The Founders Wept: George W. Bush's Faith-Based War

Friends, fellow Americans, we never knew how bad things got during the George W. Bush era. And yes, I say that with full knowledge of what it implies. True, we saw the results of Bush’s policies: a catastrophic terrorist attack on American soil, a staggeringly mismanaged quagmire of war, torture and degradation of prisoners, the proliferation of radical Islam and anti-American sentiment around the world.

But, until now, we never fully glimpsed the mentality behind it. We had hints, but we never got the full picture of what was motivating Bush and his senior administration officials. Now the truth is revealed, and it’s exactly as bad as the most paranoid imaginings.

Journalist Robert Draper has obtained a set of cover sheets for the Secretary of Defense Worldwide Intelligence Update, a classified daily briefing that was hand-delivered by Donald Rumsfeld to George W. Bush and a tiny inner circle of White House officials. Astonishingly, these top-level documents were prefaced with photos of America’s war effort, blazoned with Bible quotations.

Image credit, GQ.

These were not mere inspirational platitudes, as bad as that would have been. No, these verses were clearly chosen to convey the message that God was commanding America to go to war in Iraq, and would grant us victory if we obeyed.

One shows soldiers in camouflage, heads bowed in prayer, assault rifles clasped in their hands, with a caption reading, “Here I am, Lord; send me” (Isaiah 6:8). Another shows a soldier squatting behind a belt-fired machine gun, with an Iraqi highway sign in the background behind him; the caption reads “Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed” (Proverbs 16:3). A third shows a collage of three pictures – an infantry column, an advancing tank, a fighter plane – and a caption from the genocidal Book of Joshua: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (1:9). And the crowning horror, a picture of Saddam Hussein on Iraqi TV, below the caption: “It is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the foolish talk of ignorant men” (1 Peter 2:15).

Image credit, GQ.

Whether these documents convinced George W. Bush to wage war on Iraq, or whether they merely echoed thinking that was already in his mind, either way they are horrifying. They reflect a White House that was firmly in the grip of messianic religious delusion and a president who believed himself to be a holy warrior carrying out God’s will to cleanse the world of evil. When Bush infamously referred to America’s wars as a “crusade”, it was likely no simple slip of the tongue, but a window into the processes that were even then unfolding in his thoughts.

We did not know it, but for eight years, this nation was in the grip of theocracy. It had a Christian flavor rather than an Islamic one, but aside from those superficial trappings, all theocracies are the same. Just like the Taliban of Afghanistan or the ayatollahs of Iran, George W. Bush believed his primary duty was not to obey the will of the people, but to serve what he believed to be the will of God. And as a result – because of the religious beliefs of desert-dwelling nomads of the Iron Age – the military of the most powerful nation in the world of the 21st century was sent to war. Aircraft carriers and Abrams tanks were dispatched to battle because of myths recorded by people for whom the most advanced weapons of war were chariots and spears.

Image credit, GQ.

If this news had become known during the Bush era, it should have provoked a national crisis and calls for impeachment. The United States of America, led into war by a scripture-quoting president who thought the Bible contained coded messages intended for him! Forget the Founders rolling over in their graves – this should have been cause for them to burst from their graves and advance on the White House in a zombie horde. No words can describe how utterly this betrays the values America was founded on. No words can describe the outrage of thousands of American soldiers and tens of thousands of Iraqis killed, and tens of thousands more wounded or maimed, all in the service of the delusions of this religious zealot who thought God had appointed him our president. And then there are the indirect effects: our prosperity mortgaged to a trillion-dollar war; a nation shattered by ethnic cleansing, its history gone up in flames; the entire Middle East destabilized; and the seeds of an undying anti-American enmity sown throughout the Muslim world. All this to unseat a petty tyrant who, no matter how brutal he was, was no worse than the simmering religious war and semi-anarchy that Iraq is now plunged into.

