The Way of All Flesh

I caught a portion of the Republican debate last night, and was fascinated by the response to Ron Paul — a Republican actually worth considering. He actually believes in small government. But when Paul said that terrorism is a concern because of our agressive foreign policy, it is not surprising that sparks flew. In an exchange between Rudy and Paul, Rudy demanded that Paul take it back, which Ron Paul declined to do.

Andrew Sandlin has written a debate analysis urging a hybrid between Rudy and Ron Paul, what Andrew calls a muscular libertarianism. By this he means a minimal state at home combined with a robust military ability to take it to the bad guys in foreign affairs. For many reasons, this initially sounds very attractive (at least to me), but at the end of the day I don’t believe it is workable.

Here are just a handful of random reasons.

The language of Bush’s second inaugural was messianic. Given our nation’s official rejection of Christ, an aggressive foreign policy in that key is a competitor to the Great Commission; it is an idolatrous rival. Now I do not mean it is idolatrous for the United States to protect the lives of American citizens around the globe, protect our shipping, and so on. But the quasi-religious language of many neo-cons is about to lose the quasi, if it hasn’t already. When this happens, Christians need to stop waving the flag, go white in the face, and step back. Step away.

Secondly, Ron Paul was at least partially right about “blowback.” I don’t believe he was entirely right — notice off to the left I highly recommend America Alone by Mark Steyn. Radical Islam poses a genuine threat in its own right, and on its own terms. There is a tradition of hating the West there that goes a thousand years prior to the establishment of the first American oil company. And I believe that it is the job of the American military to protect us against the machinations of religio-nutters.

But with this said, we have to remember that the law of unintended consequences does not go away just because we have crossed an ocean. Governments are not omnicompetent domestically, and that doesn’t change just because we have taken the show on the road. Here is just one example of many — we created the Afghan “freedom fighters” as a means of embarrassing the Soviets, which succeeded spectacularly. But the law of unintended consequences operates in that region of the world as well, and now we find ourselves fighting an enemy there (and they are a potent enemy, all right). But let us never forget that we set them up in business in the first place. This should create the question — who are we setting up in business today?

Third, as a practical matter, the United States is now a military hyper-power. How it would be possible to have the governmental apparatus that this requires (which is gi-normous), and have alongside it a minimal domestic state . . . I just don’t see how that could work. It seems to me that it would set the stage for a military government. If the rest of the government shrank to the size it ought to be, and the military stayed right where it is, how would this not put ninety percent of the federal budget straight into the Pentagon? And what would be the ramifications of that?

And last, every Christian has to know the real meaning of American exceptionalism. I do hold to a form of this, but it is opposite the current neo-con understanding of it. The founders were exceptional, and what they did was an example of true American exceptionalism. They were exceptional because they knew that they were not exceptional. They established a form of government based on suspicion of power, and the sure knowledge that sinners are the same everywhere, and that included right here in America. They put checks and balances into place because they knew that no man is to trusted with blank-check power. We are their heirs if we understand that the American military has the same capacity as any other army and navy that size to become a destructive force in the world. Our temptations are common to man. We are no different. If we remember this, we are different. If we forget it, as the neo-cons appear to be doing, we are going the way of all flesh.

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