AUS DEM SPIEGEL
Ausgabe 8/2003

Cover Story: War out of compassion

By attacking Baghdad, US president George W. Bush wants to fulfill a divine order. In the highly religious United States, there has rarely been such a deep connection between national power interests and fundamentalist false piety. Christian fanatics are calling for a crusade against Islam.

Washington is a god-fearing city. One of the rituals at the White House is that cabinet meetings begin with a prayer. The president asks one of his cabinet secretaries to say a few words of reflection, and those in the room bow their heads, close their eyes, and fold their hands together. Old soldier Donald Rumsfeld beseeches God to curb the "lust for action."

A bible study group also meets regularly to discuss and interpret selected passages from the New and Old Testament. Although White House employees are not required to participate, someone is certainly taking notes on who attends and who doesn't.

Devout, moral and good people populate the official headquarters of the president. Swearing is forbidden, and no one smokes or drinks. No one can work there who is unable to fulfill the unwritten criterion of "no joint since college." David Frum, the president's former speechwriter, enthusiastically reports that a "modern Evangelism" pervades this beautiful building on Pennsylvania Avenue.

George W. Bush claims that he reads the bible every day. Recently, he has been heard mentioning the strength that comes from within with conspicuously increasing frequency. "I pray," he says, "I pray for strength, for direction, for forgiveness. And I ask the good and generous almighty God to accept my gratitude."

The more imminent the war with Iraq becomes, the more often does the president talk about his faith and his values. He believes that his actions are greatly affected by his faith. In the United States, it almost goes without saying that in times of national crisis, the president becomes a preacher, one who dispenses comfort and strength.

However, this pastoral tone is gradually being used to justify policy. George W. Bush is convinced that it is God alone who has allowed him to occupy this office at this historic moment. In his prayers, says Bush, he especially prays for strength to accomplish his mission: "God has called upon us to protect our country and to lead the world to peace."

The White House is not just the heart and brain of today's vastly superior superpower, but has also frequently been a place of piety. Many presidents before Bush have tried to harmonize their personal faith with the United States' claim to exercise its imperial prerogative. Jimmy Carter took his Christianity so seriously that he temporarily gave preference to the gentle dissemination of human rights over a more hard-nosed policy of interests. In contrast, the less pious Ronald Reagan cloaked his efforts to disarm the competing superpower in allusions to the Bible ("Evil Empire"). However, George W. Bush appears to be serious about both issues: his faith in Jesus Christ and the projection of imperial power.

Whenever an American president tries to link his Christianity with a desire for a new order and harmonization of spheres of interests, the Europeans respond with deep skepticism. The quintessentially American reference to a "manifest destiny" - the destiny of the United States to bring peace to the world through war - is not compatible with the Europeans' worldly understanding of power and politics. But anyone who fails to take seriously the role of religion in "God's own country" (the US' view of itself), a country whose currency bears the motto "In God we trust," fails to understand America.

From the very beginning, the United States aspired to be the "city on the mountain" mentioned in the Bible, but so have many US presidents. America wanted to offer itself to all of humanity: as a real-life utopia and a precursor of the future heavenly Jerusalem, all at the same time.

This boundless claim also dominates foreign policy. The Bush administration has found alternating justifications for war against Iraq. At first, the decisive issue was that there was a direct connection between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, a claim, however, for which there was no evidence. Then regime change became an alternative end in itself, as grounds for destroying Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, as a means of securing the oil reserves of the Middle East against an anti-American dictator, or as a means of democratizing the entire region. Then the president argued that the Iraqis have the right to be liberated from tyranny, before finally returning to the unproven initial argument alleging collaboration between Saddam and bin Laden.

From the very beginning, the White House showed little patience to tolerate objections and acknowledge opposing views. And now the consequences have become rather devastating. The relationship between America and Europe seems to be at an all-time low, and the Europeans have even indulged themselves in the luxury of splitting into two camps based on the stances taken by individual countries to war in Iraq.

