Madman theory: Bush and god

Recently trial balloons have been floated by the administration that they are seeking to carry out an attack on Iran, even to the extent of using nuclear ‘bunker buster’ bombs. Seymour Hersh reports in The New Yorker that: “One of the military’s initial option plans, as presented to the White House by the Pentagon this winter, calls for the use of a bunker-buster tactical nuclear weapon, such as the B61-11, against underground nuclear sites.”

This revelation naturally prompts the question “Are they insane?” And that prompts the further question “Does the administration want people to think that Bush is insane as a means of achieving some goals?” Now it is true that the Pentagon develops contingency plans for all kinds of bizarre scenarios (even involving invading Canada) but Hersh’s article seems to indicate that these contingency plans are operational which implies a greater likelihood of being actually implemented.

Faking insanity, or at least recklessness, to achieve certain ends has a long history, both in fact and fiction. Hamlet did it. President Nixon, frustrated by the indomitable attitude of the Vietnamese forces opposing the US tried the same tactic, hoping that it would cause the North Vietnamese to negotiate terms more palatable to the US because of fears that he would do something stupid and extreme, such as use a nuclear weapon. (See here for a review of the use of ‘madman theory’ to achieve political ends.) Nixon also liked to talk about his religion but in his case it was to refer to his own Quaker background, to exploit that religious groups’ reputation for strong ethical behavior, at a time when his own ethics were under severe scrutiny.

Bush does have one advantage over Nixon in making his madman theory more plausible in that he has put the word out earlier that god had chosen him to be president. In 2003, a news report says that “Bush believes he was called by God to lead the nation at this time, says Commerce Secretary Don Evans, a close friend who talks with Bush every day.” Bush’s claims to close links with god have been reported periodically.

More recently, it was revealed that god is so chummy with Bush that he even calls him by his first name. (I mean that god calls Bush by his first name, of course, not the other way around. Bush has probably given god a nickname like he gives everyone else.) During these chats god tells him what to do. In a BBC program, Nabil Shaath who met with Bush as part of a delegation is quoted as saying:

President Bush said to all of us: ‘I’m driven with a mission from God. God would tell me, “George, go and fight those terrorists in Afghanistan.” And I did, and then God would tell me, “George, go and end the tyranny in Iraq. . .” And I did. And now, again, I feel God’s words coming to me, “Go get the Palestinians their state and get the Israelis their security, and get peace in the Middle East.” And by God I’m gonna do it.’

What are we to make of something that reads like Tuesdays with God? Those of us who are atheists would say that Bush is either lying about his tete-a-tetes with the almighty to pander to his extremist religious base or suffers from the same kind of delusions that cause some people to see the Virgin Mary in a slice of toast, neither of which is reassuring for those of us who seek a more down-to-earth basis for actions by political leaders, especially those who have the power to cause tremendous damage.

Of course, all of our actions are influenced by our beliefs and values, and for religious people their religious beliefs are bound to be influential in the principles that guide their decision making. That is not the question here. The question is whether even religious people are reassured when Bush says that he took some concrete action because god specifically directed him to do so.

Somehow, even if I were still religious, I would still be uneasy about political leaders claiming to be acting under direct instructions from god because we know that schizophrenics also sometimes think they hear such voices. People who claim to have their actions explicitly directed by god are usually considered to be delusional and at worst insane.

But I am curious as to what religious people think of Bush’s claims to have this kind of hotline to god. Are they pleased? Or, despite their own religious beliefs, are they uneasy? It would be interesting to survey religious people with this question: “If Bush says god told him to attack Iran, would that be sufficient justification for you to support such an action?”

The basic question for religious people, even if they do not think Bush is lying, is how they judge whether the voices Bush claims to hear are really from the deity or due to some chemical imbalance in his brain.

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