Reflections on a Crusade Gone Wrong: Bush’s Iraq War 2003-2010

Military Prayers in Afghanistan
Military Prayers in Afghanistan

Now that the last US combat brigade has driven into Kuwait, 4,000 men of the 4th Stryker Brigade, it is an appropriate time to look back at the Iraq War and to reflect on how it matters a great deal who we elect as our leaders. There are lessons to be learned, and we owe it to future generations to heed them.

It has never been a secret that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were packaged by the Bush administration as a holy crusade, and that the war itself was not simply a war against an enemy nation or against terrorists, but as a war against Satan.

This apocalyptic imagery is an essential part of the Christian narrative, a holdover from Jewish apocalypticsm of the first century C.E. The passage of two thousand years has not dimmed the fervor of religious fanatics.

Unfortunately, despite the Constitutional wall of separation between church and state, this crusading message was allowed to go forward by the evangelical Bush administration. It was not enough to fight a war against somebody who was supposed to have attacked us in a most dastardly fashion; it had to be wrapped up in not only a flag but a bible.

The United States decries the forces of Islamic radicalism. Conservative Christians in this country rail against “Islamofascism” and “Sharia Law” and claim that Islam is an enemy of everything America stands for. But American crusading spirit is far from spent. Activities of church groups and more shockingly, of the US Military, give jihadist all the fodder they need to rally their own base to the threat.

EvangelicalChristianity Afghanistan Now that the last US combat brigade has driven into Kuwait, it is an appropriate time to look back at the Iraq War and to reflect on how it matters a great deal who we elect as our leaders. There are lessons to be learned, and we owe it to future generations to heed them.
Evangelical Christianity in Afghanistan

Because of how Bush packaged what was and very much remains “his” war.

It’s a serious problem: The Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) on August 11, 2010 called on Defense Secretary Gates to end “unconstitutional proselytizing” in the US Military.  Bruce Wilson of Alternet reported on August 10 that “the Jihadists are observing unrestricted, unlawful Christian activity within the military and interpreting it as irrefutable proof of a Christian Crusade that justifies jihad.” And it does. One can’t wage a crusade, after all, and expect the other side not to crusade right back. The Jihadists are dancing to a tune we called.

Are we our own worst enemy in the war on terror?

The L.A. Times Blog reported a few days before Wilson wrote for Alternet of “a mass baptism of marines from Lt. Col. Lawrence Kaifesh’s 3rd Battalion unit as “part of Operation Sword of the Spirit, a program meant to prepare the battalion for duty in the Taliban stronghold of Helmand province.””

Operation Sword of the Spirit.

Does an operational plan with a title like that belong in the US Military? Sword of the Spirit? How is this different from, say, the “Sword of Allah”?

This is not a war between Christianity and Islam. We cannot allow it to be packaged as such, and we cannot allow such a lie to be perpetrated and sustained.

As Bruce Wilson reports, “The piece was republished by the leading Jihadist Web site Ansar Al-Mujahideen, under the heading “Crusaders Baptized Before Leaving For Afghanistan.”

It is difficult to see this as helpful to the American cause overseas.

We’re even being told that “the application of the principles of [Christian] Scripture” can help returning vets to overcome post-traumatic stress disorder.” This is a story that received in depth coverage at on August 3.

One can understand how it would be difficult for Muslims to understand the US commitment in Iraq and Afghanistan as anything other than a religious crusade.  An American can be excused for wondering the same thing.

Just what is the US military trying to do?

CNN reported the other day that according to a Pentagon spokesman, “The Army culture of religious freedom dates back to the Revolutionary War” – that he described it as “a big tent.”

Operation Sword of the Spirit would seem to belie his claim. It’s a strange dichotomy that Muslims can pray at the Pentagon chapel but overseas we’re teaching our men and women that we’re in a holy war against Islam.

President Bush set the tone when on September 16, 2001 he called for a global “crusade” against terrorism. With a call like that, it’s no wonder his later assurances that the US was not at war with Islam fell flat, or went unheard. And after all, he told French President Chirac that “This confrontation is willed by God, who wants to use this conflict to erase his people’s enemies before a New Age begins.”

And after all, nothing has changed. The US is still apparently acting like it’s a crusade.

Can you start a war as a holy crusade and then pretend it never happened? That it’s just another run-of-the-mill wars countries start? No, that doesn’t seem to be possible. We can’t escape the taint of crusade and we can’t escape the taint of attacking a country that had not attacked us first.

If the US was a victim of 9/11, so too was Iraq.  2,976 Americans died as a result of the World Trade Center attacks. Over 4,000 have died in Iraq to punish a country that did not have anything to do with the attacks on 9/11, and more than a thousand in Afghanistan. According to Iraq Body Count over 100,000 Iraqis have died in acts of violence because President Bush declared a holy war on an innocent nation for an attack it did not commit. This does not count the untold suffering of thousands more due to hunger and homelessness.

All we need is the Pope to add his voice to the mad chorus.

Or maybe we don’t need the Pope. We had President Bush after all, with his “”This crusade, this war on terrorism, is going to take a while.”

He wasn’t whistling Dixie.

And meanwhile, the crusade machine keeps marching, and people keep dying. So let’s think about the war, and why we fought it, and how we fought it, and apply the lessons learned in Afghanistan while we still can.

11 Replies to “Reflections on a Crusade Gone Wrong: Bush’s Iraq War 2003-2010”

  1. you may also wish to research the facts at many in the military who are not Christians are ostracized and are often not promoted. This is not widespread but limited to certain areas.

