The US Military Strike in Syria was Unjustified

There is no doubt that the use of chemical weapons is a war crime and a horrific act of aggression against one’s own citizens. It must not be brushed over lightly. But: the only institution to deal with this is the UN, and the member states should finally see to it that the Security Council is reformed. Here the “enough is enough” comment is apt.
But international law is international law: I think the article below captures well what is at stake regarding international conflicts: International law does NOT allow for military strikes as ‘warning’, ‘response to beautiful dying children’, let alone as retaliation to regain one’s own emotional stability – and it certainly prohibits military actions to lift domestic poll numbers or support of one’s policies. Which of these motivated the strike? It does not matter, because: Motivations for actions are not the same as reasons for actions – and the reasons are a much bigger problem than the motives we might want to speculate about:
1. There was NO justified reason for this strike; it does NOT help a single Syrian citizen. Apparently, Assad used his power for another Chemical Weapon (Chloride) attack yesterday, Friday April 7, 2017 – while US TV celebrated Trump for having “finally” become “presidential”.
2. The strike was not authorized – neither nationally nor internationally (see article below for details). Period. War authorization procedures have been set up exactly for these cases, and one may wonder whether the US Administration even has a clue about the fine-print of international law.
3. The strike was strategically not prudent, because it risks another escalation in the region. People ask: where is the policy strategy? – There is no strategy other than showing off: “here, we are also players in the game”. I am not surprised that McCain and HILLARY CLINTON backed the strike: both stand for a politics that sees the US as a strong military power that is justified to intervene in conflicts if it serves its own vision of the world order – and justified even in cases that contradict international law.
4. The confusion of motives and reasons is common. And yet: it makes the US president dependent on TV images and TV coverage, and dependent on his emotional ‘gut’ reaction to media images. While we are all, at least in part, prone to the coverage and the images we receive through our media, most of us are not politicians, and we don’t have all the experts in the world at hand to check and balance and distinguish short-term from long-term policies and prudent political decisions.
5. The turn (or historically: re-turn) to politics as (mere) demonstration of power is Machiavellian at best, autocratic at worst. As long as there is a Parliament/Congress that has power and authority, it has the duty to speak out against this unauthorized and therefore illegal military action of the US president.

The Making of a President

As is well known, Donald Trump started his political career with the racist campaign questioning the citizenship of US President Obama, aimed at delegitimizing him, gaining the attention of the media, and gathering anti-Obama groups behind him. The “birtherism” campaign was based on a deliberate, intentional, racist lie – but it proved to be an effective instrument of political propaganda (https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/birtherism-is-donald-trumps-big-lie/2016/09/19/8817cb12-7e99-11e6-9070-5c4905bf40dc_story.html?utm_term=.daff65ad3b2d seen Jan 12, 2017).

Now that he will be the President, Trump is confronted with questions about his own legitimacy, and one does not have to wait long for him to cry out, on twitter and elsewhere: “fake news” or “witch hunt”. But there is a difference between lies and unverified allegations. Maybe the dossier will turn out to be unverifiable. Maybe someone used it to please his client. Maybe the sources knew less than they pretended to know. Maybe. But there is a difference between a lie that could be debunked in a second and allegations that are scrutinized by the FBI – after some time of ignoring Trump’s campaign, President Obama took the unusual step of releasing his birth certificate in April 2011, a move that demonstrated the racist underpinning of the whole operation (you can only be a legitimate president when you do what whites force you to do, namely, show your id or certificate??). The FBI will probably release its findings on the dossier in the coming weeks.

Until then … Trump will not do anything to help the public understand what was going on. And this is troubling.

While the published dossier about the Trump campaign’s alleged collaboration with Russia entails unverified information, it raises all kinds of serious questions concerning the inner circle of Trump’s campaign. And these questions are not at all new.

Right now, however, the US public seems to be more appalled by the circumstances of the release of the information and the detail on a compromising sex video the dossier claims Russia may use in the future as a potential blackmail, than by the broader political content of the dossier. And it certainly does not help that Trump shuts down journalists and news organizations during a press conference: reporters are prevented from asking important questions, and as a consequence, there is no reporting of the questions that were not asked.