The rift in the Atlantic has also become deeper because America itself has changed. But what is it like? What characterizes the organized Christianity to which Bush owes his presidency, and to which priorities is he being driven by this moral majority? What are the forces behind George W. Bush. Is he simply a puppet for Big Business, as many Europeans feel, or is he a president in his own right?

The double rebirth

In early October 2001, President Bush invited five religious leaders - three Christians, one Jew, and one Muslim - to the White House. He informed them about the status of the war against terrorism, and said that a few decisive battles were looming. Then, unexpectedly, he asked them to pray for him, his way of introducing a surprising self-revelation: "You know, of course, that I had a problem with alcohol. If things had stayed the way they were, right now I'd be sitting in a bar in Texas instead of in the Oval Office. There is only one reason why I'm in the Oval Office now and not in that bar: I found faith. I found God."

It is very rare that Bush talks about his days as a drinker, and he almost never admits that he was once on the verge of ruining his life. In spite of - or perhaps because of - the fact he was raised in the midst of wealth and privilege, his biography through his 40th birthday reads like a study of a complete failure.

He was named after his father, who was successful in everything he did: during World War II, for which he volunteered at the age of 18, in sports and in college, in the business world, where he earned millions with Texas oil, and in politics, where he managed to become the US ambassador to China, Director of the CIA, vice-president and, finally, president.

George W., his eldest son, chose the same paths, but was unhappy and unsuccessful in his endeavors for many years. He was a mediocre student at Yale. When he returned to this elite university on the East Coast shortly after his inauguration, he gave a remarkably thoughtful address: "I had almost no idea what I should do in life when I left this place. I knew a few people who had a plan. But it soon became clear that all kinds of successes and failures were waiting for us, and most of them to our great surprise. Life takes its own twists and turns, presents us with unique challenges, and writes its own histories. And during our path through life, we slowly begin to understand that we are not the authors."

Unlike his father, he never became the captain of the Yale baseball team, nor was he a decorated war hero. Bush Junior joined the Texas National Guard, where he managed to avoid being sent to Vietnam, and his first stab at politics was a disaster.

When Bush was 27 years old, he was driving, intoxicated, to his parents' house in Washington. He lost control of the car, knocked over a neighbor's garbage cans and, swerving wildly, dragged them down the street. His father took him to task, which only enraged the son. The desperately unsuccessful junior Bush threatened to punch the notoriously successful senior Bush.

Father Bush quickly sent his son back to Texas to work in a social program in which he was required to help underprivileged children - a lesson in the misery of real life. "We had no idea that he had a problem with alcohol," says his mother, Barbara Bush, after the fact, "which doesn't mean that he never drank a little too much." The Bush' younger, more ambitious son Jeb, now governor of Florida, was considered his father's true heir.

George Bush Junior lost millions in the oil business. Friends of his father had to rescue him from his financial troubles, a process that repeated itself. After a series of humiliations that only reinforced his feelings of inferiority, he began to drink heavily: beer, bourbon on the rocks, wine. This continued until July 27, 1986, when he celebrated his 40th birthday with friends and plenty of alcohol.

The next day, he was severely hung-over and vowed to stay dry from then on. His wife Laura said that he went back and forth with this resolution for one year, but kept falling off the wagon. One day, at the end of a week-long drinking binge, he woke up and looked at his vomit-covered face in the mirror. He fell to his knees and prayed for God's help. America loves such stories of the return of a lost son.

His rehabilitation apparently included therapeutic soul-searching with Billy Graham, the biggest star of the born-again Christian movement, a man who has packed auditoriums in many countries. The charismatic preacher often visited the Bush' country house in Kennebunkport to pray with the Bush family and their friends, and to talk about God and the world. At first, Bush Junior was not particularly enthusiastic, but then he became increasingly interested. He later said that Graham had "planted a mustard seed in my heart, and I started to change."

The decision to give up alcohol was probably his first somewhat momentous and independent decision. Apparently, however, he was unable to give himself sufficient credit for having accomplished this about-face on his own, instead feeling that he had a higher power to thank. Since then, he has become one of about 60 million Americans who view themselves as "born-again Christians" and constantly profess gratitude to their God for having reformed them. Incidentally, Bush has said that he considers Jesus to be one of the most important political philosophers of all time, "because he helped me give up drinking."