    It’s funny how Bush told us how God told him to do this but then at the same time says we are not at war with Islam. I am on the fence as far as Bush actually believing this was a religious crusade or if he was using this as a spike in the coffin to go after Iraq thinking that the religious right would follow him hook line and sinker. Obviously quite a few of them did. Look at Sarah Palin who wants us to start wars and other countries and continue fighting the crusade.

    This mass baptism stuff is the kind of thing that should get the leadership shot out of the military leadership cannon.

    the radical right wing in this country and I include Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld among the many current GOP candidates for president are pushing this crusade against Islam heavily. They do not understand that we are NOT ready to fight any type of war with Islam because we don’t know how to fight that type of war. The mightiest military in the world can be brought down by thousands of ants striking at various places. And after George Bush’s with Islam this is no time to get them mad.

    I believe at heart George bush was a good man. I think he was easily swayed by Cheney and Rumsfeld. He was convinced that he had to do this because he was weak minded and overly religious. Religion must be kept out of our government at all costs, the war in Iraq is the perfect reason why

  2. Great point, Shiva. I couldn’t agree more: separation of church and state is a MUST. And I wish more Democratic and Republican leaders would stand up for this most important foundation of our democracy.

    Hraf, this is a timely and important topic. You and I have a mutual friend who works for MRFF and we know the kind of hate mail they get from so called Christians.

  3. Sure wish you were right. Let’s see how a man capable of introspection could answer a simple question like “Can you name ANY mistake you have made, or something that you would have done differently?”

    What was George’s answer? Enough said.

  4. I’d love to have gone into more depth, Shiva. I managed to keep just under 1000 words here (not easy for me) and I could have easily said more. Our military is a real mess, as is our country, because of the blurring lines between church and state since the Bush administration. As I said in my comment on Digg, the U.S. military should not be acting like the Knights Templar. They didn’t accept Muslims and Pagans and what-not into their ranks either.

  5. Mike, I wish I could agree with Shiva about Bush, but I have to agree with you. I don’t know how good-hearted Bush was, and there is no denying the evil of his advisers like Rove and Cheney, but in the end, the responsibility is Bush’s – it was his watch, he was (in his own words) the “decider” and it is he who must bear ultimate responsibility.

  6. Thank you, Sarah. Yeah it’s pretty terrible for those folks at MRFF. Amazing that such hatred could spew from people who claim to practice a religion of love and turning the other cheek. They seem to prefer cheek slapping a lot more.

    My biggest disappointment where President Obama is concerned is his perpetuation of the unconstitutional Faith Based Initiatives.

  7. What sickens me is how the bush administration figured it would be a “quick” war, and a certain amount of casualties would be “acceptable”. They rushed in, believing their own propaganda and knowing full well if they could deliver, that Americans would go along for the ride and bush would come through as a hero. Remember “Mission Accomplished”? In fact maybe most would’ve been AOK with the invasion of Iraq (along with all the killing) if the war had been over quickly and they were paying less for a gallon of gas. You’ve gotta ask yourself, “Would I have been among them?”

  8. I agree, Nikolai. Throughout history people have thirsted for “quick” wars and it seldom turns out that way. Even Hitler’s blitzkrieg into Poland led to a longer WWII and the blitzkrieg into France didn’t fix that particular problem. And even if Napoleon had won at Waterloo, he still had a whole slate full of enemies coming to get him. Then there is the little fact that wars are easier to start than to finish.

    And it never helps to have absolutely no idea what your objectives are to begin with. Shock and Awe aren’t much use then.

  9. I find certain flaws with a few key point here…

    First, Muslims are not ostracized or treated in any way differently than any other soldier in our military. In fact, they are prized possessions, as many of them are valuable interprerers and help the humanitarian efforts in restoring stability to both theaters of the Middle East. And it’s not like they’re being forced to do this…that’s the MOS they chose when they voluntarily signed up to serve our country. Also, race and religion has no bearing on rank and promotion. None. Stop that nonsense right now, because that’s a simply not how it works. If that’s your opinion of how it works, then you need to do some more research…maybe actually join the military. Christianity is also not “pushed”, and diversity of religious beliefs is encouraged. In 2004 I was actually told to try some of the other religious services by a CHRISTIAN Chaplin in order to find something that might help me cope with stresses I was dealing with at that time. Also, while Bush started the war, Obama is in charge of the country last I checked. Which makes him the big man in the military, as he is Commander in Chief. Any military member knows that the Commander in Chief is at the top of the chain of command picture in any US base. Thus meaning that if your claims to pro-Christian and segregate behavior in th military were true, then Obama would be responsible for keeping it that way after the fact. It was he, after all, who said “We are a Christian nation…” to start off one of his speeches about the current mosque issue. Sure, he also added the other religions as well…but why do you think he sad “Christian” first? I’m not going to speculate, however you are free to do so.

    And also, the name of a military operation..? Please. “spirit” or even “the spirit” does not signify ANYTHING. If it said “Sword of God” I would find you credible, however you are using speculation. Plus, how many Iraqi and Afghan people have you talked to about their feelings on the “Christian Crusade” in their country? Because all the ones I have met in my time BEING there seem to just be totally in the the dark about our motives. I mean, especially the village elder who thanked us profusely for allowing the children to walk outside without the fear of being shot by the insurgents…most of whom are foreign fighters from Libya, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Somalia, etc. The native populous is greaty appreciative that we are there to protect them.

    Public opinion does not refute personal experience.

  10. Interesting story over at Raw story today

    titled “Troops: Refusing to attend Christian concert got us into trouble”

  11. Well Responsibil;ity and a good heart dont always go together. I dont take the blame away from Bush as president, in fact I want him in jail. I also think he is a corporate stooge, but still at heart I dont think he is a Cheney. I probably could have done a better job of exposing myself lol

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