Below is a summary of the dossier that I have prepared, mostly for myself, because I was not satisfied with what I could read in the news about the dossier – I thought I should read it myself, now that it is available. But independent of the details which need to be examined by Congress and the FBI, there seems to be enough common ground between Russia and Trump on two major issues: first, energy cooperation between Russia and the US, and second, lifting of sanctions. Both issues, of course, are interrelated. The two issues seem to have been the major objectives Russia had in their alleged support of the Trump campaign – in return of the favor, especially the policy change concerning the sanctions, Trump may have graciously accepted the support of Russia to win the election. It does not really matter what President Putin might have thought about Trump – whether he was delighted about the ‘common interest’ or just calculating his next moves. It does not matter whether Trump was doing the same. What matters – and what we do not yet know – is whether and how the Trump campaign collaborated with Russian agencies, perhaps even the Kremlin, to win the presidency.

One may argue that at least one big US oil company, namely, Exxon Mobile, was and is very much interested in the ‘energy cooperation’ with Russia – it has invested 500 billion USD in the Russian oil company Rosneft to drill in the Arctic, a business deal that was stalled when the sanctions against Russia were put in place in 2014 as a response to the Russian annexation of Crimea. Rex Tillerson may or may not become the Secretary of State for the US – with the nomination of the former Exxon CEO, Trump has already demonstrated that he is willing to pave the way for the energy cooperation that Russia was looking for all along. Of course, Tillerson is no longer the CEO of Exxon, the only company he ever worked for; but it is hard to believe that from one day to the other, he can forget everything he believed in for the last four decades. It is much more likely that he will work on the energy cooperation with Russia – because the President and he think it is in the national interest of the US.

Under the presidency of Obama, the drilling in the Arctic, as any further investment in non-renewable energy sources, has come under scrutiny for environmental reasons. Exxon Mobile, of course, only recently admitted it had suppressed its own scientific reports that established knowledge on climate change – on Wednesday, January 11, 2017, however, a Massachusetts Judge ordered Exxon to hand over the reports from the last 40 years (http://money.cnn.com/2017/01/12/investing/exxon-loses-climate-change-ruling/, seen Jan 12, 2017).

Under the Trump presidency, energy independence rather than climate change and transformation to renewable energy will drive the energy policies. The question is what role the relationship to Russia plays in this scenario, what role American companies will play, and how all this relates to Trump’s relationship with China. This does not only concern the trade agreements, his company’s investments, or the one-China policy – it may also concern the US-China climate change agreement.

How does this all relate to the dossier? Well, it’s all in there. So, before we (re-)turn to the Hearings, let’s not forget about …. Conspiracy  ….

As of June 2016, the secret dossier entailed the following, published by buzzfeed on January 10, 2017” (https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/3259984-Trump-Intelligence-Allegations.html) (seen Jan 12, 2017). I have summarized what I consider the main points in the dossier for those who don’t have the time to read it – if there are mistakes in the summary, they are mine:

Document (2016/080):

Source A:

  • Kremlin feeds the Trump campaign with material on H. Clinton

Source B:

  • this activity was supported and directed under the auspices of President Putin.
  • Knew that there was a Dossier on Hillary Clinton as kompromat.

Source C:

  • Putin’s motive is more domestic than US-oriented: he promotes his plan to create Nova Russia, the 19th century Russian empire.

Source D:

  • is from the inner circle of the Trump campaign; s/he organized some of Trump’s trips to Moskow and admitted the collaboration between the Trump campaign and Russia. S/he also reports the ‘Golden Shower’ allegations (hiring of two prostitutes to urinate on the bed in the Ritz Carlton Hotel).

Source E:

  • confirms this story.

Source F:

  • female staffer of Trump, confirms this story.

Source G:

  • confirms the dossier on H. Clinton, handled by Pesklov, under direct instruction by Putin. It has not been published and not handed over to Trump.

Document: Cyber-Crimes (2016/086)

Concerns the operations on foreign governments, banks, and companies – often using persons in the countries whom one can blackmail or coerce to collaborate, or persons of Russian descent.

