To listen to George Bush, you would think that he was elected Pope or Chief Rabbi or something. With Mr. Bush, it’s him and God all the time. "I also have this belief, strong belief, that freedom is not this country’s gift to the world," he averred at his recent press conference. "Freedom is the Almighty’s gift to every man and woman in this world."
Freedom is not the Judeo-Christian divinity’s gift to anybody. None of the political and social ideals upon which the nation was begun come from either of these two religions. Remember St. Paul’s injunction that slaves should obey their masters.
Freedom and democracy have their origins with the Greeks and the Romans, who had a bunch of gods whose idea of family does not comport with George Bush’s. Holy moley, their big god, Zeus/Jupiter, was a cross-dresser and not above an occasional bout with bestiality. A very lusty god was/is he. The rest of that troop of Olympians were little better, tumbling in and out of each other’s beds, extorting sexual favors from mortals and generally disporting themselves in ways not approved of by the Republican National Committee, the Sanhedrin or the National Baptist Convention.
A dispassionate look would lead a person to conclude that freedom and democracy arose out of what George Bush and his fellow holy rollers would consider the libertine, permissive, anti-family culture of classical antiquity. If that’s overstating it, it is not an overstatement to say that freedom, even the idea of the individual as we conceive it, was invented by the pagans of Greece and Rome, the same people who threw away the oppressive belief that laws come from God and replaced it with man-made legislation.
The High Priest in the White House told Bob Woodward that, "As I walked around the circle, I prayed that our troops be safe, be protected by the Almighty. Going into this period, I was praying for strength to do the Lord’s will … in my case, I pray that I be as good a messenger of His will as possible."
In a democracy, one might have hoped that the top man would be trying to do the people’s will and not that of some off-stage, highly problematic personality created of superstition and the dogmatics of history’s more violent and cruel moments. So how does the Reverend Bush know what his master’s will is? Does he hear voices? Or does Dick Cheney do exegesis for him? Who is the White House haruspex?
Does Bush II ask Bush I what the divine will might be? No, he doesn’t do that, Bush II told Woodward: "He is the wrong father to appeal to for advice. The wrong father to go to, to appeal to in terms of strength …. There’s a Higher Father that I appeal to."
Either Rabbi Bush’s appeals are going unanswered, or the Higher Father is giving Bishop Bush a bum steer. Every day we are told more of the size and seriousness of the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld cockup. Whether he is doing it alone or has God’s help, the mess this man is making in Iraq is growing to impressive proportions.
In 1941, Adolf Hitler sent his tank divisions flying into the Ukraine, where the Roman Catholic, Communist-hating peasantry can still be seen in the old newsreels running out of their little houses greeting the invading army with flowers and offers of food. Within a year, thanks to the Nazi genius at interpersonal relations, those same peasants were hiding in hill and forest, staging surprise attacks against the Germans.
While the American Army’s welcome in Iraq was by no means as fulsome and unanimous as that accorded Hitler’s legions in the Ukraine, there is no doubt that many an Iraqi was happy to see the Yankees come in and give their dictator the boot. Although American-sponsored polls of Iraqi public opinion have to be regarded as worthless, much other evidence exists of the local good will toward the invaders. Here is an excerpt taken from an e-mail written a few days ago by an American soldier hunkered down in an area hostile to the invaders: "We are operating on other people’s courage. They come to us or call. These are Iraqis who have taken the word of the Prophet to heart and only think of their community. Not that I think the Coalition is optimal, and I don’t think that these people do either, yet they have decided that of the choices, modernization and/or reform with the Coalition is the best thing for the community. I know that their behavior is unselfish devotion for two good reasons: 1) We are not paying these people anything and 2) If they are discovered, they will be killed out of hand—well not quite, first they will be taken to the Sharia court, tortured, then killed." Thus, even now favorably disposed Iraqis are still to be found.
Thanks to George Bush, with an assist from the Higher Father, there are fewer of such people than there were a year ago, and a lot more doing what the Ukrainians ended up doing. Of late, even pro-war papers like The Wall Street Journal have begun printing articles which try to trace how the clergymen in charge of the American government were unable, in the space of a year, to accomplish aught else other than turning some millions of Iraqis irretrievably against the red, white and blue. These articles make some excellent points, but there are some things they do not bring up which may bear on the American predicament.
The first is the missionary approach to the Iraqis. Mr. Bush and his people display the same unconscious contempt for those they wish to convert that other missionaries have had for their would-be victims in the past. It’s the "feed them and give them medicine and they’ll accept Jesus" approach. This form of missionary endeavor used to be dubbed "rice Christianity." What we are seeing now in Iraq is rice democracy. Fix their sewers and turn on their lights and they will embrace democracy, the salient aspect of which is laws and regulations favorable to outside business interests.
From time to time rice Christianity has paid off for the missionaries and they have harvested bountiful numbers of converts, but you do have to come through with the rice. The same holds true for rice democracy. You’ve got to come through with the fresh water, the sewers and the electricity. If you allow the country to lapse into a septic tank of crime, despair and danger, you are not going to win converts.
In other eras, failing missionaries have resorted to force, and sometimes that has worked and sometimes it hasn’t. Look to the last 500 years of South American history for examples of both. Dr. Bush and his fellow religionists seem to be falling back on force to make the Iraqis embrace their religion. The implanting of democracy on the tip end of a proctoscope may not get you what you hope for. Not a few people resist absorbing a new religion by taking it up the ying-yang.
It would appear that the alienation of the local population has been hastened by flooding the country with carpetbaggers. Until recently, the Iraqi nationalists were holding a truck driver imported from Mississippi who, if the newspapers are correct, was hired on at $80,000 a year. In this devastated land where, it is reported, millions of military-age men are out of work, you have to wonder what the natives think about such persons coming in and scarfing up such good jobs.
You have to wonder about bringing in 20,000-plus "security contractors" (i.e., armed men) not under military discipline and largely out of sight of American commanders and civilian administrators. How have they been comporting themselves? Are they using alcohol and making passes at Iraqi women? Is their behavior an irritant? The companies whom they work for vouch for them, but who vouches for the likes of Halliburton-owned K.R.B. other than Dick Cheney?
When these security contractors are bagged by the Iraqis, have they been captured, which is what we do, or kidnapped, which is what we say they do? Are the captured/kidnapped contractors prisoners or hostages? Should the Iraqis define them as "enemy combatants" and send them to their equivalent of Guantánamo Bay, kill them outright as out-of-uniform spies or what?
Missionaries are locked up in a world of their own definitions, and when they act on them, they can further estrange themselves from their would-be converts. The best thing that our Presidential Pontifex could do is to go apostate, get his head out of Heaven, kiss off the Higher Father, forswear superstition and get real so he can get us the hell out of there.
Nicholas Von Hoffman is correspondent with the New York Observer and a Pulitzer Prize-losing author who has had a long and bumpy career in journalism. Author of thirteen books, his latest is Hoax: Why Americans Are Suckered by White House Lies (Nation Books, 2004). Thanks to Ina Howard at the Nation Institute.