When revelation takes the place of reason, the results are always disastrous, and the catastrophe of Iraq stands as the supreme example. Faith allows – indeed, encourages – human beings to make decisions with no thought for what is rational, practical, or most likely to succeed, and when the person making the decisions commands the power of the American president, this is the result. The Iraqi people, the American military, and the world have suffered beyond measure because of one man’s messianic delusions. How many more will suffer the same fate before we learn our lesson? How much more bloodshed and death will result before we realize that we cannot rely on religious myths to steer the course of our civilization?

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • abusedbypenguins

    That’s it, no more being nice. Tax religion for the sham it is. Tax religion the same as tarot card readers are taxed. Tax religion the same way all entertainment is taxed. Tax religion down to a very few crackpots. Then maybe it will crawl back under the rock it crawled out of. Religion should and must be a private matter and those of us who want no part of it must be able to ignore it the same way people who want no part of porn can ignore porn. Religion is crazy mind porn.

  • Caunion

    You know I’m desperately hoping this is just a joke. I don’t think that’s going to happen anytime soon. I know Bush and his little cronies were religious but really? Did Bush honestly think he was going in a holy war? That’s scary. At the best of time.

  • Pingback: It gets worse the more we know. at Feeding The Fish

  • Leum

    If this news had become known during the Bush era, it should have provoked a national crisis and calls for impeachment. The United States of America, led into war by a scripture-quoting president who thought the Bible contained coded messages intended for him!

    Have you always been so optimistic? Had this been known, a small number of us would have been outraged, a slightly larger number ecstatic, and the rest would have shrugged and not cared. Which is what will happen now. Which is why Obama can get away with not closing Guantanamo, why he got away with voting in favor of warrantless wiretapping, why Bush will die rich and content in the certain knowledge that the world is a better and safer place because of his actions.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Ebonmuse

    In my defense, Leum, I did say “should have”. But we may get lucky – the Iraq war is already massively unpopular; perhaps people will see that it was dreamed up by a bunch of Bible-quoting lunatics and put two and two together.

  • http://avertyoureye.blogspot.com/ Teleprompter

    Wow. This is astonishing.

    Ebon, you have expressed better than I could have possibly expressed, my reactions of disdain and disgust to this disturbing news.

  • Leum

    The worst bit for me is this: I feel no outrage whatsoever. This does not surprise me, depress me, or make me fear any more for my country. That something like this happened is so mundane, so ordinary, that the worst emotion I get is feeling mildly depressed that the news doesn’t depress me. I’ve almost run out of outrage.

    This is becoming all too common for me. Remember that 11-year-old boy who committed suicide awhile back because of he was taunted for being gay? It took me weeks to notice that he’d been 11, and then what got me was his age, not that he’d been harassed to suicide. If he’d been a few years older, I’d probably have shrugged my shoulders. I’m burned out, completely.

  • Pi Guy

    The worst bit for me is this: I feel no outrage whatsoever. This does not surprise me, depress me, or make me fear any more for my country. That something like this happened is so mundane, so ordinary, that the worst emotion I get is feeling mildly depressed that the news doesn’t depress me. I’ve almost run out of outrage.

    I was only half way done reading the post and thought exactly the same thing.

  • random guy

    Leum – Ever notice how political opinions follow the same formula as the five stages of death?

    Denial –> Anger –> Bargaining –> Depression –> Acceptance.

    It’s like our entire sociopolitical system is the beast that cannot be fed. It behaves more like a force of nature that has to be tolerated. At least that’s how I feel on my worst days.

  • yaab

    Worse than your worse bit: at least 30% of the American people will be comforted rather than outraged by this revelation. This story just hit the press today. Within 24 hours, Fox News will have spun this news into a narrative that extols the virtues of Bush in particular as well as “real Americans” in general, and about a third of the country (at a minimum) will buy this rubbish.

  • John Nernoff

    I was so happy that Bush finally left office and someone with reason, logic and brains took over. Now the nausea has returned.