Document: Further collaboration Trump campaign and Russia (2016/095)

  • exchange of information between Trump campaign and Russian intelligence – including information on Russian oligarchs who live in the US and using moles to hack the DNC

Source E:

  • points to Paul Manafort and Carter Page as involved in the collaboration
  • points to a welcome distraction from Trump’s China deals by way of Russian news and disinformation campaign, while Putin welcomed distraction from Ukraine.

Document (2016/094)

Concerns secret Kremlin meetings attended by Trump Foreign Affairs Advisor Carter Page. The Clinton dossier is used as bargaining chip:

What do the Russians want? First: energy cooperation; second: lifting of sanctions against Russia over Ukraine. What do they have? Compromising material on H. Clinton (and Trump).

Document (2016/096)

Source reveals contacts between Trump group and Kremlin for the last 8 years – going back as far as 2008 when Trump was a private citizen and entrepreneur only. Contacts concern information on Russian oligarchs who live in the US.

A Russian emigré close to the Trump campaign reveals concerns in Russia that the hacking scandal on the DNC could run out of control.

Document (2016/100)

Source reveals growing concerns about backlash over DNC hacking (August 2016).

Document (2016/101)

Source reveals intentions to target US youth, and engaged in funding trips to Moscow of Lyndon Larouche, Gill Stein, and General Flynn (August 2016).

Document (2016/102)

Source reveals unrest in Trump campaign over Russian interference

Document (2016/136)

Kremlin insider Source reveals a conversation with a friend about clandestine meeting of Trump lawyer Cohen with Kremlin insiders in Prague, in August 2016, Kosachev (head of Foreign Relation Committee) may have attended the meeting. The objective was to ‘clean up the mess’ over reports that Paul Manafort had been involved in relations with Ukraine former president Yanukovich.

Document (2016/105)

reports of meeting between Putin and Yanukovich about payments to Paul Manafort, and concerns about these in the aftermath of Manafort’s resignation from the Trump campaign.

Document (2016/111)

Sources report some Policy decisions in Russia linked to the interference in US election, mainly intended to scale down the activities (September 2016).

Document (2016/112)

Concerns relationship between Putin and the alpha group, with two men, Fridman and Aven, providing information on US.

Document (2016/113)

Sources reveal bribes paid by Trump to persons in St. Petersburg through intermediary companies. Persons who could testify to this have been silenced so that Trump’s activities will be difficult to prove. (Sept. 2016)

Document (2016/130)

Source reveals activities of disinformation on Clinton, but disappointment over the effect of the hacking of DNC. The Trump support operation was moved to the Russian presidential administration in the fall (October 2016).

Document (2016/134)

Source reveals information on a secret meeting between Rosneft President Igor Sechin and Carter Page, deliberating about energy cooperation and and sanction lifting.

Source reveals the role of lawyer Michael Cohen. (October 2016)

Document (2016/135)

Source reveals Michael Cohen engaged in ‘cover-up’ activities concerning Paul Manafort’s role in Ukraine, and Carter Page’s role in exchanges with Russia. Source states that neither time nor place of meetings between M. Cohen and Kremlin figures are exact because of security barriers.

Document (2016/166)

Source reveals information on the meeting of Cohen and Russian partners about payments to hackers and cover-up operations, and ‘contingency plans’ in case of a Clinton presidency. They name the company XBT/webzilla as spreading viruses, plant bugs etc. against Democratic Party leadership between March and September 2016.

Diary of an Impatient Mind

Sunday, November 27, 2016.

In my hometown in Northern Germany: bird flue outbreak this week forced the first farm to kill 19.000 turkeys. If its two neighbor farms are affected (not clear yet), more than 90.000 animals must be killed. (http://www.zeit.de/wissen/gesundheit/2016-11/gefluegelpest-cloppenburg-putenmastbetrieb-vogelgrippe-h5n8)

gefluegelpest, cloppenburg © Focke Strangmann/dpa

Checking some older emails, from the beginning of November: FDA has found 10 times the concentration of glyphosate in US honey bees compared to the threshold set in the EU. Yet. Monsanto – who uses glyphosate in its ‘Roundup’ herbicide, told us for some decades that GMO will reduce the use of herbicides, not increase it.  (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/carey-gillam/more-bad-news-for-honey-a_b_12769698.html)

And of course, every day in my thoughts: Standing Rock. We allow big oil companies to build yet another huge pipeline that not only puts the Missouri River water in North Dakota at risk – it also continues business as ‘it always was’. Which means: exploitation of soil, natural resources, and complete reification of animals for food production.

