09 October 2005

The Maker of US Policy

What a stroke of luck that God's advice to George Bush fits so neatly alongside US national interests.

God, apparently addressing the president each time as "George", had told him, in three separate briefings: "Go and fight those terrorists in Afghanistan ... go and end the tyranny in Iraq ... go and get the Palestinians their state and get the Israelis their security."

It's perhaps surprising that divine revelation should so precisely coincide with state department policy during the Bush administration. A fundamentalist believer would explain this overlap by saying that the president is simply being obedient to God, but it seems rather convenient to have a supreme overlord whose politics so closely mirror your own. The really interesting question for Bush would be whether God has ever told him he was wrong about anything, whether the Maker has broken administration policy as well as making it.

Bush has spoken openly about his personal conversation with God in the past and in this very week could probably benefit from wearing his sacred heart on his sleeve, as his Christian-right supporters are upset by the nomination to the supreme court of White House counsel Harriet Miers, who is not thought by hard line believers to have put in enough knee-time in public.

Bush's previous religious admissions have suggested that God was a kind of vice-president, whereas it now seems that George is the running mate.

The political risk of this is obvious. If God is directing American foreign policy, He is presumably also advising on domestic issues, such as Supreme Court nominations. If so, Bush would face the fascinating task of explaining to the Christian right why God advised against a Supreme Court justice who was too associated with Christian fundamentalists.

And, even before the Palestinian insight into his beliefs, we can guess that the president's theology was in a mess. Throughout his five years in office, Bush has sustained a simple old Sunday-school world view in which external evil threatens American interests and is then met by force which believes it has God on its side. Of interest is the fact that the perceived aggressors (Bin Laden, Saddam) also feel divinely justified by God is no more of an obstacle to this belief system than it has been for the religious throughout history. Just think of this as Bush own "crusade".

Hurricane Katrina, though, severely challenges this exegesis. What can a president of such simple religious faith have made of the devastation of America by what insurance policies call an act of God? Whereas even an event as terrible as 9/11 could be sustaining and confirmational for someone of Bush's apparent Manichean convictions, a sudden drowning of the chosen invites only agonized study of the Book of Job. This affront to Bush's relationship with God may explain his public bewilderment during the weather crisis.

What we would give to know what Bush's secretary of higher state said to him after those events. But the president is likely to be less confessional to foreign politicians about these matters from now on.

There's nothing inherently dangerous about a leader having religious beliefs - politicians can be just as lethal if they believe too devoutly in themselves - but this president has kicked all decision-making upstairs. And, even though American politics is theistically inclined, this is understood as too steep a genuflection.

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