God's messenger

October 31, 2004|By G. Jefferson Price III

THE REV. D. Bradley Murray, a Jesuit of considerable erudition and insight, once disappointed my wife at a Loyola High School football game when he informed her that no matter how hard she prayed on it, God did not care which team won.

Father Murray would have made the same observation about the bitterly contested presidential election to be decided Tuesday. But he would have been ridiculed by the standing president, who believes he is God's messenger, and possibly by his Democratic opponent, who has been trying to catch up by touting his own religiosity.

George W. Bush's single-minded messianism is by far the more disturbing because the evidence of its consequences is so painfully manifest.

On Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists motivated and directed by a religious fanatic from another mindset attacked targets in the United States and killed thousands. With or without Osama bin Laden's and his al-Qaida organization's religious convictions, this was an act of war. The president had the responsibility to go after bin Laden and al-Qaida with all of the resources at his disposal. God had nothing to do with this. If He had, 9/11 would not have happened.

In early October 2001, President Bush ordered the invasion of Afghanistan to get rid of the Taliban regime that had acted as al-Qaida's host, and to pursue and destroy bin Laden and his al-Qaida fighters.

The United States had universal support for that mission, and many nations have cooperated in the fight in Afghanistan and the international campaign to get at al-Qaida wherever it operates. That campaign has had some great successes, though not even Mr. Bush would say the terrorists were licked.

But the unfinished war against al-Qaida became subordinate to another war, launched against Iraq in 2003, a war that was in the plans of Mr. Bush and his senior advisers even before 9/11. In order to justify the war against Iraq, the Bush administration created causes that did not exist. These, as we all know, included the accusation that Saddam Hussein's regime possessed weapons of mass destruction and the suggestion that it was tied to al-Qaida and thus complicit in 9/11.

Neither purported justification was true. But Mr. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney would not admit it directly. Instead, they would point to the insurgency against America and its supporters in Iraq as evidence that terrorism thrives there and thus is as important an adversary in the war on terrorism as is al-Qaida.

Certainly, the anti-American insurgency has adopted terrorist tactics. Who would deny that when innocent people are being killed by the hundreds in bombing attacks and being executed in videotaped beheadings? Certainly, al-Qaida operatives are at work against Americans and their supporters in Iraq today. But who created the environment in which this is happening? The disruption of an invasion launched on false pretenses without any realistic plan for its aftermath created these conditions.

Faced with these brutal realities, Mr. Bush is in a state of denial. That state of denial is facilitated by his own belief that he was placed in the White House as the instrument of his God.

In planning the Iraq war, Mr. Bush told the author Bob Woodward, "I was praying for strength to do the Lord's will. ... I'm surely not going to justify war based upon God. Understand that. Nevertheless, in my case, I pray that I be as good a messenger of His will as possible."

If Mr. Bush believes he is God's messenger, what difference would it make to him that the causes asserted for going to war in Iraq and diverting vast resources from the war against al-Qaida were false? The Lord's will be done. If God did not approve, surely He would have sent a thunderclap into the Oval Office alerting his late-in-life recovered lamb that this was not His will.

Father Murray would be the first to say it just doesn't work that way -- even when the lives of millions are at stake. If it did, historic calamities far more devastating than 9/11 and the Iraq war would not have happened.

The way it works is that citizens go to the polls and determine in a decidedly secular arrangement who will be their next leader. Americans will do that Tuesday. But, Father Murray, excuse me, please, if on the way to the polls, I offer up a prayer. You never can tell how long it takes to put together a good thunderclap.

G. Jefferson Price III was an editor and foreign correspondent for The Sun. His column appears Sundays.

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