Assessing the Afghanistan War

Over the past few days, news sources have reported on a new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Afghanistan delivered to the White House in December. NIEs represent the consensus view of the CIA and 15 other intelligence agencies on national security issues, and are completed for use by high-level policy makers.

The document remains classified, and news reports have emphasized different points.

McClatchy Newspapers wrote of a warning that “Taliban leaders haven't abandoned their goal of reclaiming power and reimposing harsh Islamic rule on Afghanistan.” The article quotes “a U.S. official” as saying, "There is no indication that the Taliban are ready to settle for a goal short of total control over an Islamic emirate."

While the U.S. military has made some gains since President Obama sent additional troops a year ago, the article says the NIE concludes they may not be sustainable.

GOP Primaries and Old Country Buffet

Tim King is Sojourners' Communcations Director

Tim King is Sojourners' Communcations Director

If the GOP primaries were like Old Country Buffet, I’d be happy.

Think about it. There wouldn’t be so much money involved and we could pick only the stuff we liked and ignore  the rest.

And of course, everyone knows the basic rules of smorgasbord grazing, such as you can’t get decent sushi in the Midwest or proper social conservatives from Massachusetts.

Passion 2012 Calls Us to Rise Up Against Modern-Day Slavery

Image from Passion 2012.Photo by: Kenny Hamilton, 11Alive News, with permission.

Image from Passion 2012.Photo by: Kenny Hamilton, 11Alive News, used with permission. http://on.11alive.com/zwzvNP

Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? – Isaiah 58:6 (NRSV)

A pervasive criticism of modern Christians, both from outsiders as well as concerned Christians, is that people of faith are not taking seriously Jesus’ call for us to serve “the least of these.”

Thankfully, we may be turning a corner.

Last week in Atlanta, more than 42,000 Christians packed the Georgia Dome  for four days to participate in Passion 2012. Spearheaded by Passion Conferences founder Louie Giglio, Passion 2012 is another in an ongoing series of conferences intended to engage the “university moment” with Jeusus’ compelling message.

What made Passion 2012 so compelling for so many wasn’t the impressive list of popular Christian speakers, including Francis Chan, John Piper, and Beth Moore. It wasn’t the popular worship music of Chris Tomlin, the David Crowder Band, Charlie Hall, and Kristian Stanfill. Nor was it the presence of 2011 Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne.

It was the call to action — the invitation to make Jesus’ message of social justice a reality in this world.

Why the "War on Christmas" Doesn't Translate Across the Pond

Christmas lights in London's Trafalgar Square, St. Martin's in the Field behind.

Christmas lights in London's Trafalgar Square, St. Martin's in the Field behind. Via http://www.wylio.com/credits/Flickr/839615

I’m not sure we can quite get our heads around the latest ‘war’ being waged in the United States – the ‘war on Christmas’.

Visions of the 101st Airborne heading towards the North Pole abound. Anti-reindeer defense weapons, covert elf anti-merriment operatives and a unilateral ban on all copies of A Christmas Carol (in its various media iterations)? Is that what we have come to?

Surely — and thankfully — not, but given some of the rhetoric that is thrown around in the media at this time of year, you might be forgiven for thinking so!

Given that most reporting about religion in the UK and Europe usually includes the phrase “an increasingly secular country," you might think that the "war on Christmas" back on the old sod is even more sustained and sophisticated than in the United States.

Picture heavily fortified nativity scenes being assaulted by atheist flash mobs chanting “HAPPY HOLIDAYS!” if you will.

Well, I’m sorry to tell you that I’ve yet to witness such a terrifying scene on the streets of London.

The War is Over. Learn from the Sacrifice.

"Iraq War - Eyes Wide Open" image via Wylio http://bit.ly/t4Cq0q

"Iraq War - Eyes Wide Open" image via Wylio http://bit.ly/t4Cq0q

It does no dishonor to those who served to learn from the mistake that was made in starting an unnecessary war in Iraq. And, to realize that it is a mistake the U.S. continues to make. Andrew Bacevich, a Boston University professor who is also a West Point graduate, Vietnam combat veteran and retired Army colonel; and whose son was an Army officer killed in Iraq put it best. "The final tragedy of a tragic enterprise is that the U.S. has learned next to nothing," he says. "The belief that war works remains strangely intact."

Bring the Troops Home

President Obama’s announced plan has U.S. troops leaving Afghanistan by the end of 2014. The American people, and now the U.S. Senate want them home sooner. As we watch the last U.S. troops leaving Iraq, there are still nearly 100,000 remaining in Afghanistan. Nearly 2,000 have died, and the cost is now nearly $500 billion. 

After a decade, it’s time to bring also them home.

Listening to Veterans

Vietnam War Memorial, Washington, D.C. Image via Wiki Commons.

Vietnam War Memorial, Washington, D.C. Image via Wiki Commons.

Despite all that I knew 40 years ago about the policy and politics of the Vietnam war, I learned much more by simply listening to veterans. Late at night, often in bars, I heard about the war from the experience of those who fought it. And that taught me more than everything I had ever read. With tens of thousands of vets coming home from Iraq in the next two months -- and many more returning from Afghanistan over the next two years -- we'll have plenty of opportunities to say thanks, and then just listen.

Just Back from Kabul

Afghanistan Girl
During interviews with more than a dozen Afghan women leaders, researchers, international aid workers and former Afghan government officials, we learned of persistent dangers and threats to the country's future.

Afghan women face continuing repression. They are witnessing the erosion of previous gains as Taliban control spreads in the countryside and reactionary warlord influence increases within the Kabul regime. The government's own security forces are often responsible for violations of women's rights. Check back in a few days for a more detailed account of what we learned.
The withdrawal of foreign forces will produce an economic crisis for the government of Afghanistan, which remains almost completely dependent financially on the U.S. and other foreign governments, especially to pay for its huge 300,000-person security forces. I wrote about this funding failure in an earlier post.
A new security agreement between Kabul and Washington is likely to call for the continued presence of U.S. military forces in the country beyond the 2014 transition deadline. This is seen as necessary to provide security for Kabul, but it could also have the effect of prolonging the insurgency and impeding prospects for reconciliation.

It was clear from what we heard that maintaining security requires more than deploying a large number of troops.

Sermon on the Worst Parable Ever

wedding feast
Because this week -- months after the Arab Spring, and after weeks of the growing Wall Street Occupation -- well, in this climate of discontent and dissent as we all begin to wake from our consumer induced coma to see how multi-national corporations control so much more than we can imagine, in a season when tyrants are being over thrown, I simply could not preach a sermon in which I say that God is like an angry murderous slave owning king. Maybe there is a way of finding good news in that but I just couldn't do it.