With God on His Side ...

Robert Scheer writes a weekly column for The Times.

So, it was a holy war, a new crusade. No wonder George W. Bush could lie to Congress and the American public with such impunity while keeping the key members of his Cabinet in the dark. He was serving a higher power, according to Bob Woodward, who interviewed the president for a new book on the months leading up to the Iraq invasion.

Of course, as a self-described “messenger” of God who was “praying for strength to do the Lord’s will,” Bush was not troubled about shredding a little secular document called the U.S. Constitution.

The Constitution reserves to Congress the authority to allocate funds and to declare war. Thus it would seem to be an impeachable offense to misappropriate $700 million that had been earmarked to restore order to Afghanistan and put it toward planning an invasion of Iraq -- in a secret scheme hatched, according to Woodward, only 72 days after 9/11.


But not only has the president rejected the checks and balances installed by the nation’s founders to avoid the “foreign entanglements” George Washington warned us about, he again is shown to have pursued a foreign policy that stands as a sharp rebuke to his more worldly and cautious father. During the first Gulf War, George H.W. Bush wisely heeded the concerns of Congress, as well as a broad coalition of regional and international allies, and kept to clear, limited and sound goals.

In contrast, the younger Bush vocally disdains world opinion and international bodies like the United Nations, seeming instead to relish his role as an avenging Christian crusader who seeks -- under the guiding hand of the Almighty -- to cleanse the Arab world of “evildoers.”

Asked by Woodward, an assistant managing editor at the Washington Post, if he had ever consulted the former president before ordering the invasion of Iraq, Bush replied that “he is the wrong father to appeal to in terms of strength; there is a higher father that I appeal to.”

Reading the elder Bush’s books and even his speeches before the latest Iraq war, one finds that the former president at least seems to understand that diplomacy, international cooperation and patience are not just the tools of naive do-gooders but in fact are far more effective at advancing global stability and American aims than reckless adventures like the current quagmire in Mesopotamia. Religious crusades are often counterproductive; they tend to end up in unsustainable occupations of people who -- surprise! -- believe they have their own pipeline to the Almighty.

Thus, if George W. had consulted his father, he probably would have heard the message that he didn’t want to hear from Secretary of State Colin Powell about the “Pottery Barn rule” -- the idea that you own what you break. What Powell meant is not that you own Iraq’s oil and the lucrative contracts that you parcel out to your friends at Halliburton and Bechtel. Rather, it is that if you occupy a failed state, you are stuck with the difficult, costly and lengthy task of nation-building.

That Powell and the first President Bush did not break more forcefully with the current president over their apparent differences on Iraq is not excusable, despite their party and familial ties. As both men seem to have expected, what we have now is a deadly mess that has weakened us in the war on terror, both as a distraction and by inflaming the Muslim world’s latent mistrust of the West.


After the bloodiest month of the entire war and occupation, we are told by the nation’s media and political elites that we must “stay the course,” “get it right” and, in the words of the president himself, “honor the fallen.” How do we honor the fallen by sending more soldiers to die in a war based on lies now amply documented by insiders?

Surely the best way to honor them is to right our course and turn to the United Nations, not as a fig leaf to conceal an ongoing disaster but to admit that it was wrong to undermine the best mechanism we have for international cooperation. An honorable retreat from this calamity requires U.N. supervision of an orderly withdrawal.

The president conceded to Woodward that he had the good sense not to “justify war based upon God” but would ask for forgiveness if he took the wrong path. It is time he found God’s grace in the exercise of humility rather than plunging deeper into this madness.