Faith and Incompetence

A reader writes:

I'm entertained by the theory that Cheney and Rumsfeld meant for the war to go this way. Depending on which bad mood I'm in, I'll now vacillate between this and the incompetence theory. Both work for me. I'm probably still more convinced by the incompetence theory, but not because I believe they're stupid. They're not. But they have approached their political theory the same way they have been taught to approach their religious faith: unquestioningly. Once this theory of the domino-effect/wildfire blaze of the spread of democracy/beneficent contagion of western values/etc became ingrained in their own heads, they've asked their supporters, just as the great revivalists and zealots of the past and present have, to accept as gospel the righteousness of their mission, the infallibility of the logic, and pre-ordained superiority of the outcome.

I think their incompetence is triggered by a zealous need to believe that their theory is so righteous as to be unassailable. To alter it, or to adjust to circumstances is to be unfaithful. It's the same godlike worship of the free market, as though that was also some directive from On High. There are similar examples of unquestioned reverence on the left, but I see too many parallels between GWB's religious faith (I am a Christian too, I should say) and his faith in his more secular principles. I think he sees no distinction. I think the same of Cheney and Rumsfeld. I believe that this is the source of their incompetence, and is indeed the very thing that hamstrings lots of smart and faithful people:  the inability to reconcile one's heart and mind.

I'm also intrigued by this aspect of what the second chapter of my upcoming book calls the "fundamentalist psyche." I don't think you can understand the actions of this administration - i.e. make them make internal sense - without understanding the depth of the president's fundamentalist mindset. He's a fundamentalist convert and an alcoholic. Faith is the one thing that rescued him from a life of chaos. So fundamentalist faith itself - regardless of its content - is integral to his entire worldview. And fundamentalism cannot question; it is not empirical; it is the antithesis of skepticism. Hence this allegedly "conservative" president attacking conservatism at its philosophical core: its commitment to freedom, to doubt, to constitutional process, to prudence, to limited government, balanced budgets and the rule of law. Faith is to the new conservatism is what ideology was to the old leftism: an unquestioned orthodoxy from which all policy flows.

Cheney and Rumsfeld, however, do not strike me as the same. They're just bureaucratic brutalists, thrilled to have complete sanction to do as they please because they have the mandate from the leader-of-faith. Bush and Rove provide the fundamentalist voters; Cheney and Rummy get on with the war they want to wage. If they have to condescend to Bush's recently discovered faith in democratization, they'll humor him, while they bomb, wiretap and torture along what they think is the only path to security. They are enabled by the Christianist; but they're just plain old "bomb 'em to the stone-age" reactionaries.