No – this has not always been our way of life. And if we are worried about job losses to automation in rural America – and yes, we should be concerned about this because the ‘old’ jobs will not return – why do we not begin NOW to imagine a way out.

Is it really unimaginable to switch to smaller farming again? Is it unimaginable to rebuild local communities not only around churches but also around newly envisioned farms and community centers as spaces to create hope in the future? What if small towns re-built their own farmers’ markets, even some tourist business on sustainable farms? Libraries, even if it started with the libraries-on-the-go? Why not think of getting back to really small business – but smart, sustainable, creative? If they needed some subsidies – or micro-credits that have worked well in any country facing the same problem as rural America – why don’t we, in the bigger cities, not work together with these communities?

Can we not start outreach programs? There is so much of what I call ‘experiential knowledge’ that we can all learn from. I don’t think we can wait for big business to create this narrative. And no: I am not just a Green, a Romantic, a Yesterdayer – although I am proud to be all that with respect to how we relate to our environment. I am looking at report after report on environmental disasters. I am looking at economic gains (they don’t reach those who would need some more bucks in their pockets). In the US, there are 358 mega-rich families. 20 families own 50% of all US wealth. They use their wealth for gaining political power. Lauren Langman calls this a plutocracy. So – these guys won’t tell us to go back to smaller units. They are not interested in community-building. They probably consider the human, animal, plant, and natural resources loss through accidents a collateral damage. In my hometown, however, some of the farmers may lose everything they have relied upon.

In North Dakota, one accident will destroy the water supply for the Native American Nation living there for decades. Not to speak of the wildlife etc.
In Iowa, Sioux Honey Association Cooperation is sued because they advertise their honey as 100% pure – which they cannot guarantee, now that the FDA found glyphosate in their honey.
And here is my big BUT of the day:

Community re-building must resist returning to the cultural values of the past. This is where white Christianity enters the room: No – we do not want to return to the white patriarchal family. We have lived through its violence, both personally, physically and emotionally, and structurally.

But unless we have an alternative that creates real hope, liberation, and a future that is worth fighting for, we will not win the fight on cultural values. 

Christian values are about de-centering power structures and re-centering them around justice for all. Liberation. Metanoia or transformation to an always possible new beginning. Transforming violence into peace. Standing with the anawim, the outcasts of society. Building something new, a society in which those who are poor are blessed, those who fight for justice are blessed.

As a Christian, I know where to go and where to look: first and foremost, I have multiple biblical narratives – experiences with power, experiences and narratives of strengths and weaknesses, of collaboration and resistance, of errors and ever-new beginnings. I have the story of Jesus Christ.

I have the tradition of prophets. I have my Catholic tradition of subversives of their societies, those who spoke up to those in power, to violence, to murder, to oligarchy (not everyone, but many of these bravest men and women were later  called the Saints of the Catholic Church- such as Oscar Romero). I have the civil rights and human rights defenders such as Martin Luther King. I have Dorothy Day and Dorothee Soelle. I have thousands and thousands of individuals who came before us. Who stood up, and who created something new. This is my tradition, this is the Christian tradition, a counter-tradition worth fighting for.

Christianity for the Curious: Why Study Christianity

By: Hille Haker, Loyola University Chicago

Curiosity, common sense holds, drives the sciences rather than the humanities: how can we better understand the world we live in? How can we make the best use of our knowledge about nature, develop technologies and explore what is unknown to us? But the humanities, too, start with curiosity, albeit with a slightly different turn to their questions: why do we exist, and what gives meaning to our life? These questions guide our academic journeys, leading us into the foreign worlds of the natural world, individual lives, cultures, histories, social structures and institutions, and more. The study of religion is part of the humanities, orienting us in our question how we can and ought to live. However, religions also articulate the boundaries of any of our worldviews, challenging us to go beyond them, to transcend our reality to this other reality that we call the Divine. Curiosity for Christianity is therefore a good motivation to begin your study.

