Being on the Right Side of History

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As the Iraqi war winds down with incredible success in an unbelievably short time with unprecedented targeting that saved lives and property, commentators are still taking pot shots at George Bush’s view of America as the instrument of God’s justice. Ironically, commentators who did not howl at the Marxists’ claim of being on the “right side of history” see the Iraqi war as the result of a careful, even craven, cost-benefit analysis, with Bush administration policymakers betting on the unprecedented strength of the American war machine to keep casualty costs low and oil benefits high. Indeed, they have described Bush’s policy toward Iraq as “rolling the dice,” “going for broke” or “betting the farm.” Unable to comprehend actions shaped by faith, conscience, and principle, they recast his decisions in the odds-calculus of a gambler.

Until tried, faith is nothing more than inspirational, lofty visions expressed in soothing, often poetic rhetoric. It’s easy to say things; it is much harder for the words to become authentic.

President George Bush has articulated his faith unabashedly and confidently. “Freedom and fear, justice and cruelty, have always been at war and we know that God is not neutral between them,” he declared in his address to a Joint Session of Congress following the September 11th attacks. In this year’s State of the Union address, he proclaimed his trust in God’s plans: “We do not know — we do not claim to know all the ways of Providence, yet we can trust in them, placing our confidence in the loving God behind all of life, and all of history.”

Predictably, his critics rushed to the microphones. Barry Lynn of the American Civil Liberties Union proclaimed the President’s statements of faith “unheard of in American history.” The BBC’s Tom Carver claimed, “Bush puts God on his side.”

That doesn’t seem to be a fair reading of the president’s words, and it is certainly not an accurate portrayal of history. President Bush’s statements are, in fact, reminiscent of a remark made by Abraham Lincoln. Once asked by a reporter whether or not God was on the Union’s side in the Civil War, Lincoln responded: “My concern is whether or not we are on His side.”

Once again at war, the critics asked: “Whose side is God on?” President Bush had asserted, “God is not neutral.”

And then the worst sandstorms in memory in Iraq brought a temporary halt to the Coalition’s lightning advance on Baghdad. Where was God’s providence? Then, on the heels of the blinding sand, came the rain and the mud.

The Arabs rejoiced and took all this to be Allah’s hand at work to defeat the infidels.

But as President Bush so accurately said, we cannot know all the ways of Providence. Particularly when we are blinded by the sand, soaked by the rain and caked with mud.

Often, however, in hindsight we can see that like Joseph reflecting on the cruelty of his brothers’ act of selling him into slavery what on the face of it was an affliction, was that, but much more: “a loving God behind all.” The sandstorm and the mud were a hard test of the authenticity of the President’s faith that we can place our confidence in the loving God of history.

Saddam’s military leaders took false hope from the storm and attempted to reposition their troops and equipment during the period when our air power was greatly diminished. But with the clearing of the weather, air operations resumed with a vengeance. False hopes were worse than no hope and, with devastation raining down from the sky, dashed hopes led to high levels of desertion. Boots, military clothing, guns, ammunition even tanks were hastily abandoned in the troops’ desire to escape and melt back into the population.

The storm and mud proved that America’s forces were resilient, flexible, resourceful, innovative, and tough enough to stand up to the worst conditions and still maintain their fighting spirit: they are a force to be feared, anywhere, anytime.

But could it be that the American president’s certainty of justice prevailing rests on more than his assessment of the courage and skill of America’s forces? That his decisiveness is more than military bravado?

Is it possible that the “faith” language President Bush uses is more than just a rhetorical flourish designed to add a poetic touch to a speech? Or more cravenly, a sop to the religious right? Certainly, he would have received less criticism if he had not spoken so bluntly and unequivocally about good and evil, and about having his heart changed by Jesus Christ.

What are the merits of giving a public statement of your belief in God? Suppose circumstances do not work out in ways that appear to validate your faith? What if your confidence is shaken by events? What if negative emotions fear, discouragement, even despair suddenly attack your confidence?

It is precisely in the heat of battle when the tide is running against you that you need a clearly understood creed to point you in the right direction, to remind you that “God is not neutral,” that He is not indifferent to our struggles. Hero and coward alike experience fear. Yet one listens to faith, the other to doubt. It is in the moment of contest between faith and fear that faith is authenticated.

George Bush would not call his actions “betting the farm,” but striving valiantly to live up to the responsibility that has been thrust upon him and, come what may, placing his future in God’s hands. Therein lies his calling to duty and honor.

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