Rumsfeld's Holy War

To say that the Bush administration has received a lot of criticism for how it handled Iraq would be a huge understatement. New information from White House insiders reveals that they felt that Donald Rumsfeld, the Secretary of defense under Bush, was arrogant, stubborn, oblivious, and inept. That is all up for debate, of course, and I don’t wish to get into that here.

But what we do here at Vanguard Church is discuss politics from a Christian perspective (along with posts on missional ministry and spiritual formation). The information that Robert Draper uncovered in the June 2009 issue of GQ is really quite unsettling. Each morning, Donald Rumsfeld’s Defense Department produced the Worldwide Intelligence Update, a daily digest of highly classified critical military intelligence, for the president. Rumsfeld himself often delivered it, by hand, to the White House.

What is troubling is this: “The briefing’s cover sheet generally featured triumphant, color images from the previous days’ war efforts,” and along with these images, Rumsfeld would feature a passage from the Bible. “This mixing of Crusades-like messaging with war imagery, which until now has not been revealed, had become routine.”

“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…” “..Shaffer, a Christian, deemed the biblical passages…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.’”
“But the Pentagon’s top officials were apparently unconcerned about the effect such a disclosure might have on the conduct of the war or on Bush’s public standing. When colleagues complained to Shaffer that including a religious message with an intelligence briefing seemed inappropriate, Shaffer politely informed them that the practice would continue, because “my seniors”—JCS chairman Richard Myers, Rumsfeld, and the commander in chief himself—appreciated the cover pages.”

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. And as historians slog through the smoke and mirrors of his tenure, they may find that Rumsfeld’s most enduring legacy will be the damage he did to Bush’s.”

I have no problem with Christians seeking God’s will as they lead politically. I think that they should, and must do so. The notion we hear from some politicians that they seek to not bring their faith into their work is dualistic hogwash.

I have no problem with politicians being “called” to political work, seeking to be used by God for the common good of our society. In fact, I’ve argued time and again that Christians need to be involved in the political process, even running for office themselves.

But here’s the key:
There must be humility involved in such things, for nobody can be absolutely sure that they fully understand the will of God (as a prophet might), and nobody can claim to be sure that God is on their side. As Abraham Lincoln said – even in the midst of what seemed a righteous war to free the slaves – “My concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God's side.” Lincoln showed a humility that Bush and Rumsfeld lacked.

Such humility might have made them rethink the appropriateness of these cover sheets. Such humility might have made President Bush realize that this is precisely the way the Crusades were rationalized. Such humility might have helped Rumsfeld or Bush hear, and maybe even understand, that it is not Christian to rip Scripture passages out of context for the purpose of building your confidence that you are killing Iraqis in a righteous, God-ordained war.

During the Bush administration, we were assured over and over again that this was not a “Holy War.” We were told that the world should not see this as Christians attacking Muslims, but the United States defending itself from terrorism.

I wonder how the world would have reacted if they had seen the daily Worldwide Intelligence Update from the Secretary of Defense.

1 comment:

Wickle said...


The Bush administration wanted it both ways on the "Holy War" question.

They were very public about denying it, while counting on support from Evangelical groups and those who base their support of Israel on a (rather-ludicrous) view of Scripture.

This only further illustrates the point.