Politics & Prose March 2003

In the Name of God

Bush's rhetoric suggests that he feels God has chosen him to lead the U.S. against "Evil." Is that why Bush is dragging us into an unprovoked war?

"[T]he United States will conquer Mexico, but it will be as the man swallows the arsenic, which brings him down in turn. Mexico will poison us."
—Ralph Waldo Emerson, writing in his journal about the outbreak of the Mexican War.

"Missed you at Bible study."
—The first words speechwriter David Frum heard in the Bush White House.

Unless a coup topples Saddam Hussein or he goes into exile, the U.S. will soon mount the first unprovoked war in its history, the first fought in pursuance of a doctrine under which we claim the right to attack nations that have not attacked us but who might, who could, who would if we do not strike first—a war fought in the subjunctive, based on a string of "ifs." If Saddam possesses usable weapons of mass destruction and if, to take a scenario George W. Bush takes seriously, he builds a fleet of pilotless drones and if he somehow gets them out of Iraq and if he builds or hires ships and launches his drones from them and if he has found a way to make the drones spread weapons of mass destruction and if it is not a windy day and if our Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, CIA, and DIA are as asleep as they were on September 11, then Saddam will attack us. Alternatively, Mr. Bush warned in the State of the Union address, "Secretly, and without fingerprints, he could provide one of his hidden weapons to terrorists, or help them develop their own." Italics mine.

Had preventive war been U.S. policy in 1941, Dick Cheney told a veteran's group, we could have pulled a Pearl Harbor on the Japanese. When a Democratic congressman asked Condoleezza Rice whether the U.S. should have preemptively attacked the Soviet Union in 1946, before they had atomic weapons, she reportedly said yes, of course, think of the suffering that would have spared the peoples of Eastern Europe. Cheney would have made us the Japanese in World War II. Rice would have killed scores of thousands of Russians to prevent dangers that had not yet materialized, making us the perpetrator of the first nuclear Pearl Harbor. Ignorant and inhumane, these statements also manifest the same disregard of the political costs of aggressive war, the same willingness to trash the reputation of the United States, and the same contempt for the decent opinion of mankind that have marked the Administration's drive for war against Iraq.

How much is George W. Bush willing to give up for this war? He appears ready to compromise any competing U.S. interest. NATO is unlikely to retain its former cohesion after the breach caused by this war, which has weakened the commonality of purpose and values that have sustained collective security since World War II. Relations with France and Germany, countries likened to Libya and Cuba by the incontinent Donald Rumsfeld—harmed, possibly beyond repair. Tony Blair—put at risk of losing office, should the war go badly. Blair wants Saddam disarmed. But he has another motive in backing Bush, according to government sources cited by The Financial Times. That is to contain Bush—to stop him from destroying the international order by proceeding on the unilateral path to war advocated by Cheney and Rumsfeld, whose speeches last summer galvanized Blair (and Colin Powell) to pressure Bush to seek UN backing. Bush got that backing, but on false grounds, using a Security Council resolution to disarm Iraq as cover for sending an army to the Middle East to remove Saddam Hussein and occupy his country. Asked last Friday to define the objectives of U.S. policy, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer dropped all pretense of disarmament OR regime change, the choice implicit in Resolution 1441; now "it's disarmament and regime change." To win votes for a second resolution triggering war with Iraq, the United States is turning the Security Council into a hock shop, dangling bribes before the nonpermanent members. The U.S. bribed and, according to one report, threatened to punish Turkey as part of its campaign to use Turkish territory to attack Iraq from the north. But pressure from a public 95 percent opposed to the war has, at this writing, persuaded the Turkish parliament to reject the multi-billion-dollar deal. "The relationship is spoiled," a member of the governing party told The New York Times. "The Americans dictated to us." The Kurds—betrayed as part of our bribe of the Turks. The U.S. not only agreed to allow up to 80,000 Turkish troops to advance as far as 250 kilometers inside Iraqi Kurdistan, ostensibly to fend off an inrush of Kurdish refugees harried by the war, but also to allow these troops to disarm the Kurd militias after the war. The Arab nations—ignored; their fears of internal instability dismissed. The war on terror—rendered problematic. Terrorism grows by provoking state violence; a U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq is Osama bin Laden's dream. Homeland security, fiscal sobriety, economic recovery, spending on education, health care, scientific research—all casualties of war.

Presented by

Jack Beatty is a senior editor at The Atlantic Monthly and the editor of Colossus: How the Corporation Changed America, which was named one of the top ten books of 2001 by Business Week. His previous books are The World According to Peter Drucker (1998) and The Rascal King: The Life and Times of James Michael Curley (1992). More

Jack Beatty"The Atlantic Monthly is an American tradition; since 1857 it has helped to shape the American mind and conscience," senior editor Jack Beatty explains. "We are proud of that tradition. It is the tradition of excellence for which we were awarded the National Magazine Award for General Excellence. It is the tie that binds us to our past. It is a standard we won't betray."

Beatty joined The Atlantic Monthly as a senior editor in September of 1983, having previously worked as a book reviewer at Newsweek and as the literary editor of The New Republic.

Born, raised, and educated in Boston, Beatty wrote a best-selling biography of James Michael Curley, the Massachusetts congressman and governor and Boston mayor, which Addison-Wesley published in 1992 to enthusiastic reviews. The Washington Post said, "The Rascal King is an exemplary political biography. It is thorough, balanced, reflective, and gracefully written." The Chicago Sun-Times called it a ". . . beautifully written, richly detailed, vibrant biography." The book was nominated for a National Book Critics' Circle award.

His 1993 contribution to The Atlantic Monthly's Travel pages, "The Bounteous Berkshires," earned these words of praise from The Washington Post: "The best travel writers make you want to travel with them. I, for instance, would like to travel somewhere with Jack Beatty, having read his superb account of a cultural journey to the Berkshire Hills of western Massachusetts." Beatty is also the author of The World According to Peter Drucker, published in 1998 by The Free Press and called "a fine intellectual portrait" by Michael Lewis in the New York Times Book Review.

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