Have you heard? GQ has the images, people, the proof of just how outrageous the Bush years were, the stuff that’s going to blow the lid on all the pious hypocrisy that was the Global War on Terrorism. Just wait until Keith Olbermann tees off on this!
I speak, of course, not about the photos of interrogation (and possible torture) that President Obama has decided against releasing, but about 11 cover sheets to the Worldwide Intelligence Update that feature Bible verses combined with images from the early days of the Iraq war. GQ.com’s exclusive slideshow of the covers runs under the gloating headline “Onward, Christian Soldiers!” I guess that’s better than “Don Rumsfeld Is a F------ A------,” which is the broader point of GQ‘s 4,700-word report — and yes, the invective is sourced.
GQ‘s report is by Robert Draper, who has a great talent for long-form journalism. I have long admired Draper’s Rolling Stone Magazine: The Uncensored History (1991). That makes Draper’s report on the collection of insipid cover sheets all the more disappointing. These images become political porn for those who know with metaphysical certitude that President Bush launched the war in Iraq because:
• He wanted to hasten the End of Days.
• He believed God told him to do it.
• He had father (and Father) issues.
• All of the above.
More than once, Draper depicts these images as having a possibly harmful effect on U.S. policy, should they be made public:
These cover sheets were the brainchild of Major General Glen Shaffer, a director for intelligence serving both the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the secretary of defense. In the days before the Iraq war, Shaffer’s staff had created humorous covers in an attempt to alleviate the stress of preparing for battle. Then, as the body counting began, Shaffer, a Christian, deemed the biblical passages more suitable. Several others in the Pentagon disagreed. At least one Muslim analyst in the building had been greatly offended; others privately worried that if these covers were leaked during a war conducted in an Islamic nation, the fallout — as one Pentagon staffer would later say — “would be as bad as Abu Ghraib.”
But the Pentagon’s top officials were apparently unconcerned about the effect such a disclosure might have on the conduct of the war or on Bush’s public standing. When colleagues complained to Shaffer that including a religious message with an intelligence briefing seemed inappropriate, Shaffer politely informed them that the practice would continue, because “my seniors” — JCS chairman Richard Myers, Rumsfeld, and the commander in chief himself — appreciated the cover pages.
GQ never explains the urgency of publishing these images now — as wars continue in both Afghanistan and Iraq — except perhaps the eternally righteous cause of looking back in anger on the Bush administration.
Draper speculates about the reasoning behind the reports’ cover sheets:
The Scripture-adorned cover sheets illustrate one specific complaint I heard again and again: that Rumsfeld’s tactics — such as playing a religious angle with the president — often ran counter to sound decision-making and could, occasionally, compromise the administration’s best interests. In the case of the sheets, publicly flaunting his own religious views was not at all the SecDef’s style — “Rumsfeld was old-fashioned that way,” Shaffer acknowledged when I contacted him about the briefings — but it was decidedly Bush’s style, and Rumsfeld likely saw the Scriptures as a way of making a personal connection with a president who frequently quoted the Bible.
The cover sheets cannot be defended as good exegesis, or even as creative application of Scripture. Applying Isaiah’s words of “Here am I, send me” to a photo of soldiers armed for combat is an unsettling misappropriation of the prophet.
I am not outraged by these images. They are on the theological level of Footsteps glurge. I am not outraged that GQ, in being true to its understanding of journalistic duty, brought the images to light. Rather, I am amazed that anyone would suggest, from one major general’s idea of topical cover design, that manipulative kitsch actually influenced foreign policy.