The Widening Crusade

Bush's War Plan Is Scarier Than He's Saying

If some wishful Americans are still hoping President Bush will acknowledge that his imperial foreign policy has stumbled in Iraq and needs fixing or reining in, they should put aside those reveries. He's going all the way—and taking us with him.

The Israeli bombing raid on Syria October 5 was an expansion of the Bush policy, carried out by the Sharon government but with the implicit approval of Washington. The government in Iran, said to be seeking to develop a nuclear weapon, reportedly expects to be the next target.

No one who believes in democracy need feel any empathy toward the governments of Syria and Iran, for they assist the terrorist movement, yet if the Bush White House is going to use its preeminent military force to subdue and neutralize all "evildoers" and adversaries everywhere in the world, the American public should be told now. Such an undertaking would be virtually endless and would require the sacrifice of enormous blood and treasure.

illustration: Tim Jessell

With no guarantee of success. And no precedent in history for such a crusade having lasting effect.

People close to the president say that his conversion to evangelical Methodism, after a life of aimless carousing, markedly informs his policies, both foreign and domestic. In the soon-to-be-published The Faith of George W. Bush (Tarcher/Penguin), a sympathetic account of this religious journey, author Stephen Mansfield writes (in the advance proofs) that in the election year 2000, Bush told Texas preacher James Robison, one of his spiritual mentors: "I feel like God wants me to run for president. I can't explain it, but I sense my country is going to need me. . . . I know it won't be easy on me or my family, but God wants me to do it."

Mansfield also reports: "Aides found him face down on the floor in prayer in the Oval Office. It became known that he refused to eat sweets while American troops were in Iraq, a partial fast seldom reported of an American president. And he framed America's challenges in nearly biblical language. Saddam Hussein is an evildoer. He has to go." The author concludes: " . . . the Bush administration does deeply reflect its leader, and this means that policy, even in military matters, will be processed in terms of the personal, in terms of the moral, and in terms of a sense of divine purpose that propels the present to meet the challenges of its time."

Some who read this article may choose to view it as the partisan perspective of a political liberal. But I have experienced wars—in India and Indochina—and have measured their results. And most of the men and women who are advocating the Bush Doctrine have not. You will find few generals among them. They are, instead, academics and think-tank people and born-again missionaries. One must not entertain any illusion that they are only opportunists in search of power, for most of them truly believe in their vision of a world crusade under the American flag. They are serious, and they now have power at the top.

I believe that last week's blitz of aggressive speeches and spin by the president and his chief counselors removed all doubt of his intentions.

"As long as George W. Bush is president of the United States," Vice President Cheney told the friendly Heritage Foundation, "this country will not permit gathering threats to become certain tragedies." The president himself must tell us now what this vow entails.

The public relations deluge by Bush, Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld seemed to be aimed at denying any policy fumbles and insisting that the liberal press was ignoring the positive developments in Iraq.

Mr. Cheney, the president's usual attack dog, aimed his sharpest and most sneering words at those who offer dissent about the administration's foreign and economic policies. Perhaps seeking to stifle such criticism, he raised the specter of terrorists acquiring weapons of mass destruction that "could bring devastation to our country on a scale we have never experienced. Instead of losing thousands of lives, we might lose tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of lives in a single day of horror." His implication was that Saddam Hussein in particular had presented this threat—when virtually all the available intelligence shows that Iraq's weapons programs had been crippled or drastically diminished by UN inspections and economic sanctions imposed after the first Gulf war in 1991.

But beyond all the distortions and exaggerations and falsehoods the Bush people engaged in to rally public support for the Iraq war, what I have never understood, from the 9-11 day of tragedy onward, is why this White House has not called on the American people to be part of the war effort, to make the sacrifices civilians have always made when this country is at war.

There has been no call for rationing or conservation of critical supplies, such as gasoline. There has been no call for obligatory national service in community aid projects or emergency services. As he sent 150,000 soldiers into battle and now asks them to remain in harm's way longer than expected, the president never raised even the possibility of reinstating the military draft, perhaps the most democratizing influence in the nation's history. Instead, he has cut taxes hugely, mostly for affluent Americans, saying this would put money into circulation and create jobs. Since Bush began the tax cutting two and a half years ago, 2.7 million jobs have disappeared.

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