Better to stick with “Hang in there, baby”


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.’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.

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  • Jerry

    manipulative kitsch actually influenced foreign policy.

    It’s marketing, pure marketing. I don’t see President’s of either party as being immune from its effects. And anyone who has ever read a “how to manage the boss” book knows about speaking using the boss’s language and his or her frame-of-reference whenever possible. So I’m amazed that you’re amazed by this. To me, it’s “business as usual” whether democratic or republican “business”.

  • Wm. Sulik

    Hmmm… Having looked at the slideshow of the pages, I agree that these are pretty offensive – to me anyway. I see this as a perversion of the Word of God.

    Unfortunately, this will also inflame some of the unhinged sect of Olbermann followers.

    Anyway, a question – what if this “manipulative kitsch” did “actually influence[] foreign policy” – wouldn’t that be the most outrageous thing? It seems to me that it is a good question for a reporter to ask, given the evidence.

  • Martha

    “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.”

    I’m surprised no-one is hopping all over this; I agree that use of Scripture was inappropriate in these circumstances, but it does look like “cutting your cloth according to your measure”.

    If they’d stuck to the usual inspirational words from great world leaders that businesses love to festoon their annual company reports with, they’d have been okay.

    Still, when someone thinks there’s a market for the “American Patriot’s Bible”, are we really surprised?

  • Stoo

    Religious stuff in this context worries me about ten times more than bad jokes.

  • Dave

    Let’s not forget, this was a president who called our military response to 9/11 a “crusade” until someone told him better, and who infused his foreign policy with theology, to the effect that God gave everyone the gift of freedom and the US would deliver the gift — a holy war by any definition, and one without defined limits short of the whole planet.

  • Stoo

    Right yeah. While bible quotes would seem inappropriate in general, amidst the Bush Administration they take on extra worrying overtones.

  • Stephen A.

    The fact is, ALL presidents have used religious language to punctuate a point, FDR and JFK to name two Democrats who felt that WWII and the Cold War, respectively, deserved some Biblical statements to clarify the battle. Not to mention Lincoln, who was no fundie.

    This, of course, is Bush Derangement Syndrome at its finest, or worst.

    Oh, and YAWWWWNN. It’s getting tedious and boring.

  • Stoo

    On a site less civil than this one, i’m pretty sure posting YAWN ALLCAPS would be the signal to release the hounds.

    Anyway 1: i’m not deranged, chief
    2: religious language from different presidents has different meanings.

  • dalea

    Hmmm… Having looked at the slideshow of the pages, I agree that these are pretty offensive – to me anyway. I see this as a perversion of the Word of God.

    As someone who does not move in Christian circles, I see this as the usual way of presenting the ‘Word of God’. GQ puts this up as just another Evangelical outreach. Simply showing what Conservative Christianity in the US has become.

  • Deacon Michael D. Harmon

    Of course, this is not language “from” a president at all.

    And as Dalea notes, people who “move in Christian circles” (I assume she means devout believers) do use a different vocabulary at times than those who are not similarly situated. And the military is probably more religious than the wider culture (I speak as a 27-year Army retiree), partly because the South is more represented in its membership. So many in the military are more comfortable with such language than the average member of, oh, say, the media.

    So some of the comments here seem to be complaining that these missives were phrased in ways that the commenters would not have chosen. That’s simply tautological, not substantive. People in times of war reach for inspiration, and if religious language in support of war bothers you, you should probably not read any contemporaneous commentary from the World War II era….

    That’s not a judgment of its appropriateness, by the way. Just a comment on how (some) Americans speak.

  • Stoo

    Right yeah Bush was one of the readership not the author, my bad.

    However brushing aside concerns as “oh it’s just phrased a way you don’t like” is rather glib.

  • Carl Vehse

    These coversheets are labelled TOP SECRET//HCS/COMINT-GAMMA//ORCON,NOFORN//…

    There do not appear to be any declassification markings for these pages.

    The “one government official” who provided these pages to Robert Draper should be arrested and prosecuted.

    It’s too bad DoD doesn’t have the waterboarding method available to convince Robert Draper to reveal who the criminal was.

  • Pingback: The Intelligence Update “Cover Sheets Fiasco” « Sola Dei Gloria

  • Stephen A.

    Stoo, put your hounds away. The media simply need to get over the Bushie attacks. It’s over. What purpose does it serve – here or in the press? Not trying to be provocative here, just helpful.

    Bush’s supposed religious fanaticism is simply not borne out, based on MANY other examples of similar rhetoric from past presidents – who used far deep theological statements without controversy.

    Yeah, it elicits a big, fat yawn from me and from those even more religiously conservative than I.

    Now, if a reporter discovers that I’m wrong, and it turns out that Bush wanted to bring on WWIII so “Jesus could come back,” and “rapture” all the Conservative Republicans, then I’ll be contrite in my apology, and very upset.

  • Dale

    dalea said:

    As someone who does not move in Christian circles, I see this as the usual way of presenting the ‘Word of God’.

    Yes, it’s always best to make snide remarks from a position of ignorance.

  • Dave

    Stephen, I can’t produce any giant End Times conspiracy such as you evoke. (You have to go back to Reagan’s cabinet for that. ;-) ) But there were straws in the wind.

    Marvin Olasky, Bush’s Faith Based Initiative advisor, was uncomfortably hostile to strict church-state separation, and he was quite influential. IIRC he invented the term “compassionate conservative.”

    The head of that Initiative, asked if Pagans would be eligible to receive funds, opined that Pagans did not have the “good hearts” required to do the necessary good deeds.

    Bush’s Veterans Affairs dept dragged its heels for year in putting official pentagrams on the headstones of Pagans who had fallen in combat or deceased Pagan veterans. This contrasted with relative ease of other small faith communities getting headstone symbols. The VA relented only after all administrative appeals had been exhausted and they were about to be taken to court — a pattern familiar to Pagans.

    Reports from the grunts paint a picture of incredibly aggressive Christian chaplain officers taking advantage of their stripes to evangelize troops. This became notorious enough for a report on the PBS News Hour in which an Army officer described exactly that pattern in his own behavior.

    This is the list I can come up with off the top of my head. Others may have something to add.

    It’s a lot of little things, but eventually they add up to a picture of a president who had become an uncritical admirer of evangelical Christianity after it helped him overcome substance abuse problems that were threatening his marriage, and allowed it a free rein in his administration in a manner that is unprecedented relative to earlier presidents.

    The journalism issue is that this was probably evident to reporters who, having seen Bush become recklessly permissive of evangelicals in his term, began to treat him as such.

  • Dave

    One more straw in the wind: Bush’s willingness to code-name our military response to 9/11 (which I find fully justified) a “Crusade” until someone clued him in as to how that would do over in the Moslem world.

  • Wm. Sulik

    After a long-winded preface, there’s a pretty good attack on the Draper piece in the Daily Howler here:

  • Stephen A.

    Thanks for the examples, Dave. I, too, thought the anti-Pagan biases was unacceptable.