Ira Chernus  



Ira Chernus

"Bush & God," the cover of Newsweek announces, as if the two were business partners. Thatís what the White House wants us to think. It is mounting a massive campaign to paint the president as a man on a divine mission, a man who sees himself as an agent of God.

Some of the reasons for this PR ploy are obvious. Itís so much easier to go to war if we believe that God is on our, and our leaderís, side. Wrap the flag around God, and who can question your moral credibility? If Bush stands with God, those who actively oppose his war must be down below with Satan. If Bush is so sincerely religious, those who question his motives must be misguided. Such a spiritual man would never send others to their death for crass motives like power and oil. Surely, he must have higher ethical principles in view.

There is a risk in this strategy. It makes Bush look like a fanatic. That could easily drive some of the undecided into the antiwar camp.

But making Bush look like a fanatic might very well be the point. If he really believes he is on a mission from God, why would he care what the French, the Russians, or even the American people think? Nothing can stop a religious fanatic from doing Godís work on earth. As antiwar sentiment mounts, the White House may be using this "Bush and God" gambit as a way to say: Forget it. March and lobby as much as you want. Nothing can stop this Christian soldier from marching out to war.

This is a new twist on Richard Nixonís famous "madman" theory. Nixon wanted the North Vietnamese to believe that he was so irrational, he could easily nuke them into oblivion if they did not settle the war on his terms. Now the White House says that George W. is so irrationally sunk in his Christian beliefs, he must have U.S. policy settled on his terms.

The irony is that the White House has to spin this story precisely because George W. keeps turning back from the brink, as more and more of the world turns against his war. Remember when we were told that the war would have to start by February, to get it over with before the desert turned too hot? Then, as diplomatic resistance to war mounted, natureís deadline was put off until later in the spring.

On March 7, facing a French and Russian veto in the Security Council, the U.S. did another backpedal. It amended its supposedly "final" resolution to include a deadline of March 17. All the amendment says is that Iraq must show it is disarming in good faith by the 17th. But most Security Council members, including the French and Russians, say Iraq is already disarming in good faith. So come the 17th, the Security Council will remain as paralyzed as ever. The amended resolution has no real teeth. It is another U.S. surrender.

But every time the Bush administration caves in to diplomatic pressure, the White House puts out the story that itís more determined than ever to go to war. And the U.S. media dutifully buy it. The media heralded the March 17 date as a drop-dead deadline, an absolute proof that Bush will indeed have his heavenly war, come hell, high water, or UN veto. Of course, they may be right. But if you look at what the administration does, not what it says, the evidence points in the opposite direction.

The pressure is mounting against war. It would be a bad mistake for antiwar forces to swallow the line about "Bush and God" as proof that our protests are useless. The New York Times editorial board and its star pundit, Thomas Friedman, have come out against war. Even the more conservative Washington Post is calling for Bush to wait "a few more weeks," hoping for an international change of heart.

Sure, we progressive activists would like everyone to oppose the war on moral grounds, like we do. But if we have to ally with pragmatists like the Times, the Post, and the French government to get the job done, so be it. Our alliance is growing. We are on a roll.

Only two things can stop us. We could tear our alliance apart with internal squabbling and demands for ideological purity. More likely, we will slow our own momentum by convincing ourselves that war is inevitable, because Bush is an irrational fanatic. That is what I hear in antiwar circles, over and over again, far too often. The more we tell each other that our efforts are doomed to fail, the more we come to believe it.

This is a time for one last enormous push against the war. Who knows? God may be on Bushís side. But it doesnít matter. The political momentum is on our side. Letís go out confidently to stop this war before it starts.

Ira Chernus is Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder.