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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.

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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.

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 Truthout.org 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.

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