Location: United States

Thursday, February 23, 2006

We've Done Enough. We've Paid the Price. It's Time to Bring Our Troops Home.

If you don't live in New Jersey's Nineth District, you've probably never heard of Steve Rothman (unless you happen to watch the Colbert Report on Comedy Central). In a world of flashy politicians, each scrabbling as hard as they can to build a cult of personality around them, he's always struck me as different. When he talks to his constituents, he's calm and thoughtful and almost shy at times when the discussion turns to him. He's much more comfortable discussing the way he helped figure out which locomotive would work best on the new light-rail line than he is speaking about himself.

It's refreshing.

It's also why his press conference today struck me as simultaneously being totally out of character and yet totally authentic and believable and characteristic of his entire career. Flashes of emotion broke through. Anger at the thought of Americans being killed needlessly. Pain at the betrayal of being shown that his faith in the Presidency was misplaced. Humility and compassion as he granted what privacy his back could give to the survivor of one of our fallen.

The cool logic of his position moved me, but even more so, the humanity that slipped through unbidden caught me. It has made me re-think my own position on Iraq. Back in August, I passed around the idea of using our Arabic allies to help bring peace to Iraq. I still think it's a good idea, and I hope someone stumbles across it and puts some serious thought into what it would take to make it reality.

But, alas, I have little input on our foreign policy. Believe it or not, there is no red phone to the West Wing (or even Rothman's office - but I'm willing!). I'm just a simple man looking back at the world and asking, "Why not?"

But the real issue isn't who should or shouldn't take our place. As the Congressman said today, the real question is whether or not we should be staying there until that gets figured out. After listening to him, I have to say, "No, we shouldn't."

The reason for going into Iraq was to remove Saddam Hussein because he was an emminent threat to our safety. Even though that threat has long since been proven overblown (to be generous), the fact remains that he is no longer a threat. I subscribe to the "you break it, you buy it" rule - and Iraq is still broken. However, it is increasingly obvious that the biggest obstacle to gluing it back together is the presence of American forces. It is folly to allow even one more person to come to harm in such a circumstance. As the Congressman points out, there are other things our soldiers need to do.

It is not weakness to admit that you cannot repair something. It is wisdom. Only ignorance and pride prevent us from seeing clearly. It is the solemn duty of our leadership, no matter what party or ideology they subscribe to, to peel back that ignorance, to ease that pride, and to show us that, despite a few thousand years of history, might still does not make right - and sometimes it cannot. We cannot see the mote in our eye, so we give them the tweezers and put our faith in their hands.

Yet it is also our responsibility. We must find our own secrets, sins, and failings that prevent us from finding the reality revealed around us. We do not need to be blind - we can open our eyes and see an amazing world. We must be willing to commit ourselves to the private jihadun-nafs - the intimate struggle to purify one's soul of evil influences - that turns our path from mere vengeance and ever towards greater justice.

The great religions of the world all teach that this is not a volunteer task. To confront injustice in others, we must first confront the injustice within us. The ancient prophets wrote, "Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend," and sometimes we must rely upon our friends to show us where we are blind. Self-deception, by its very definition, is impossible to self-diagnose.

The parable of the Good Samaritan teaches that "friend", "neighbor" and "whoever crosses our path in need" are all synonymous. In this case, I'll have to add the word "Congressman".


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