  • Justin

    The worst bit for me is this: I feel no outrage whatsoever. This does not surprise me, depress me, or make me fear any more for my country. That something like this happened is so mundane, so ordinary, that the worst emotion I get is feeling mildly depressed that the news doesn’t depress me. I’ve almost run out of outrage.

    I know what you mean, Leum. At the risk of Godwinning this comment thread, it is worth pointing out that dictatorial power can often be taken gradually, each step and each new outrage occurring when the populace is just a bit more jaded. It’s like the reverse of quitting addiction by gradually weaning oneself off it.

    The $64,000 question is how to get people to care. When you have an apathetic populace and powerful, evil people (like Cheney) out there sowing even more disinformation, what can be done to change the status quo?

  • Alex Weaver

    From this related link:

    The Beltway punditocracy keeps repeating the cliché that only the A.C.L.U. and the president’s “left-wing base” want accountability, but that’s not the case.

    …you know, they hanged Julius Streicher. Just saying.

  • Danikajaye

    Last week I banned myself from watching the news for a week. The sensationalist way in which almost all news stories are presented can be very stressful if you absorb it all. When the cost of electricity increasing by 25% and a family of four killed by a drunk driver are presented with the same emphasis and outrage there is something wrong. It causes a certain desensitisation to tragedy and a loss of perpective. To take the Vietnam war as an example, I have seen it cited that much of the opposition to the war was propelled by the shocking images that were on the news, a sight that many people would have been sheltered from in previous decades. For the first time people were seeing the reality of war. However, it would seem that the general public is becoming so used to shock tactics and sensationalism that it may have lost its impact. The secret to getting people to care again may be not exposing them to a sensory overload of tragic images and save that for when the greatest emphasis on tragedy is trully deserved.

  • http://alitheiapsis.wordpress.com/ Aly

    Last week was AP exam week, meaning I tried to keep the TV-watching to a minimum. And of course, the cable company recently reset their system, ending the freeloading we’d been doing for the past few years, so there is no 24-hour news. It is SUCH a relief. While I wish I had TCM, History, and Discovery, I do fine without cable. None of the sensationalizing. I get my news from ABC and PBS, and then only for a couple of hours each day. No searching for news that no one gives a damn about, and one could hardly accuse PBS of serving the least common denominator.

    Danikajaye is completely right.

    It seems to me that local news and cable news channels are the ones to blame. Neither can seem to find enough genuine news to fill their time slots, so they must cover every lurid murder and every unsolved kidnapping. In the same stroke, they are making such things commonplace; mass murder is the new murder, it appears.

  • Jennifer A. Burdoo

    This does scare me, not so much because it confirms what we already know (that the US guvmint is riddled with Xianity) but because it confirms what fundamentalist Muslims believe: That this is not a war against terrorism, but a holy war, and we are out to forcibly convert them. Just a minority of us really are, but this can only throw oil on the fire. A rather fitting simile, there…

    Imagine if this had come out at the start of the war. It might have turned other Arab countries against us, even the quiet and mostly-moderate ones.

    On a lighter note, in the first picture that’s a transport vehicle, not a tank, and an attack plane, not a fighter. Sorry, I can’t help it, I’m a military history buff.

    I do find the one of the tank at sunset and the quote above it oddly moving if I force myself to take it out of context. One of the few things I like about religion is the sheer poetry in its language.

  • Lux Aeterna

    Fancy rhetoric aside, your reporting on this issue is uncharacteristically poor. In your haste to jump into concluding that America was in the grip of a theocracy (influenced, dare I say, by your anti-religion views), you completely ignored another dimension: that of a manipulative president using religion to sway the Christian majority into supporting the war.

    Perhaps Bush really was motivated by religion. But to jump straight into your conclusion without due consideration for other highly possible factors is lousy writing on your part.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Fancy rhetoric aside, your reporting on this issue is uncharacteristically poor. In your haste to jump into concluding that America was in the grip of a theocracy (influenced, dare I say, by your anti-religion views), you completely ignored another dimension: that of a manipulative president using religion to sway the Christian majority into supporting the war.

