Why does Bush crave war?

(The Charleston Gazette - 3/5/03)

By James A. Haught

What galls me most about President Bush is his cocky little smirk -- the self-righteous smugness of a shallow man.

Somehow, Bush seems to strut. Even though he lost the popular vote in 2000 and was put in office by Republican Supreme Court justices, he exudes a sort of swagger, as if he richly deserves the most awesome power ever placed in the hands of any human.

Never before has a U.S. president clamored for war as he's doing. It's glaringly obvious that Bush wants to attack Iraq, his father's old enemy, with no provocation and no actual evidence of Iraqi wrongdoing. He's eager to fire 3,000 deadly missiles into the small, decrepit, defenseless country, killing God knows how many people.

However, some Americans are asking publicly whether Bush has the intellect, maturity, humility and wisdom that should be required of anyone starting a one-man war.

Especially, they're asking if Bush's simplistic religion drives him to declare opponents "evil" and unleash America's $300 billion war machine on them.

Time magazine columnist Joe Klein wrote that Bush seems "to ricochet between piety and puerility... always bathed in the blinding glare of his own certainty."

In Tuesday's New York Times, Nicholas Kristof said: "It's impossible to understand President Bush without acknowledging the centrality of his faith. Indeed, there may be an element of messianic vision in the plan to invade Iraq and 'remake' the Middle East."

International scholar Pierre Hassner of Paris commented:

"It's nonsense to say, 'We're the force of good.' After all, the religious tradition also includes humility. Identifying your enemy with evil and yourself with good isn't religious; it's part of a certain strand of Protestantism. We're living through the battle of the born-agains: Bush the born-again Christian, bin Laden, the born-again Muslim."

The cover story of the latest Newsweek explores the president's unusual religiosity, his involvement in naive Bible-study groups, his past declarations that only Jesus-worshippers go to heaven, and his embrace of born-again fundamentalists who now "form the core of the Republican Party, which controls all of the capital for the first time in a half-century."

"Bible-believing Christians are Bush's strongest backers," the magazine notes. "...He is busy tending to the base with pro-life judicial appointments, a proposed ban on human cloning.... They are, by far, the strongest supporters of a war -- unilateral if need be -- to remove Saddam.... Bush advisers know that many Americans -- and much of the world -- see him as a man blinded by his beliefs (and those of his most active supporters) to the complexities of the world."

When preachers came to the Texas governor's mansion to "lay on hands," then-Gov. Bush told them he had been "called" to the presidency. Newsweek said Bush's "God talk worries friends and foes." Theologian Martin Marty expressed concern about the president's "evident conviction that he is doing God's will."

Born to wealth and political power, Bush was an obnoxious near-alcoholic in the 1980s, the magazine says, then he plunged into evangelical religion as a cure. "It was goodbye Jack Daniels, hello Jesus," a friend said.

Now he leads prayer sessions in the White House and repeatedly proclaims his devotion to Jesus. But he's a contradiction of the compassionate Christ, in my view.

Jesus opposed the death penalty ("He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.") But Bush presided over hundreds of executions as Texas governor - an all-time record of putting people to death - and voiced no qualms about it.

Jesus cared most for the poor, the little people. But Bush has showered trillion-dollar tax giveaways on America's rich, and wants to give them trillions more. He ignores 44 million "working poor" Americans who can't afford medical insurance.

Jesus said "blessed are the peacemakers" - but Bush scoffs at every peace initiative, every concession that might avert war.

Americans are living through a strange time. The cocky president is hellbent for war, and the public is powerless to do much about it. Worse, few can fathom what's driving him. Observers can only guess at his possible motives. It's a disturbing puzzle.