is Iraq reaffirms the lesson that there is no such thing as a good crusade. This was true a thousand years ago when European Christian knights tried to impose their faith and way of life on the Holy Land, pillaging the region in the process, and it is equally true today. Divine missions and sensible foreign policy just don’t mix.

I’d like to pick on this last sentence for just a moment. If we take the call of Allah to convert the world and the expansionist policies of the Muslims in the first generations after Mohammad as a mixture of “divine mission” and “foreign policy” such a mixture appears to have worked fairly well, at least from a Muslim point of view. They became the dominant force in the Middle East, across North Africa, and into Europe. In most of these areas they’re still the dominant force.

But Mr. Simes isn’t talking about the Muslims, he’s talking about the West, too easily equated with Christianity. In the previous centuries the Christians had been successful enough in mixing their “divine mission” and their “domestic policy” to think there was a general equation between their rule over their territories and the Kingdom of God. In other words, they took ruling over political domains to be part of their divine mission. While some of us moan this long-lasting phase in the West (we call it Constantinianism), they certainly responded to changing situations and opportunities in a very human way. It looks like the same choice made by Islam – the choice to make ruling and religion coterminous. We’re right, we have the truth, the best thing we can do – both for ourselves and for everyone else – is enforce the truth.

Plain old human defensiveness also came into the picture. After centuries of fighting Muslim invaders in Europe, the Europeans decided to take the battle to them. It helped that the place they were going could be called “The Holy Land,” the land of the patriarchs, apostles and Jesus himself.

Both factors, enforcing truth and defensiveness, are in play in our current adventure in Iraq. We know by experience that democracy, given its rule of law, respect for individuals, free markets and accountability for leaders, is a good thing, especially when compared with the brutal caprice of someone like Saddam Hussein. Not only would we be better off with a democratic Iraq, but just as importantly (or more so when we’re feeling altruistic) so are the Iraqis. We also saw Saddam’s violent instability as a potential threat deserving preemption. It all makes perfect sense from a human point of view. But a divine mission? That seems pretty far fetched.

Not only do we not see any divine dimensions, we also don’t see much success. Oh, Saddam is gone, and an elected government is in place, but we’re learning (maybe?) that an elected government doesn’t necessarily make a democracy – at least not a democracy that confers the blessings we intended and expect.

Mr. Simes brings up the issue of faith:

Yet faith is once again demanded of the American people. Just as the Crusaders a millennium ago blamed their defeats in the Middle East on a lack of faith, we are told today that it is the realists — those heretics with an insufficient faith in the ability of American values and power to rapidly transform the world — who are poised to sabotage the entire project for spreading freedom throughout the region, that the realists and their false gods of stability and national interest will seduce Americans away from their true calling of spreading liberty throughout the world, even at the barrel of a gun.

This way of offering “blessing” to the world through the use of force requires faith. The mere mention of faith, however, doesn’t make it a Christian venture, however, since the faith required is not the same faith operative in Christianity. To make our project in Iraq work we need faith in the force of arms, the attractiveness of the market economy and democracy, and in the abilityof the current Iraqi government to hold our ideals rather than the ones they’ve lived with for the past several centuries. Such faith may or may not be a good thing, but it’s certainly not a Christian thing.

This entry was posted in Current events, Economics, Islam, Politics. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Necessary Failure of Crusading

  1. Very thought provoking blog. Thank you.

    Have you read “The Looming Tower”? It certainly gives one a clear view of the fanatical religious thinking of those fueling the Muslim world.

    My first time to your blog. I’ll be back.

  2. rheyduck says:

    Thanks for the comment. I haven’t yet read The Looming Tower, though it has sparked my curiosity. I’m now working my way through Victor Davis Hanson’s Carnage and Culture & will head next to Irwin’s Dangerous Knowledge and Lewis’s What Went Wrong – all great Christmas presents from my wife. At least that’s what I’m reading in the current events category. I’m still reading through Stanley Hauerwas’ Gifford Lectures on the theological side.

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