    I don’t see how this ties into the current event. These were highly classified documents. The president might have seen them, but “the Christian majority” wouldn’t have.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    I love Bush-bashing as much as the next person, but allow me to ask: how solid are these charges? I mean, GQ magazine? And I have not myself heard of Robert Draper. Does he have credibility?

  • Reginald Selkirk

    and an attack plane, not a fighter.

    Looks like an A-10 Warthog to me.

  • Scotlyn

    that of a manipulative president using religion to sway the Christian majority into supporting the war.

    Could it not be a manipulative Defense Minister (or whatever the title is) using religion to sway a Christian president into supporting the war?

  • Polly

    Pretty much what Leum said in both posts. Nothing shocks me ’cause even the worst is just par for the course.
    Democracy/constitutional Republic, whatever. It’s rule by the elite. We have freedom to complain (which is great) and loads of other personal freedoms (wonderful!) but they know we won’t do shit to stop their nefarious plans; so they let us bitch and whine and moan all we want. In the end our money and our blood go to serve their causes. Maybe we’ll get some security for health and retirement out of the deal. Maybe not.

    I think Scotlyn is probably right.

    btw – No Arab/Muslim government aligned with US will ever turn against US. At the top, the religion is all the same: hold on to power. Some governments derive power from US, some derive it from opposing US. But, power tends to stick with what’s been working.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    btw – No Arab/Muslim government aligned with US will ever turn against US.

    But what if there is a change of government? As happened in Iran for example.

  • Polly

    But what if there is a change of government? As happened in Iran for example.

    I think the time for popular revolutions has passed. Secret police and high-tech weaponry (supplied by the US) to complicit governments all but assures that the power elites will remain in place. Unless the US falls – and no one else takes our place – “friendly” dictators will reign securely.

  • http://uncyclopedia.org/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    Another shows a soldier squatting behind a belt-fired machine gun
    Sorry. I just had to quote that. It makes me giggle.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Ebonmuse

    I love Bush-bashing as much as the next person, but allow me to ask: how solid are these charges? I mean, GQ magazine? And I have not myself heard of Robert Draper. Does he have credibility?

    To address this question, Robert Draper is the Texan journalist who wrote Dead Certain, a chronicle of the Bush administration from 2001 to 2007. Bush administration officials gave him almost unprecedented access to write it: he had six one-on-one interviews with George W. Bush, as well as personal interviews with Laura Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, and Karl Rove. According to the GQ article, he acquired these documents through an (unnamed) administration official whose contact he made as a result of the interviews he did for that book.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    The saddest part of all is that no one will draw the appropriate conclusion. They will, at most, regret that this bullshit intrusion of religion into our civic life was found out. Indeed, the Pat Robertsons of the country will most likely be delighted that we had such a superstiti — uh, religious president; and they won’t see at all they failure of their own viewpoint.

    Right now, I’m damned near tears. 20,000 of my brothers-in-arms dead and maimed for this mental illness called religion.

  • KShep

    If my memory is correct, Dubya wasn’t all that religious when he stole the 2000 election. It was during the following year or so when he really got into it.

    I remember stories about how the Repubs had hijacked the xtian vote with a steaming pile of phony piety, and Dubya was among them. Someone had pointed out that it was interesting how many evangelicals thought Bush, who rarely attended church, was a “godly man” but Clinton and Gore, both regular churchgoers, were not.

    I’m thinking of the usual image of Bush during the last few years of his presidency—always smiling (some would say smirking) and upbeat, convinced of his own greatness. Remember the “60 Minutes” interview, where he famously couldn’t think of a single mistake he’d made during his reign? That stupid grin (okay, smirk) on his face said it all—-it looked like the same fake, trying-to-look-knowledgeable-but-really-I’m-just-utterly-clueless smile I’ve seen pasted on the faces of many a Jehovah’s Witness at my front door. Like he was trying to convince himself as much as he was the audience.

