Who can dispute that Americans of all political and personal beliefs can now see that the nation is at a turning point in its history. It is hard to think otherwise.
The president has led us into a war of civilizations and cultures. He says he is guided in all decisions by “the Almighty.” He has done nothing that would give us reason to doubt that he truly believe this in his bones. Eerie, is it not, that the Al Qaeda killers who follow Osama bin Laden and seek to destroy the United States claim they have God on their side, too.
Is this an argument for moral equivalence? Absolutely not. Moreover, moral equivalency is not the grave issue before the American citizenry today. The state of our presidency—and perhaps the future of our country—is.
The president, who was led to born-again religion by Texas evangelists some years ago, after a wayward youth, spoke again of the will of God at his recent speech-cum-press conference. Referring to the war in Iraq, he said, “[F]reedom is not this country’s gift to the world. Freedom is the Almighty’s gift to every man and woman in this world.” Then he added: “And, as the greatest power on the face of the earth, we have an obligation” to carry out the Lord’s mission.
Some of Mr. Bush’s own supporters have grown increasingly anxious about Iraq and its ramifications. In part, this is because of the continuing accumulation of documentary evidence that the president and his coterie of more secular hawks took the nation into a pre-emptive war against Iraq on the basis of hyped intelligence and false claims. The claims were that Iraq (1) was linked to the September 11, 2001, suicide-plane attacks on New York and Washington, (2) possessed large stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, and (3) posed a serious, urgent threat to the United States.
Many presidents have invoked God in speeches and policy decisions, especially during times of war when soldiers were dying for country. And most presidents have told lies of various kinds during their tenures. But I know of no president, certainly no modern president, who said he was acting in God’s name while telling lies in order to prod the country into a war against an adversary that, though a vile dictatorship, was no real threat to our security—and had no significant link to the bin Laden forces that attacked us in 2001.
Bob Woodward, the chronicler of official Washington, whose new book, Plan of Attack, is out this week, writes that Bush told him in an interview that during the buildup to the war, “I was praying for strength to do the Lord’s will. . . . I’m surely not going to justify war based on God. Understand that. Nevertheless, in my case, I pray that I be as good a messenger of His will as possible.” At another point, asked whether he consulted his father about going to war, the book quotes the president saying: “There is a higher father that I appeal to.”
In a television appearance, Woodward said that the president’s global plans are so far-reaching and ambitious that they will cause many people to “tremble.” Woodward said the president told him he feels an overarching duty to liberate people all over the world.
Apart from recent events, what is known about Bush’s world “vision”—from published position papers and other source materials—is that he seeks a major expansion, both in technology and troops, in our military capacity. The goal, as delineated in these materials, is to be able to carry out several major wars at the same time around the world.
All the Bush officials who drew up the policy blueprint for the Iraq war are founding signatories of a Washington think tank, Project for the New American Century (PNAC), formed in 1997 by a group of Reaganite neo-conservatives with views that lean heavily toward building an American global empire. They were all sitting out the Clinton years waiting for an opening for their military vision. All are now in key government positions. A partial list includes Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, I. Lewis Libby (Cheney’s chief of staff), and Paul Wolfowitz (Rumsfeld’s number two at the Pentagon). None of these men have ever experienced war. Only one, Rumsfeld, has served in the military; for three peacetime years after college ROTC, he was a navy pilot.
There is nothing secret about this fraternity. Their plans are in the open. You can read their think-tank product at newamericancentury.org. Their most famous document is there in its entirety. Titled “Rebuilding America’s Defenses,” it was published in September 2000, just before Bush was elected president.
The central goal in this report calls for a large expansion and modernization of the armed forces to a point where the military can “fight and decisively win multiple, simultaneous major theater wars.” Also in the report is a sentence that reads, “The process of transformation, even if it brings revolutionary change, is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event—like a new Pearl Harbor.” For these think-tank hawks, apparently, September 11, 2001, was that event.
Despite the evidence that the public was misled into the Iraq war, neither Bush nor any of the war’s architects have accepted responsibility for the false claims or admitted to a single substantial mistake through all the promotion, planning, and execution of the invasion and the ongoing military occupation.
Though Mr. Bush declared major combat over in Iraq nearly a year ago, the war continues and the fighting against insurgent forces is nearly as fierce as in the first weeks of the invasion. The toll of dead and wounded has mounted into the thousands on both sides—tens of thousands on the Iraqi side.
During his televised press conference, the president said that even if some mistakes had occurred, invading Iraq was the right thing do. This was so, he said, because this war will “change the world.” By my count he made this hubristic claim three times that night. The last came toward the end, when, in a sermon-like tone, as if imploring the national audience to take his words seriously, he proclaimed, “We’re changing the world. . . . It’s a conviction that’s deep in my soul.”
Americans take his faith seriously. Many of them, however, may not trust his presidential judgments.
Bush also said that night, “This country must go on the offense and stay on the offense.” Americans have a right to wonder if his plan for the world means that we will be at war for generations.