In Bob Woodward’s Plan of Attack, George Walker Bush famously relates that as he came to the decision to invade Iraq he relied on guidance from “a higher Father” rather than advice from George Herbert Walker Bush, his actual father. Now that it’s apparent that the best case scenario for Operation Iraqi Freedom will be a moderate Islamic republic aligned with Iran, and the worst case scenario a metastasizing war between Sunnis and Shiites spreading throughout the Middle East, perhaps it’s time to address some questions surrounding President Bush’s initial decision to go to war. It seems to me that there are at least four theological possibilities at issue here:
”1) God exists, but, for whatever reasons, Bush is mistaken in believing that he had set up a direct line of communication with the ‘higher Father.’
”2) God does not exist; thus Bush is obviously delusional in believing that he, or anyone else for that matter, could receive guidance from a nonexistent entity.
”3) God exists and He ordered Bush to invade Iraq precisely because He knew the United States would get bogged down there; this could be construed, among other things, as a way of the Almighty punishing Bush and his cohorts for their overweening pride.
”4) God exists; however, He’s sided with Islam; thus, Allah purposely lured Bush and the Judeo-Christian nations of the United States, England and their allies into Iraq in order to hand a victory to the prophet Mohammed.
The first possibility raises many troubling ramifications. Given that there is a God, how does anyone know when one is actually directly communicating with Him? Couldn’t the voice of the Heavenly Father simply be a voice in the head, and couldn’t this especially be the case when the message delivered comports so neatly with the desires of the believer? In fact, shouldn’t that very alignment cause the supplicant to doubt that these are indeed God’s words and not disembodied wishes resounding in an echoic basso profundo through the skull? Realizing that he is only a mere mortal and not a full-fledged prophet, shouldn’t the supplicant be alert to the possibility that when God intones the message that He’s in complete agreement with one’s wishes, that that message may be a bit too conveniently attuned with the desideratum of the supplicant to be taken as trustworthy? However, inasmuch that there have been rumors bruited about that the born-again Bush believes he was ‘chosen’ by the Lord for the presidency, it follows that assuming a status as a prophet may not be entirely out of the imaginary elements in the construction of the President’s self-image.
Taking a psychological view and dousing it in with a splash of classic 1950s science fiction pulp, suppose a portion of President Bush’s psyche had dislodged itself and assumed the voice and characteristics of God. Of course that voice would tell him to go to war, for that communique would only consist of Bush in dialogue with Bush. Or, given a variation on that scenario, suppose that God was talking to Bush, but that the Heavenly Father was actually telling the President not to invade Iraq; however, instead of hearing and then heeding God’s word, politically-inspired white noise and Rovic static in Bush’s brain distorted that communication into its exact opposite. Given the psychological stress under which a president operates and the resulting strain on sense receptors, and given the metaphysical possibilities inherent in any possible communique with a divinity, the warping of any memorandum which God may have sent to President Bush must be considered a highly likely outcome.
To consider the second option: God does not exist, and, in fact, the entire history of man’s construal of the Almighty is one long delusional episode. If this is so, then any simple memo, let alone any divine message of guidance, delivered straight from God to any human being is obviously some form of a hallucinatory event. Although it may be a bit unsettling to believe that the world’s most powerful individual is not only operating under false assumptions, but is also operating at the behest of a disembodied aural hallucination, that is exactly our present circumstance, due to the unfortunate powers of any President of the United States at this time in history to project his beliefs and actions in an array of extensional and centrifugal directions (on both a physical and mental level) throughout the globe. And, though it may give us some fleeting sense of comfort to know that billions of other people are proceeding through their lives with more or less the same form of hallucination operating in their minds, ultimately it isn’t particularly soothing to know that the vast majority of the world is totally delusional. So let us move on to the third possibility and cast this dire option aside.
Let us stipulate that, strange as it may seem, George Bush did talk directly with God, and, even more astonishing, God talked directly to Bush, and, furthermore, let us assume that God told the President to proceed with all dispatch, confabulate with world leaders and hobnob at the U.N. (leaving aside the question of how disingenuous that hobnobbing and confabulating may have been), gather together what allies can be mustered, invade Iraq, dispose of Saddam Hussein, and establish a democratic republic. However, there was one catch in this missive: God deceived Bush as to the ultimate outcome of Operation Iraqi Freedom, leading President Bush and his allies directly into the agony of defeat, not the triumph of victory. But why would God do that? Why would the Almighty deceive anyone? Did not Descartes assure us that God is not a deceiver? Why would the good Lord obfuscate, prevaricate, and tell a supplicant outright lies and lead him down the crooked instead of the narrow path? Simple: the righteous payback of hubris.
This scenario has the additional cultural benefit of comporting with the ancient Greek notion and thus appeals to a classical sense of balance: if a mortal swings too far one way, God will jerk him all the way back and more. It also has its fair share of historical antecedents: hasn’t many a ruler evoked God as, if not a direct participant on their side in the battle, at least a cosmic standard-bearer for their cause? And did all those leaders wind up on the winning side? Of course not. However, if God gave these hapless commanders the ultimate green light before they commenced their respective military operations, what happened? Is He so cruel that He would deliberately trick kings and queens and prime ministers and presidents into proceeding with charges, incursions, and invasions resulting in slaughters of a vast and magnificent scope, simply to teach a moral lesson or two? Or can He only set the respective forces in motion and then release them, leaving it to destiny to decide the rest? But no, place me on the negative side of this theological conundrum: if there is a God and if He does send direct memos into the minds of men, promising victory and a ‘Mission Accomplished’ jig on the deck of an air craft carrier, does He have the further right to instead send them off to ignominious defeat and senseless ruin?
Inasmuch that we are talking about what we might term the absolute Absolute here, of course He has that right, and perhaps even the duty, given the moral dimensions inherent in certain situations, to send men to their death and ruin. Hadn’t Napoleon gone a bit too far in his bold and reckless willfulness when he escaped from Elba Island and came back to rally his forces once again? God shooed him off to Waterloo and gave him his comeuppance. Didn’t Mark Antony and Cleopatra tempt the fates when they tried to assume the mantles of the gods? Jupiter and Octavius joined forces and took care of them. And now that Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld have taken their turn at teasing fate, puffing their selves up with the pompous grandiosity of sole superpower status, it makes perfect cosmic sense that God would want to take them down a peg or two.
Now let us consider the last option: God as Allah, vanquishes the infidels and redeems the followers of Mohammed. If the Judeo-Christians are perceived as losers in Iraq, don’t the Muslims have the right to proclaim this as a triumph of Allah? After all, every victory by Christian and Jewish forces throughout history has been interpreted by the conquerors as a divine sanctioning of their religion: the Almighty has delivered victory on the battlefield; thus it follows that He must be on our side. This seems to me a perfectly logical argument, given the religious presuppositions pervading the vast majority of soldiers on either side of any battle. And, given that human beings have at the most an extremely limited view of the ultimate intricacies of the purposes of the Divine (that is if there is such a being), as far as any of us can tell God may align himself with any, all or none of the religious beliefs currently popular in this world of ours. Perhaps the Almighty is simply waiting for us to blow ourselves to bits so the world can return to a more or less natural state, and the Lord can finally rid himself of humanity, this failed experiment of his. Perhaps this war is simply a tiny cog in God’s cosmic wheel and has as much importance to His being as a dead flea does to ours. And, although I have tried to lay out a few of the theological options inherent in this situation, feel free to add your own to the mix: after all, the infinite allows for many possibilities.