From this point on, the son was more successful in following in his father's footsteps. First, he was voted governor of Texas for two terms, and then he won the most disputed presidential election in the history of mankind.

As Texan preacher Tony Evans, one of his spiritual advisors, recalls: "The lessons of the Bible were a reason for his decision to run for president. He feels that God speaks to him." From then on, Bush defined his work as a mission: "I am convinced that we must fundamentally and permanently change our entire culture. We need spiritual renewal in America."

The occasional churchgoer had become a pious man, a man who continues to practice rigorous discipline in the White House and incorporates the appropriate passage from the Bible into his daily agenda. The insecure drinker has become a president with whom mainstream Americans can identify, precisely because of his mediocrity, fallibility and devoutness.

The second rebirth of George W. Bush took place on September 11, 2001. Until that day, he was a directionless, undemanding officeholder surrounded by smarter and better people who had no trouble taking center stage, something he did not even appear to challenge. It was only the murderous attacks on New York and Washington that gave his presidency direction and purpose. They transformed the officeholder in the White House, who had become accustomed to making himself scarce and enjoying his unexpected good fortune, into a president who now wants to assert the interests of his nation.

Heads of state only noticed this change after September 11th, when they arrived to pay their condolences and make inquiries. To them, Bush no longer seemed like an uninformed, disinterested lightweight. Although he is still not well-informed and worldly, and he continues to become grotesquely muddled in language, and he has trouble relying on his memory, his basic stance has since become clear and unwavering: Anyone who is not with us is against us.

The intellectually absent President Bush has become a determined commander-in-chief.

For the transformed Bush, war is an extension of policy using different means. On the one hand, he seems to be inspired by an optimism that relies on the strength of American military power. On the other hand, a pessimistic outlook occasionally becomes visible, one that acknowledges that in spite of its superiority, America must prepare itself more than ever for new terrorist attacks.

When faced with this dilemma, Bush opts for the more risky approach whenever possible. The intellectually absent president has become a decisively acting commander-in-chief, a man who is dedicated to his mission and who acts on the basis of his religious faith.

When he paid a visit to a school in Crawford, the small Texas town near his ranch, one of the children asked him whether he makes his decisions quickly and without spending a lot of time agonizing over them. "I know what I believe in," responded an absent-mindedly serious Bush, "and I know where I want to take this country. To be honest with you, I don't have much trouble making my decisions."

One of the things about Ronald Reagan, a man whose true political heir the president is increasingly shaping himself as, that has made a lasting impression on Bush is "the vision thing" - the courage to have vision.

Just as Reagan grandly predicted the end of the "Evil Empire," Bush too is predicting the downfall of Osama bin Laden and Iraq. The only problem is that what Reagan predicted came about almost automatically beginning in 1991, while neither Saddam nor terrorism will go away on their own. Bush, however, firmly believes in the illusion that America can force final solutions on the strength of its massive military superiority.

The phrase "Axis of Evil," which was coined more or less by coincidence and is an imitation of Reagan down to the very terminology it contains, easily fits into this manic world view, one in which there are only friends and foes. In fact, a year ago there was really no reason to place Iran and North Korea on the same level with Iraq. Bush, however, was especially proud of his creation, which quickly proved to be a catastrophic mistake.

Iraq is of secondary importance when compared with North Korea. The fact that Kim Jong Il possesses one or two nuclear bombs that can reach California, as CIA Director George Tenet recently confirmed in the Senate, forces America to enter into diplomatic negotiations sooner or later, instead of allowing it to promptly punish this "rogue nation," as the new Bush doctrine would normally require. And since the United States now sees that Iran, which also seeks to acquire weapons of mass destruction, is now ruled by something halfway between a mullah regime and a reform administration, the "Axis of Evil" has dissipated within a year.

