Understanding America’s holy crusade
April 21, 2003
America’s mission in attempting to democratize Iraq and perhaps the rest of the Middle East is motivated by a peculiar blend of pragmatism and altruism. It is America’s moral duty to spread democracy. We also feel relief that a hostile regime has been deposed.
In trying to understand America’s mission, the words of U.S. Deputy Director of Defense Paul Wolfowitz offer clarity: “If we’re not true to our principles, then we’re not serving our national interests.” It was through the force of this perception that architects of the war against Iraq prevailed.
America’s principles and interests, however, are redefined by every successive presidential administration. Those principles and interests are subject to interpretations that suit the mood inside the Beltway.
The Bush administration defines America’s principles in quasi-religious terms. There is a strong implication that America’s war in Iraq is part of a holy crusade driven by a clear mandate from God.
As a devout, born-again Christian, George W. Bush is often pictured deep in prayer as he reaffirms his faith and seeks guidance for his leadership. Now that coalition forces appear to have triumphed in deposing the evil dictatorship in Iraq, Bush is widely lionized for his convictions.
This represents quite a departure from the onset of the war, when Bush was derided by critics for catering to the high priests and oracles of the Republican party. Now that most of the uncertainty seems to have vanished, Bush has attained a priestlike quality and Americans are mostly happy with the outcome.
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Few mourn Saddam’s departure, though many still disagree about the means for that departure and the motivation behind it. Did America take the lead in the war solely to liberate the Iraqis, or was it more about protecting American interests (translation: oil)?
A great irony of America’s holy war is the commandment: Thou Shalt Not Kill. The U.S. military industrial complex kills in the name of God, often indiscriminately, just as other religious zealots have done in past crusades. Profits for defense contractors, earned from the tools of killing, make the rewards of war twofold.
When we look at America’s principles and interests, it is important to understand the nature of the God from whom the Bush administration takes its marching orders. This opens a dicey theological debate. Religion and state are supposed to remain separate, but in America today they have melded into a paradigm of self-righteousness.
The God to whom Bush pays obeisance is a Christian God that can listen, punish and reward. Fewer and fewer Americans question the president’s faith; instead, a growing segment of our population relegates their faith to his.
“God bless America” our patriots chant. We are a faith-based nation that acts unilaterally, spreading democracy through American hegemony and calling it good. This is possible because, in the hierarchy of the global pantheon, America’s God sits at the top, the supreme God.
With his omnipotent executive powers, Bush has defined a constituency greater than the voting public. His mandate exceeds “our principles” in favor of his religious imperative. The president’s foremost constituent appears to be the voice he hears in his mind, during prayer.
That voice tells him that evil must be smote by the forces of good and that America is the expression of good in the world today. It tells him that America’s national interests include remaking other civilizations and cultures into a homogenous whole that mirrors American values. Only then can America be secure within and without its borders.
Some charge that America’s motives reflect blatant self-interests and a pervasive capitalist profit motive. “In God We Trust,” reads the face of our currency. With Iraq subdued, U.S. contractors are clamoring for a share in its rebuilding.
Now that God has granted us victory in Iraq, has chalked up the martyred war dead to America’s noble cause, has assured unilateral control of Iraqi oil reserves and the country’s political future, and has glorified our president, the wheels of celestial justice are in motion.
Will we remake the Iraqis in our own image? Will we exult in our victory and carry it on to the next war against Syria, Iran, North Korea? Will gas prices fall and the stock market rally? Rest assured that God is working closely with the Bush administration on the outcome.
Paul Andersen suggests we all pray for deliverance. His column appears every Monday.
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