Steven Waldman

Did those Bible verses at the top of the intelligence briefings make us less safe?
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld put Bible verses on the top of the “Worldwide Intelligence Update” presented to President Bush, Robert Draper reports in GQ. Flip through this gallery of these extraordinary memos.
Each cover page features inspiring color photographs — soldiers praying, a young man preparing for battle, Saddam’s statue falling. With them are Biblical quotes, some related to providing strength to the soldiers but some about the Godliness of the cause.
Next to a picture of an American tank is the quote: “Open the gates that the righteous nations may enter, The nation that keeps faith. Isaiah 26.2”
A photo of two soldiers in prayer is accompanied by the quote, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us. Here I am Lord, send me! Isaiah 6:8”
A photo of an American tank at sunset has superimposed on it, “Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Epheisians 6:13”
Draper writes that these were the brainchild of Major General Glen Shaffer, a director for intelligence serving the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the secretary of defense.

“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 leaders of our war effort apparently didn’t understand how much American security would be endangered if the Muslim world thought this was a war for Christianity against Islam.
Some might say, well, they didn’t expect them to become public. That’s naive. Everything eventually becomes public. But beyond that, anyone who has run an organization knows you can’t have a disjunction between the internal and external messaging. The internal messaging will affect the policies you adopt. If the folks at the top believed this was a Holy War, it’s extremely unlikely they’d do what needed to be done to win the hearts of Muslims.
For instance, if policymakers were truly sensitive to this point, they would have immediately fired General Gerald Boykin as soon as he made his famous comments that his God was the “a real God” and that of Islam “was an idol.” Boykin was not fired and, indeed, was involved in torture policy.
One has to wonder: why did President Bush tolerate — or even “appreciate” — these messages? The most benign interpretation is that seeing Bible passages brought him comfort to the President during difficult times. But these passages weren’t just about inner strength, they were about righteousness — showing our efforts to be Divinely-backed.
During the 2004 election, the Bush campaign implied that God had put George Bush in the White House. I figured this was shameless pandering to religious voters. But obviously Bush allowed it. Boykin once explained about Bush, “Why is this man in the White House? The majority of America did not vote for him. He’s in the White House because God put him there for a time such as this.”
Is it possible that the military top brass felt they’d gain more sway if they reinforced an incipient sense by Bush that the Iraq war had God’s favor?
First printed on The Wall Street Journal Online

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