What has remained, however, is Iraq and Saddam Hussein. What has also remained is America's economic interest in enormous oil reserves and in destroying the OPEC cartel, which can dictate the world price of a barrel of oil virtually at its discretion. All of this plays an important role, but Bush' war plans cannot be reduced to these issues alone.

Bush is a prime example of American amigo-capitalism, in which friends do a lot for each other and efficient stock market control is viewed as an abomination. However, his mission has deeper roots, deriving its radicalism from the devoutness that also has deep traditions in America.

Religious presidents can make the world a worse place by spectacularly failing in their efforts to improve it.

Meanwhile, even the rumors that Bush does not govern, but has other people govern, have lost their legitimacy. In fact, he takes the presidential system quite literally: He reserves the big picture for himself, delegating the details to Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, and Condoleeza Rice.

Vice-president Richard Cheney is now more of a trusted advisor than the prime minister he was before September 11th. Ultimately, his authority is derived from his unwavering loyalty. In the public eye, he plays the herald of the president, a man whose "determination and sense of duty" he praises - character strengths he seems to have discovered rather late in life.

Bush has confirmed his first rebirth with the fact that, in spite of a lack of talent, he has been called to do greater things. The second rebirth has launched this belief in predestination into the historic realm. Weak presidents can be dangerous, because they give free rein to their subordinates. However, religious presidents can make the world a worse place by spectacularly failing in their efforts to improve it.

The fundamentalists

The president is a perfect reflection of the country he rules. Large parts of the United States share Bush' plain-spoken devoutness. Up to 95 percent of US citizens (depending on the poll) believe in a god, while an increasingly small minority consider themselves atheists.

The United States has more churches, synagogues, temples and mosques per capita than any other country on earth: one house of worship for every 865 people. In summarizing a poll conducted in May, the Gallup Institute stated that "there is a deep longer for spiritual support - a hunger for God."

In contrast with Europe, America apparently wants to prove that modernity does not lead to godlessness. Every second American claims to attend church at least once a week, while in Western Europe at best 20 percent of the population regularly attends religious services, while in Eastern Europe the figure is as low as 14 percent.

In the United States, such atheism simply causes people to shake their heads, reinforcing the conviction that America is in fact "God's country." It is a conviction rooted in history, which began with the Calvinists who fled the British Isles on board the "Mayflower" and landed on Cape Cod in 1620. The "pilgrims" saw themselves as refugees from the realm of an omnipotent state religion, and the desire to become blessed in one's own way has been a cornerstone of American devoutness ever since.

Such individualistic faith, combined with the separation of church and state written into the Constitution, has prevented the development of a single state religion and has bestowed upon the country about 200 different churches to date, more than 90 percent of which are Christian. The largest by far is the Catholic church, which currently has 62 million members. Nonetheless, the United States has never been a country shaped by Catholicism.

But the religious communities of the old Protestant establishment are losing influence, because their congregations are shrinking. "The more liberal a religious community is perceived to be, the more members it loses," summarized sociologist Ken Sanchagrin when presenting his latest statistics on religion among Americans. "The fastest-growing churches are the ones with conservative orientations."

Thus, the church coffers of the Lutherans, Presbyterians and Methodists are being drained, while the glass cathedrals of the Free Church television evangelists, the sports arenas of the revivalists, the church halls of the pentecostalists and charismatics, and the towering temples of the Mormons are drawing large crowds.

The people who pray there are Bush voters, such as at the Belle View Baptist Church on Big Spring Avenue in Midland, Texas, where the president lived as a child. Belle View is a conservative church with an exclusively white congregation. Even the man in the White House bemoans the fact that Protestant churches in the United States are still segregated. He rails against the fact that America is a picture of complete racial segregation on, of all times, Sunday mornings at eleven o'clock, a traditional time for church services.

This doesn't both Pastor Andrew Stewart as much. He prays that the almighty God "will destroy the enemies of our nation forever," and will heap his blessings on "our president, friend and fellow Texan George Walker Bush." The Lord, as the pastor later says, should "lead our president against our enemies."