As a scholar of Christianity you will become an explorer of foreign languages, foreign worlds and histories, and this journey will never come to an end. You will encounter many courageous persons, past and present, from all over the world, committed to their faith. You will hear and read stories full of wisdom, wit, humor, and human drama. You will see the architecture, the books, paintings and sculptures, all rooted in the same curiosity – and awe – that drives your own studies. You will examine the poetic force of people who put into words and images what ultimately cannot be grasped. You will meet community leaders and politicians both in history and in the present who are the voices of the Christian tradition. As a scholar of Christianity, you will dive into a world that embraces much of what human culture offers. As is the case in every study, not everything will be as exciting as you expect, and the study of Christianity demands, apart from curiosity, discipline and openness to multiple disciplines Christian theology is aligned with. You may not become as wealthy as some of your peers may, but as a person, you will be more than enriched. Speaking in the words of my institution, a Jesuit University, you may be transformed as a person in order to transform the world: transform it into a place of less injustice, less hate, and less despair for those to whom justice, love, and hope matters most. In short: you will study Christianity not only as an intellectual matter, but also as an existential journey; and it matters that you have chosen to become one of the scholars in Christian theology.

Rather than explaining what the study of Christianity entails – you will learn that from booklets, websites, and program descriptions, let me tell you a bit from my own journey: I am a Catholic Christian, and I became a scholar of Catholic theology in the 1980s. Furthermore, I have specialized in the discipline of ethics, more specifically moral identity and agency, bioethics, social ethics, literature & ethics, and feminist ethics. I am a woman of German nationality, wife and mother, and friend of several people who live in different parts of the earth; they are gay and straight, of different ethnicities and national backgrounds, Christians and Non-Christians.

But as important as it is to introduce myself, however superficially, to you, I want to convey that in and for Christianity, ‘identity does not matter’. For the disciple St. Paul states, right at the beginning of the formation of the Christian communities, a central insight of the Christian faith you will come to study: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Letter to the Galatians 3:28)

In our world that is shaped not only by our social identities that give us a sense of belonging but also by an identity politics that labels, shames, and discriminates people because of certain characteristics, it is important to understand what it means to say that all these categories do not matter because we are ‘one’ – united, that is – in Christ. As a student and/or scholar of Christianity, you will examine a statement such as this. Perhaps you read it as a statement that ultimately places Christianity before any other ‘identity marker’, rendering this particular identity superior to the others, thereby entering one of the most contested debates of inter-religious dialogue? Or you may read it as a call for attention never to forget our common humanity, regardless of our particularities. Becoming a scholar of Christianity, you will be enabled to participate with your own voice, your own experiences, and your own convictions in the reflection and the discussions of what Christianity means – and should mean – in today’s world.

DSC_4659a

What we strive to learn, what kind of person and/or scholar we strive to become is personal and in part existential. So here is some more of my own motivation: I studied Christian theology, because I wanted to know – not only intellectually but existentially – what it means to commit myself to the Christian faith. I was fascinated by individual life stories of men and women who would not give in to the many occasions and structures of injustice, oppression, violence, and all the different kinds that may well render people hopeless. These were individuals who would fight for their faith, but fight with words, with love, and passion. I learned about their struggles with and in their own lives, learned about their struggles with God. Having engaged in a human rights organization, I also wanted to know why – and when – one’s political and/or religious passion may turn into a destructive, violent, desperate fight. Non-violence, I learned, might not always be possible in a world that is driven by war, genocide, or terrorism. And yet, peace and justice, and justice in peace is what we need to strive for as disciples of Jesus Christ.

I grew up in post-World War II Germany, and I felt the burden of my country’s 20th century history, namely the Holocaust, which is a burden of remembrance and responsibility for any German of my generation. One of my life-questions as well as an inquiry of my scholarly work became exactly this: how can I live responsibly, aware of what is happening around me? What does it take? Asking this question, I realized that I not only needed a community (or several and different communities) who were willing and able to ask critical questions together with me, but I also realized that I myself needed to give reasons for my faith. At the beginning of my studies I did not know yet how important this would be, but one verse in the bible has become an important reference point for me since I reflected it for the first time: “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” (1 Petrus 3,15). Not just: reasons for your faith, but reason for the hope that you have!

