Shifting grounds

  • November 20, 2006

With the reversal of a few percentage points in voting patterns, there has been a veritable tectonic shift in American attitudes toward the Iraq War. The punishment inflicted on U.S. President George Bush and his Republican party has opened up the potential for real progress.

On Nov. 13, the U.S. Catholic bishops, meeting in their annual plenary in Baltimore, approved a statement calling for a "substantive, civil and nonpartisan discussion" leading to a "responsible transition in Iraq." Their statement echoes what has already happened, almost overnight, in official Washington.

Bush and leading Democrats in Congress have already backed an effort by a bipartisan group commissioned by Congress to devise a realistic exit strategy. When coupled with the hasty departure of Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld the day after the U.S. midterm elections on Nov. 7, this represents the first serious effort by American political leaders to bring an end to their military involvement in Iraq.

No one should underestimate the difficulty of the way ahead. The Democrats had no realistic exit strategy to offer during the election campaign, but rode to victory on the rising realization in the United States that their military incursion in Iraq was based on a foundation of sand. Now they will be held responsible for at least a share of devising a new strategy.

All the same, this should be treated as good news for people around the world. It opens up the possibility of better relations between the U.S. government and other countries.

The elections also laid bare the lack of substance to some of the caricaturing of the Christian right in the United States. It was nowhere near as homogenous as it is often portrayed and cares about far more issues than those focusing on sexual morality. And in many states, religious Republicans were merely replaced by religious Democrats. The religious hue to much of the political debate in the United States, while substantial, nevertheless had greater nuances than is often reported.

Perhaps this is as it should be. While we would argue long and loudly that there is a place for religiously motivated people to participate in forming public policy, we recognize that they need to persuade others of different religions, or no religions, of the rightness of their cause. They need to do so based on common notions of morality and what is good for society and, by necessity, have to rely on plain argument shorn of its backings in the revelations of faith. It wouldn't hurt if they relied a little less on God talk and a little more on reason.

Of course God has a place in forming the common good. And, of course Catholics should turn to the teachings of their faith to help them formulate where they stand on all the great questions facing modern society — as should those of other faiths. But we need to talk to each other — and listen — too.

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