If you wanted any more proof of the epic fail of the Bush administration — its self-etiolating foreign policy, its passion for deceit in the name of a shining imperialist mirage of an objective — it’s available courtesy of a story in the June issue of GQ magazine (on their Web site now), a story that cuts to the heart of the Bushies’ desperate rationale for the Iraq War of Convenience.
Thanks to journalist Robert Draper, we see just how far they were prepared to go.
Draper, author of “Dead Certain,” a well-regarded biography of George Bush and the origins of 43’s evangelical leanings, writes in GQ about the illustration and presentation of the Worldwide Intelligence Updates personally presented to then-President Bush by then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in the tense time just before the March 2003 invasion of Iraq and some months after.
Draper describes the Update as “a daily digest of critical military intelligence so classified that it circulated among only a handful” of Pentagon insiders. But oddly enough, it’s not the content of the briefings themselves that’s at issue. We’ve been living that reality for more than half a dozen years.
What’s jarring, and deeply upsetting to many, are the cover sheets adorning these recently declassified documents (some still bearing the black bar of redaction). Photographs of American forces in the Iraqi theater of operations are mixed with biblical quotations from the books of Ephesians, Psalms, Proverbs and Isaiah, and the epistles of Peter.
In juxtapositions of images and text that amounted to a daily Christian/military motivational tool, these cover sheets, accompanying briefs on the nation’s intelligence capability, are just short of a call to holy war — expressions of what the cover sheets suggest is the military mission of an American theocracy.
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”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.’”
Rumsfeld, who personally delivered the updates to Bush, was central to the communication of this cynical union of the religious and the governmental.
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. No matter that, if leaked, the images would reinforce impressions that the administration was embarking on a religious war and could escalate tensions with the Muslim world. The sheets were not Rumsfeld’s direct invention—and he could thus distance himself from them, should that prove necessary.
Still, the sheer cunning of pairing unsentimental intelligence with religious righteousness bore the signature of one man: Donald Rumsfeld.
Reacting, Rev. Barry W. Lynn, the executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said in a statement on Monday that American armed forces “are not Christian crusaders, and they ought not be depicted as such.”
“Depicting the Iraq conflict as some sort of holy war is completely outrageous. It's contrary to the constitutional separation of religion and government, and it's tremendously damaging to America's reputation in the world.”
Lynn’s of course correct. But coming so long after the fact of the military events these updates anticipated, they’re almost no surprise.
They’re a weak kind of revelation, confirming what we’ve known for some time, that Rumsfeld, the Bush administration and its various enablers were intent from the beginning — from before the beginning — on justifying an unnecessary war by any means necessary. Even a thoroughly calculated manipulation of American faith.
Image credits: Update cover sheets: GQ via Department of Defense.