Ther Iraq Study Group presents an interesting problem for American foreign policy. Clearly there are questions about if Bush will follow the recommendations and how so. There is also an interesting question about qualifications, some saying the ISG proves the current Republicans are immature and incompetent, whereas the old guard still possess erudite qualities.

But there is another question that needs to be pressed to this scenario, and it is one easily confused with the first question I highlighted. What will Bush do? But I am not concerned (not here, at least) about the political calculations involved. I am instead more concerned with Bush’s resistance to the ISG and how it will effect the political decisions sure to follow.

There is an Oedipal connection to be explored as Bush measures the recommendations from key members of his father’s foreign policy apparatus (most notably James Baker.) William Conolly (2002. The Augustinian imperative. NY: Rowan & Littelfield Publishers, Inc. pp. 52-3.) provides in the passage below and exploration of the difficulty of actually doing what one knows she ought to do. This passage contains some block quotations itself from Augustine, so the formatting may seem off. I am also going to bold portions of the passage to further bring out what I think are the most important parts. None of the bolding is Conolly’s.

As Augustine confesses the sins of his past and the problem of evil he is moved to ponder the character of human will. The confession here parallels the confession of memory. Augustine finds that he has done things he did not will and has willed things he did not do. This leads him to suspect that the source of evil and human suffering resides deeply within the will itself, in the very structure of human will and desire. [Begin Conolly’s block quotation of Augustine]

Why should it be? Mind commands body, and it obeys forthwith. Mind gives orders to itself, and it is resisted. Mind gives orders for the hand to move, and so easy is it that command can scarcely be distinguished from execution. Yet mind is mind, while hand is body. Mind commands mind to will: there is no difference here, but it does not do so. Whence comes this monstrous state? Why should it be?

[End Conolly’s block quotation] Augustine is not worried about the mind/body problem that has perplexed Western thought at least since a mechanistic conception of nature became popular in the 17th century. This is not a Cartesian question about how the mind interacts with the body. For that relation is pretty reliable: “Mind gives orders for the hand to move, and…command can scarcely be distinguished from execution.” Augustine is concerned about a mind/mind problem, about a perplexity or dissonance interior to the will itself. You will not to invite your attractive friend for a late drink, but the words crawl out of your mouth anyway. Augustine wills to be continent, but he is incontinent. His friend, Alypius, wills to forgo the violent blood of the circus, but under the prodding of friends he sinks into it again. The question is not whether those acts are okay despite the values of those who resist them, but why one does the thing one wills not to do once one has willed not to do it.

The answer, for Augustine, is not that the body overwhelms the will or that the will is in combat with dark forces that sometimes overmatch it. The first answer would take him too close to Platonic paganism and the second too close to the heresy of Manicheanism. The source of the conflict must therefore be a division within the will itself. [Begin Conolly’s block quotation of Augustine]

It does not will it in its entirety: for this reason it does not give this command in its entirety. For it commands a thing only in so far as it wills it, and in so far as what it commands is not done, to that extent it does not will it…But the complete will does not give the command and therefore what it commands is not in being.

I hope this passage helps us understand a reason why things go wrong. It is especially helpful for why things may go wrong in the worst possible places for them to go wrong: Iraq. Maybe the abuses US soldiers are accused of are not a failing of leadership or even training. Instead they may be the inevitable outcome of placing people in situations predicated on violence and death. Maybe the insurgents are merely acting out this mind/mind problem and there is nothing the US can do to ease the problem.

I find it unlikely that Iraq is a hodgepodge of forces that can be identified and dealt with. There are things at work we may never understand and while some may call that life, given the circumstances in Iraq we instead call it death. This is a sobering possibility and one that right now is too abstract to provide an ethic for dealing with Iraq, but with time and work maybe Augustinian insights can provide some help and relief. Everyone sees the status quo and asks the same question: why should it be?

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