    So it seems we’re left with two possible versions of what kind of man Dubya is—he’s either a clueless religious dolt who needs help with anything more mentally taxing than tying his shoes, or he’s a conniving, deceitful, petty tyrant who enriched himself and his loyal followers while destroying our country.

    Does it matter which one he is?

  • Andrew

    This sounds too conspiricy theory-ish to me. I dont see how this at all suggests that Bush thought the Bible had coded messages for him to go to war.

  • LindaJoy

    If any of you had read The Family by Jeff Sharlet, you would see that our government has been an active theocracy since just after Roosevelt. A significant portion of our congress has been making policy decisions based upon what “God” tells them in their prayer cells, which meet in the halls of our government every day. The head of the organization, Doug Coe, is so powerful that ambassadors from other countries meet with him before they meet with the President of the United States. I highly suggest reading this book. It’s a fascinating history of the evangelical movement in this country. Plus, it explains how the evangelicals have taken over our military- they have had support at the highest levels. Our top military leaders and the CEO’s of major oil, and military contracting industries are all either members of the “Family” or “Fellowship”, or supporters of this group. Check it out.

  • kpdwarrior

    I will check out The Family, it sounds fascinating, and I am curious to see how much it coincides with a movie that I saw about two years ago and which served as the impetus for my wake-up call and subsequent resolve to embrace free thinking. If you haven’t heard of it, please check out Zeitgeist, The Movie, which can be found at zeitgeistmovie.com. The Addendum is the sequel. I had been aware of about 80% of the information presented, but seeing that additional 20% on religion (stuff they didn’t teach me in sunday school) and the way director Peter Joseph connected the dots after that… well, it blew my mind wide open. I’ll be intereseted to see what parallels, if any exist between the book and Zeitgeist, which, btw, is German and translates as “Spirit of the Times.” AS a model for testing against past and current events, I think it hits pretty close to the truth in broad outline if not in some of the details.

  • Andrew

    I LOVE Zeitgeist, its the funniest comedy ever!

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Ebonmuse

    Although I haven’t seen Zeitgeist myself, I’m pleased that it presents a sympathetic treatment of Jesus mythicism. On the other hand, I’m definitely not too pleased with its embrace of 9/11 conspiracy theories and other historical revisionist nonsense.

  • Andrew

    Let me ask you this: if Peter Joseph is so uncritical to accept the 9/11 ‘truth’ movements claims(and might I add the craziest versions of those), and the stuff about the Federal Reserve secretly running the earth, why should you think he was any more critical in his ‘religious’ ideas?

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Ebonmuse

    He probably isn’t, but that’s irrelevant to the question of whether the ideas themselves have merit.

  • Andrew

    Fair enough. Though the Christ my thesis is based on some shaky assumptions, and streaching for parrallells where only a superficial resemblance exists.

  • Janet Greene

    It seems like the more outrageous the acts, the more likely they are to get away with it. Clinton was almost impeached for getting a BJ in the oval office. Bush/Cheney literally murdered over 100,000 people, Americans, Iraqi’s, etc. Plus all the devastation to the troops who who make it home – many become physically and mentally ill, and can never function normally again. And they did this to line their own pockets! It’s so transparent. Then they used the constitution of the US as though they were suggestions. They wiretapped. Tortured. Lied over and over and over to the country, and thier own colleagues. They ignored the dying people in New Orleans after Katrina – how much blood on their hands there? WHY ARE THESE PEOPLE NOT IN PRISON????????? If I break into a convenience store and steal a chocolate bar, I’ll do time. What is wrong with people? See Vincent Bugliosi’s book on CHARGING AND CONVICTING THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION FOR MURDER AND TREASON. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/vincent-bugliosi/the-prosecution-of-george_b_102427.html

  • Hale

    Lots of politics involved, lots of world domination, etc. But…the war on terror is a religious war … to the Islamic revolutionaries. If you don’t want to believe them, they could care less – they’ll still behead you for being Zionist, whether or not you are atheist. To them, you are infidel Zionists.