PROFESSOR OF RELIGIOUS STUDIES
UNIVERSITY OF COLORADO AT BOULDER
WHY BUSH FIGHTS: IT’S THE MORALITY, STUPID
Question: What do Mark Twain and the neoconservatives have in common? Answer: The reports of their deaths are greatly exaggerated. We’ve been hearing reports of the demise of neocon influence for over half a year now. Yet every time a major decision has to be made in the White House, the neocon view seems to prevail.
They are certainly still in charge of
It’s not the logic of blood for oil. When the big oil companies want to make
But Baker and the oil moguls know that as long as
The neocons who are running the show overruled Baker and the pundits because they follow a very different logic. As Michael Lind, a former editor of a neocon journal, once explained, their policies do “not reflect business interests in any direct way. … Explanations involving big oil or American capitalism are mistaken.” If neocon policies help the oil companies get richer, that’s a welcome bonus. But it’s not the heart of the story.
In the last few days, Bush aides have been out baring
their heart to the White House press corps.
According to the Washington Post,
they’re saying that Bush “has few other dramatic options available to signal
At a press conference a few weeks ago, Bush warned:
“They can't run us out of the
That’s the heart of the neocon story:
"I'm interested in one thing: I'm interested in winning," Bush said in a recent interview. "If we can't win, I'll pull us out.” Then he explained what “winning” means to him: “The only defeat is leaving, is letting things fall into chaos and letting al Qaeda have a safe haven.”
Of course the longer
That may sound like nonsense to most of us. But it makes good sense to the neocons, because their main goal is not victory in the conventional sense. Their main goal is to prove that America has manly character: we aren’t “cut and run” quitters; we don’t get weary, weak, or intimidated; we have the guts and moral fiber to stand up to every enemy, no matter how tough; we are real men who will endure any pain and make any sacrifice, as long as we are good guys fighting against evildoers.
For a neocon, determination, resolve, and sacrifice are not just useful tactics (as they are for the James Bakers of the world). They are moral qualities that prove we have the essential virtue: strength and fortitude. As long as we are standing tough and making sacrifices, we are proving our manly character. So we are defeating the real enemy: our own moral weakness. But to prove that kind of strength, we have to be out there fighting. That’s why it’s the act of making war, not the outcome, that counts most.
The neocons are set on making the whole country follow
their example. According to the BBC, the
“central theme” of Bush’s big speech “will be sacrifice.” (Bush has already warned that 2007 will “require
additional sacrifices.”) “Americans need
to commit to greater national sacrifice,” one White House spinmeister told the
press. Another framed it as simplistically as Bush will frame it: “A choice between withdrawal and surge. … The
public is more likely to support the president’s position, which is putting a
stake in the ground in
The sad truth is that the public just might support the president. Most Americans hate to be losers. But they may hate even more to be weak-willed quitters. “The public is not for immediate withdrawal or even a quick withdrawal, but they’re not for the status quo,” one of the spinmeisters explained. So they may very well fall for the “surge” as the best change available.
There’s the challenge for those of us who see the
But too many will shed blood for an old-fashioned
morality that equates virtue with deadly displays of brute macho strength. That’s the essence of The Decider’s message as
he stumps for his “surge” plan. And he seems
so sure of his righteousness, he may actually get away with it -- unless we can
argue convincingly that the truly moral path leads us out of
There is more at stake here than a prolonged tragedy
All the “No Blood for Oil” bumper stickers in the world won’t help as long as the neocons are still making policy. If we want to avert disaster, we should take the neocons at their word, confront their perverse moral code head on, and argue for a very different kind of morality -- one that doesn’t require morgues full of corpses to make us feel virtuous. The economics of war is always important. But right now it’s the morality that we most urgently need to debate.
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