It is the churches with simple convictions that draw the biggest crowds, the ones that preach a decent, moral America in which the word of the Bible is still irrefutable and is not so watered down by liberal theologians as to render old convictions unrecognizable. "Give me that old-time religion," is one of their favorite hymns.

At the Thomas Road Church in Lynchburg, Virginia, 2,000 of the faithful meet every Sunday, not just to praise their Lord, but also to celebrate themselves: as a moral majority, as a nuclear family, as clean America. Young families bring their babies to the front of the church to be blessed by the pastor, something that Jerry Falwell who, at 69, still hasn't lost his cherub-like smile and reliably pious bonhomie, is happy to do. The well-known television evangelist makes sure that the cameras provide close-up shots of the youngest members of his congregation, broadcasting their images to the millions of viewers who congregate every Sunday to watch Falwell's top-rated program.

The sermons in the fundamentalist, charismatic and revivalist congregations of the Christian Right are by no means limited to providing advice on leading lives of which God would approve. In North America, conservative, evangelical Protestantism has long since become a decisive force in winning elections. After the last presidential election, Bush' chief strategist Karl Rove complained that the only reason the president did not receive the majority of votes was that he was unable to mobilize just under one-fourth of voters from the Christian fundamentalist wing. This, according to Rove, should not happen again.

There is nothing the Falwells of America preach about as often as the infallibility of Biblical scripture. This only appears on the surface to be part of a centuries-old theological discourse. In fact, this tiresome topic is simply an expression of a cultural battle that is still highly current. America's pious fundamentalists feel that they are the victims of a radical cultural shift that has prompted a re-evaluation of values ever since the 1960s.

Their enemies are the liberals, a word that is no longer just a derogatory term among the Christian Right, but has since become synonymous with traitor to one's own country: the feminists, the gays, the leftists, those in favor of abortion, and the opponents of guns, or, in short, that godless riff-raff that is now responsible for the fact that God is angry with his own country and has chosen, of all people, Osama bin Laden as an instrument of his wrath. Pastor Falwell believes that September 11th is God's punishment for the sins of his people.

And the only protection against His punishment is absolute devotion to the word of God, which can distinguish good from evil, teaches women to be subservient, and teaches children to be respectful of their elders.

Of course, such literal faith is highly selective. Conservative pastors are mocked by cunning Internet polls which ask, for example, whether the true believer can enslave both Mexicans and Canadians. After all, it is stated in Leviticus, Chapter 25, Verse 44, that slaves are only permitted when they are acquired from neighboring peoples.

The fundamentalist culture that these especially true-to-the-Bible churches cultivate has allowed itself to become more militant and intolerant during the past 20 years. The word of the Psalmists, that the Lord "will crush the heads of his foes," has certainly ceased to be little more than an outdated saying. Even bin Laden's words must produce a sensation of spiritual connection with the Protestant fanatics. In any event, many fundamentalist preachers have simply assumed the conviction of this prophet of terror, according to which the attacks were the beginning of a "holy war against godlessness and the godless."

The radical churches have been laying the groundwork for this for some time. Anyone who rails against abortion as a "holocaust against the unborn" should not be surprised when the holy warriors they incite end up firebombing abortion clinics or shooting obstetricians who perform abortions. This is backed by the same logic that bin Laden preaches, and it's an age-old phenomenon: Whoever wishes to save himself from his own damnation must fight "the evil" without compromise; whoever is not for me is against me.

The president, who is only all too happy to use such vocabulary himself, has repeatedly warned against confusing the terrorism of militant Muslims with Islam itself. Many of his pious allies do not share his scruples.

Franklin Graham, 50, is the son of that celebrity preacher who once led the lost son George W. back to the path of virtue. Meanwhile, Graham has taken over the family religious business from his father, which earned $126 million in revenues in the year 2000. Moreover, he gave the opening prayer at the inauguration of the protégé he once saved.

Franklin Graham certainly does not agree with his president. His assignment of blame is far more radical. In his view, all of Islam is "an exceptionally evil and reprehensible religion." It is not we who have attacked Islam, preaches the reverend, "but Islam that has attacked us."