Christian theology gave me a perspective, a lens to understand the question of truth, love, justice, and of a situated interpretation of the Christian faith. I engaged these questions in theology and philosophy, and also turned to the study of literature, or to the sciences. I would not too quickly draw a line between the ‘religious’ and the ‘secular’ in my studies; and up to today I am convinced that the Ignatian spirituality expresses this universal approach to Christian theology aptly, articulated in one simple phrase with enormous ramification for the study of Christianity: “Finding God in everything”. In other words: if the Christian faith centers on the human person, in all possible relations to fellow humans, fellow creatures, plants, rocks, water, air – all that is mentioned so meticulously in the creation story or, in the near-inversion of creation, namely the story of the flood, then I, too, must attend to anything I might encounter as finding God in it. Christian theology has taught me to look at all human experiences and human culture with respect and awe, and it demands not to look the other way when human action and life is not beautiful, not peaceful, and not admirable. The study of Christianity, this means, will lead you to the highest and the lowest capacities of human agency. The division between right and wrong, and good and evil, I have learned painfully, however, does not necessarily match with the division of the ‘sacred’ and the ‘profane’, or between believers and non-believers.

Oberpfarr- und Domkirche (Berliner Dom), Berlin

Obviously, research and scholarship in Christianity has changed over the last decades – fields that were marginal when I began my journey have entered the curricula of many universities: new approaches were introduced to my own denominational studies, Catholic theology, as well as to Christian theology in general: the post-Holocaust ‘new political theology’ of Johann Baptist Metz and liberation and feminist theology have emerged, Christian theology was contextualized and re-interpreted in the critical appraisal of late and/or postmodern, post-colonial, or political theology. My own field of expertise, ethics, is also in a process of being reframed, mostly in the name of ‘Christian Ethics’ or ‘Theological Ethics’, including both traditional sub-disciplines of Moral Theology and Social Ethics. Furthermore, new ethical issues have emerged over the years, such as global justice questions & poverty, international law, and ecology; bioethics and ethics & new technologies; or business ethics & corporate social responsibility.

Today, you will need to become not only the interpreter of Christianity but also the ‘trans-lator’ of it: carrying the ‘good news’ over to anybody who may be open to it, while attending to his or her own context, language, or culture.

In some parts of the world, this means interpreting Christianity in view of a secular culture that has established organizational structures in politics, culture, and education that function independent of any religion – with the effect of a level of illiteracy in matters of religion unknown to any culture before us. This secular approach may well feed the illusion that policies are value-neutral whereas religions are partial. But as St. Paul’s statement stresses, partiality is (or at least should be) already transcended in Christianity – the only partiality upheld is the “option for the poor”, as a reminder of the Gospel’s ethics: it is those who are left behind throughout history and at the present time who are most urgently in need of love, justice, and hope, and if actions demand priorities, they are the first to be attended to.

murals

In other parts of the world we see, however, efforts to re-interpret the relationship between the state and religion/church by way of religious politics – and these efforts are also not necessarily conducive to peace and tolerance, especially when the conflation of religious and political power lead to the silencing of dissenting voices. The study of Christianity reinforces a discussion, rather than a solution once and for all, of this tension between religion and politics, between the church and the state, and the role of religion in politics, society, or the overall culture of the 21st century.

You will take part in this local, national, international, and global endeavor. We, the scholars, need you and your work, because you are the future of Christian studies. Your community needs your work, because it will need your expertise. And those who are desperately waiting for the world to be transformed so that there is hope for them, too, they need you most of all. You may start your study motivated by your own curiosity – but you may well end up being ‘set on fire’ – inspired and determined, with knowledge and passion.

This article is published in: Kishor Vaidya (ed.): Why Study Christianity (Christian Studies), The Curious Academic Publishing (ISBN 978-1-925128-27-7), 2014.