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Essay

Do We All Do This?

By June 24, 2014 No Comments
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Who knows what will be happening on certain international fronts by the time this blog gets posted but of necessity I am writing this about 5 days before it will appear.  So if anything seems already to be dated, that’s why.

But I write today out of a sense of both frustration and wonder.  Most everyone knows that in recent weeks the situation in Iraq has deteriorated as old splits between Sunnis and Shiites–as well as the surging of a terrorist group so extreme even al Qaeda rejects it–are once again causing chaos and threatening stability.

And a great many folks in Washington D.C. know that as sure as God made little green apples, this is all the fault of Barack Obama and his weak-kneed administration.  Lindsay Graham went on national television to call the President stubborn and pig-headed and said the current mess is completely Obama’s doing.   John McCain has been holding forth in the well of the Senate, assailing the man he could not manage to defeat at the ballot box in 2008 for pulling troops out of Iraq a few years ago.

Of course, what neither of these two men–and so many other people like them in Washington right now–will admit is that they were all wrong about the reasons for invading Iraq in the first place back in 2003.   You can play the tapes (as Jon Stewart does quite well on “The Daily Show”) and hear these political powerhouses assuring the world of things that proved to be something on the order of 100% incorrect.   But no matter: we can trust that they have things right THIS time, that when they say they know exactly how this could have been headed off in Iraq today, they know what they are talking about.  And above all we can be sure that when they blame Obama for withdrawing troops from Iraq, that much at least is certainly correct.

Except that of course it is not.   Guess who said the following: “I am also looking forward to signing the joint statement here affirming two landmark agreements that solidify Iraq’s democratic gains, that recognize Iraq’s sovereignty, and that puts the relations between our two countries on a solid footing today and a solid footing tomorrow. They cement a strategic partnership between our two countries, and they pave the way for American forces to return home, as the war in Iraq approaches a successful end.”

Was that Barack Obama caving in and turning tail on Iraq in order to bring our troops home?  No, that was President George W. Bush on December 14, 2008, speaking in the presidential palace in Baghdad and standing next to Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki.   That was the day (and I am getting this from the official White House website from the Bush presidency) President Bush signed an agreement that said, “As we further transition security responsibilities to the Iraqi Security Forces, military commanders will continue to move U.S. combat forces out of major populated areas so that they are all out by June 30, 2009.   The Security Agreement also sets a date of December 31, 2011, for all U.S. forces to withdraw from Iraq.  This date reflects the increasing capacity of the Iraqi Security Forces as demonstrated in operations this year throughout Iraq, as well as an improved regional atmosphere towards Iraq, an expanding Iraqi economy, and an increasingly confident Iraqi government.”

Lindsay Graham and John McCain know this (and if they don’t, shame on them for speaking on the subject in public.  It took me only a 6-minute Google search to find the above-quoted material so I don’t know why they cannot look it up in case their memories are too foggy to recall it the usual way).   They know they are mischaracterizing our troop withdrawal from Iraq so as to beat up on a president they clearly despise.

But here’s the bottom line: people like Lindsay Graham and others have their past misstatements, errors, and such recorded such that they can be replayed over and over.  Yet they don’t own those past statements and errors and in fact continue to position themselves as experts you can trust.    

With few exceptions, most of us don’t have our past remarks preserved that well.   For most of us, if someone brings up something they claim we said in the past, it’s our word against theirs and we can certainly deny it easily enough, especially if doing so preserves our dignity or protects whatever positions we occupy in life (and from which we wish to continue to speak as experts in whatever field we find ourselves in).   In other words, it’s even easier for most of us to deny our past or revise our past than it is for politicians, and I worry that we tend to do it altogether too often.

Or I worry that I do this.  Personally, I think a lot of political rhetoric on all sides of the aisle is very often shameful, self-serving, historically revisionist, and so flat out dishonest.    The current piling on in Washington over Iraq is just this week’s example.   It is definitely a bipartisan trait (and note that I say this despite my lead example in this blog coming primarily from one side against the other).

But I wonder, “Do we all do this?”   Maybe to some degree we do and, if so, instead of merely getting annoyed by politics as usual, maybe what I need to do is worry about my own rhetoric as well as how we all speak with one another in our faith communities.   In the New Testament–and this comes out most clearly in Peter’s letters (maybe because Peter knew a thing or two about rash speech)–one of the ways we Christians are called to distinguish ourselves from the rest of society is in how we speak. 

And so perhaps this latest political spectacle is an occasion for us to wonder about just that.

Scott Hoezee

Scott Hoezee is Director of the Center for Excellence in Preaching at Calvin Theological Seminary.

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