His colleague Jerry Vines, chief pastor of the First Baptist Church of Jacksonville, Florida, and former president of the powerful Southern Baptist Convention, declared, at a meeting of Baptist ministers: "Christianity was founded by our Lord Jesus Christ, the son of God borne by a virgin. In contrast, Islam was established by Mohammed, a pedophile who was possessed by demons and had twelve wives - and the last one was a nine-year-old girl." Vines, in the thundering voice of an Old Testament prophet, says: "And I tell you, Allah is not Jehovah. Jehovah has not yet turned anyone into a terrorist."

Such rhetoric meets with great enthusiasm among a clientele prepared to embark on a crusade, congregations to whom these angry US ministers preach the words of the "little prophet" Job, who calls upon his people to "forge swords out of plowshares and lances out of vintner's knives."

It will be relatively easy for Bush to overcome the fact that the Catholic church is drafting pastoral letters against war in Iraq and black congregations are protesting against the military buildup in the Gulf. He does not have to be particularly concerned that leading ministers in his own Methodist church have condemned his administration's move toward war. As long as he knows that the Christian Right is on his side, he can portray the war in Iraq as part of his battle against evil and, therefore, as a devout act that pleases God.

Since the attacks on September 11th, the apocalypse of John, Book of Revelations, is experiencing a booming comeback in the fundamentalist churches of America. In light of the military campaign against Saddam, the simple-minded exegetes of the last book of the New Testament do not shy away from even the most uninspired attempts to connect this puzzling piece of scripture to present-day events. To them, the United Nations represents the preferred forum of the Antichrist, because Revelations 17,13 teaches that the kings of the earth "will transfer their power and strength to the animal." The pope, also an opponent of war, is chastised as a "whore of Babylon" because, according to Revelations 17,9, its throne is on "seven mountains," just as Rome lies on seven hills. The fact that the EU exists as a result of the Treaties of Rome makes all of Europe an instrument of the devil.

Simply laughing off such garbage underestimates the influence of the militant Christian Right. Many are firmly convinced that the attacks on New York and Washington have started the process that will lead to the end of the world, the return of Jesus Christ, and the dawning of the promised thousand-year reign of God. When these faithful hear their president talk about the "Axis of Evil," they are convinced that he is speaking their own language, that he, like they, is a holy warrior.

This eschatological orientation of the Christian Right becomes especially clear in its relationship to Israel. As recently as 1981, the former chairman of the Southern Baptist Convention, Reverend Baily Smith, caused a scandal when he declared: "God does not listen to the prayers of a Jew."

Nowadays, 1200 evangelical Christians celebrate the Feast of the Passover in the Wernher von Braun Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Gary Bauer, for decades one of the political leaders of the Christian Right, sends 100,00 e-mails a day to devoted followers, in which he champions the hard-line course taken by Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon. According to Bauer, America's obligation to stand by Israel is a biblical commandment: "Evangelical Christians believe that God promised the country to the Jewish people."

This unusual alliance between the Christian Right and American supporters of Sharon is not entirely selfless. To them, the existence of the State of Israel is a condition of the appearance of the Antichrist, the final battle at Armageddon between good and evil, and the return of Christ (one of the religious convictions that his US apologists prefer not to mention is that he will then promptly dispatch all Jews to hell who refuse to recognize Christ as the Messiah). According to a survey conducted by well-known minister Hal Lindsay among Christians who refer to themselves as "born again," 72.5 percent of respondents agree with the sentence: "I believe that we are currently facing the beginning of a war that will lead to the Antichrist and to Armageddon."

This support by throngs of radical Christians is particularly welcomed by those neo-conservatives who make up an important part of the civil leadership at the Pentagon. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz and Pentagon advisor Richard Perle began their political careers with the Democrats, and were shaped by the legendary Senator Henry ("Scoop") Jackson, one of the most vocal friends of Israel in US politics. Nowadays, in addition to their official duties, they are successfully working toward alienating Jewish voters from their traditional political home, the Democratic party, and bringing them over to the Republicans. While Bush Senior was notorious among American Jews as a president with a skeptical view of Israel, his son is now considered a firm ally of the Israeli hard-liners.

