Bush’s Faith and the Verdict of History by Scott D. O’Reilly
When Croesus, a king from ancient Greece, asked the oracle at Delphi if he was destined to succeed in conquering Persia he was told that in going war he would destroy a great empire. Croesus, however, never reckoned that the empire he would end up destroying would be his own. And when he confronted the high priestess regarding her prophecy she told him that she was not responsible for his lack of wit.
Croesus is hardly the only leader that heard what he wanted to hear when it came to a prewar prophecy. History has a way of outwitting even the cagiest of leaders, let alone men who are out of their depth. But George W. Bush has yet to comprehend the tragic consequences that are flowing from his failure to heed the warnings from a chorus of contemporary Cassandras – Brent Scowcroft, Al Gore, Gary Hart, and Anthony Zinni, to name a few -- who warned of the dire consequences that would follow from invading Iraq.
Bush, according to his closest advisors, remains absolutely convinced that the decisions he has made regarding Iraq will be vindicated by history, though he now acknowledges it may be fifty years before he is proven right. Is the president so obtuse, critics wonder, to imagine he is a modern day Moses, a figure that leads his people out of the wilderness, but cannot enter the promise land himself?
Bush is no dummy. But self-imposed limitations – his ideological rigidity – probably preclude him from appreciating the catastrophic legacy he is bequeathing America. Put simply, Bush’s faith-based approach to statecraft immunizes the president against negative feedback, which a more enlightened leader would channel into course correcting measures. Bush, in contrast, takes negative feedback as a test of character, something that must be overcome by will power.
To make this clearer consider a case of negative feedback associated with parenting. Imagine, if you will, a spirited but obstinate child. One could approach the parent-child dynamic in one of three fundamental ways: 1) It is a contest of wills and the immature party’s will must be bent, by force if necessary, to accord with the mature party’s will. 2) Indulging the child is preferable to conflict. And 3) the mature party must creatively fashion the right measure of carrots and sticks to prod the less mature party in the right direction.
These three parenting styles are recognized in psychology, respectively, as: 1) Authoritarian, 2) Permissive, and 3) Authoritative. Psychologists agree that the first two approaches, authoritarian and permissive, engender the worst results. For instance, authoritarian parents tend to raise docile and emotionally disturbed children, while permissive parents tend to raise children that lack discipline and self-control. Authoritative parents, on the other hand, tend to raise the best-adjusted children.
The cognitive scientist George Lakoff believes that ideal parenting models (internal but largely unconscious conceptions of how children should be raised) shape our political predilections. In other words, those inclined towards an authoritarian style of parenting will gravitate to “law and order” candidates, while those inclined towards a permissive approach to parenting will gravitate towards liberal candidates.
The scientific evidence indicates that the authoritarian parenting style is the worst possible approach to childrearing, leading to individuals who are passive-aggressive, prone to addiction, and poorly adjusted. An authoritarian approach to statecraft is arguably no better, though this is the pattern that most aptly captures the Bush Administration’s attitude and policies towards the jihadists who are rebelling against America’s authority. Tragically, the Bush Administration, like authoritarian parents, believes it is just a matter of will before the insurgents fall in line.
Bush’s repeated assertions that America can only fail in Iraq if we lose our will is misguided to the point of pathology. The war in Iraq is not a test of Bush’s character (or America’s for that matter), but it is a reflection of a catastrophic error in judgment and the failure (on the Bush Administration’s part) to see an alien culture as it is. No heroic exertion of willpower on our part can whip Iraq into shape. And notions that the political situation in Iraq will inevitably unfold along the lines of the American Revolution are equally ludicrous.
The divine right of kings and historical determinism are ideas that were debunked long ago. Rulers do not exercise power on behalf of a supernatural deity. Nor does history move inexorably towards some final end state. Bush combined both of these discredited ideas and managed to convince enough Americans that he had been chosen by God to complete a divine mission. Using biblical code words, the president sold his invasion of Iraq as the fulfillment of prophecy.
Ironically, Baghdad Bob’s prediction – that U.S. troops were coming to Iraq to commit suicide – have been eerily prophetic. The loony Iraq propaganda minister once seemed like he was playing the fool, but it now appears that he was more like the fool one finds in a Shakespearean drama (the kind that utters wisdom that dullards mistake for nonsense).
Bush has a tragically misguided conception of his own role as president and the role of America in the world. Setting himself up as the infallible authority figure – the authoritarian parent -- has backfired big time. Those of us who predicted things would turn out badly for Bush didn’t have to consult with an otherworldly oracle. We simply studied a little psychology and deduced that his propensity towards authoritarianism would be self-defeating.