If God is talking to you, too, Mr. Cameron - don't listen, by Michael Portillo, in the Sunday Times
Michael Vlahos outlines the narrative Bush has constructed in the Global War on Terror/the Long War/the existential struggle for civilizations of the United States versus some guys in a cave:
In the president’s own words, it is nothing less than “the unfolding of a global ideological struggle, our time in history,” pitting “progress” and “freedom” against a “mortal danger to all humanity,” the “enemy of civilization.” Moreover, “the call of history has come to the right country,” and “the defense of freedom is worth the sacrifice.” Ultimately the “evil ones” will be destroyed, and “this great country will lead the world to safety, security, and peace,” a millennial world where “free peoples will own the future.”
He then highlights the three key weaknesses of this narrative:
First, the American war narrative rejects modernity’s future constituents: its message is that we are foreclosing on them. We do this knowing that American modernity cannot long survive repossessing its promise of a universal vision for humankind.
Second, American modernity loses authority because our war promotes alternative and resistant communities. Demonizing them elevates them, and their new stature creates competing alternatives to modernity.
Third, the American war narrative shows modernity helpless in its own defense. Military failure becomes a literal stripping of our world authority, actually pushing the global future away from us.
Portillo's column in the Sunday Times shows what happens when leaders drink their own Kool-Aid and believe this narrative. Tony Blair, who was seen in the 1990s as a reasonable fellow, is now rightly seen as a total nutcase who is responsible for British soldiers staying and dying in Iraq "because Mr Blair finds it too embarrassing to end what has become a symbolic presence and withdraw them." He also spent $30,000 on psychics to try to find bin Ladin and Iraqi WMD. He, like Bush, cared more about what God thought about invading Iraq than his electorate.
It should be absolutely unacceptable for any politician in a democracy to justify policy based on what voices they hear in their head. It's disappointing that nobody in the U.S. media talks about this (you'll notice almost all the links are to the British press). To me, Bush and Blair's obsession with Christianity shows two things:
1) There's no conscious effort to create a narrative or information strategy that will favor the United States over al Qaeda. The United States accepts al Qaeda's and Sam Huntington's "clash of civilizations" narrative naturally, apparently partly due to the religious faith of our leaders. The lack of a coherent information strategy is something repeatedly raised by guys like John Nagl and David Kilcullen. Maybe that failing is due to the fact that, on the core issue of "what is the conflict between the West and al Qaeda all about", some of our leaders actually agree with al Qaeda's viewpoint. (Administration officials and ideologues have made Osama bin Laden’s job much easier. “You don’t play to the enemy’s global information strategy of making it all one fight,” Kilcullen said.)
2) It also shows that either deterrence is falsely linked with rationality, or that deterrence is a myth. After all, a leader who believes that he's John Belushi on a mission from God is hardly "rational" in the traditional sense. Crazy leaders aren't particular to Bush or the United States - Reagan had his astrologers and psychics, Mao was usually high on barbiturates, Hitler did speed and cocaine on a daily basis. Reagan and Mao both successfully practiced deterrence. So, given that the "irrationality" of Saddam was a major factor given for why we had to invade Iraq, because he couldn't be deterred, and that irrationality is also given as reason to invade Iran in the future, perhaps we should reexamine whether deterrence is based on a rational cost-benefit calculation, or a simple unreasoning terror of unknowable consequences.