Perle and Wolfowitz, known by the Pentagon nickname Kosher Nostra, are not just pushing for war against Iraq because it could, supposedly, become a signal for democratic reform in the Arab world. They also view the capture of Baghdad as a way of protecting the Holy Land in a world of enemies, and therefore as a condition of true peace in the Middle East.

"Evil must be punished and good must be rewarded. The time for force has arrived."

They are wholeheartedly supported in these convictions by the Christian Right, such as by the Southern Baptist Convention which, with its 41,500 churches and 15.9 million members, represents the hard core of pious fundamentalism. For example, in a long article Richard Land, the president of the Commission for Ethics and Religious Freedom among Southern State Baptists, explained why his religious community believes that war against Saddam is a just war. And he arrives at a conclusion that other church leaders, such as Pope John Paul II, certainly must view as pure blasphemy. Land writes: "Waging a just war is an act of Christian compassion. Evil must be punished and good must be rewarded. The time for force has arrived."

Nonetheless, in spite of all this spiritual affinity with the president, it cannot be overlooked that the White House is not just a place of prayer, but that the administration is clearing pursuing the politics of imperial power.

While Bush' radicalism needs religious faith as its justification, hard-liner duo Donald Rumsfeld and Richard Cheney manage without making reference to a higher being. To them, the United States' own claim that it is the world's only superpower is sufficient justification - Rumsfeld and Cheney are fundamentalists of power. The obvious implication is that they are taking advantage of their president's religious zeal, his urge to convert others, to further their own highly worldly goals.

Both Rumsfeld and Cheney leave no doubt as to the primacy of the political, and have both served several presidents during the past 35 years. Both have considered running for the White House themselves, and both chose not to. Both have become filthy rich, one as the chairman of a pharmaceutical corporation and the other as the chief executive of the world's largest oil service company, Halliburton. Both have returned to politics in their later years, and both are dedicated power politicians who would make use of all means at America's disposal, if necessary.

The two hawks would have preferred to use their forces to stage an early preventive strike against Saddam. However, Colin Powell, backed by his strong reputation, opposed this approach. He too is a Washington veteran, and he too chose not to run for president, and returned to politics as a multi-millionaire.

Powell campaigned to take the issue before the United Nations and seek a regulated approach to convicting Saddam in the Security Council. But continued resistance in the UN has had unpleasant consequences for Powell, and his special role has now ended.

The hard-liners, and even the president, have accused him of having misjudged the majority relationships in the UN. To avoid being isolated, Powell has joined the hawks. Since then, the only issue in Washington is when the war will begin. Whether the UN issues an official resolution supporting war or whether the war is ultimately waged by a "coalition of the willing" has become a secondary concern.

Pentagon chief Rumsfeld will then be the master of the battlefield. President Bush hopes for a quick regime change before Saddam can use weapons of mass destruction. Vice-president Cheney is already weighing the options of calling North Korea to account.

Meanwhile, in Washington and New York stores are running out of plastic sheeting to seal windows and potassium iodide tablets. People are buying these items en masse because the authorities have called upon citizens to protect themselves against attacks with biological and chemical weapons, or even with so-called dirty nuclear bombs.

So it seems that heaven and earth are prepared for the march on Baghdad. This week, US forces around Iraq will be increased to 150,000 troops, the minimum force required for an invasion set for March 1 or thereafter. Last Thursday, Bush spoke to the families of marines in Jacksonville, Florida.

He assured his soldiers that the entire country is praying for them. He urged them to do their duty, not so much as a commander-in-chief encouraging his troops, but rather as a field chaplain: "Don't just try to be a good soldier or a good sailor. Remember to love your fellow man as you yourselves would wish to be loved."

A military force has rarely been sent to battle in a more pious way.

HANS HOYNG, GERHARD SPÖRL

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