"The death of Uday and Qusay,"
the commander of the ground forces in Iraq told reporters,
"is definitely going to be a turning point for the resistance."
Well, it was a turning point, but unfortunately not of the
kind he envisaged. On the day he made his announcement, Iraqi
insurgents killed one US soldier and wounded six others. On
the following day, they killed another three; over the weekend
they assassinated five and injured seven. The next day they
slaughtered one more and wounded three. This was the worst
week for US soldiers in Iraq since George Bush declared that
the war there was over.
Few people believe that the resistance in that country is
being coordinated by Saddam Hussein and his noxious family,
or that it will come to an end when those people are killed.
But the few appear to include the military and civilian command
of the United States armed forces. For the hundredth time
since the US invaded Iraq, the predictions made by those with
access to intelligence have proved less reliable than the
predictions made by those without. And, for the hundredth
time, the inaccuracy of the official forecasts has been blamed
on "intelligence failures".
The explanation is wearing a little thin. Are we really
expected to believe that the members of the US security services
are the only people who cannot see that many Iraqis wish to
rid themselves of the US army as fervently as they wished
to rid themselves of Saddam Hussein? What is lacking in the
Pentagon and the White House is not intelligence (or not,
at any rate, of the kind we are considering here), but receptivity.
Theirs is not a failure of information, but a failure of ideology.
To understand why this failure persists, we must first grasp
a reality which has seldom been discussed in print. The United
States is no longer just a nation. It is now a religion. Its
soldiers have entered Iraq to liberate its people not only
from their dictator, their oil and their sovereignty, but
also from their darkness. As George Bush told his troops on
the day he announced victory: "Wherever you go, you carry
a message of hope--a message that is ancient and ever new.
In the words of the prophet Isaiah, 'To the captives, "Come
out," and to those in darkness, "Be free".'"
So American soldiers are no longer merely terrestrial combatants;
they have become missionaries. They are no longer simply killing
enemies; they are casting out demons. The people who reconstructed
the faces of Uday and Qusay Hussein carelessly forgot to restore
the pair of little horns on each brow, but the understanding
that these were opponents from a different realm was transmitted
nonetheless. Like all those who send missionaries abroad,
the high priests of America cannot conceive that the infidels
might resist through their own free will; if they refuse to
convert, it is the
work of the devil, in his current guise as the former dictator
As Clifford Longley shows in his fascinating book Chosen
People, published last year, the founding fathers of the USA,
though they sometimes professed otherwise, sensed that they
were guided by a divine purpose. Thomas Jefferson argued that
the Great Seal of the United States should depict the Israelites,
"led by a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night".
George Washington claimed, in his inaugural address, that
every step towards independence was "distinguished by
some token of providential agency". Longley argues that
the formation of the American identity was part of a process
of "supersession". The Roman Catholic church claimed
that it had supplanted the Jews as the elect, as the Jews
had been repudiated by God. The English Protestants accused
the Catholics of breaking faith, and claimed that they had
become the beloved of God. The American revolutionaries believed
that the English, in turn, had broken their covenant: the
Americans had now become the chosen people, with a divine
duty to deliver the world to God's dominion. Several weeks
ago, as if to show that this belief persists, George Bush
recalled a remark of Woodrow Wilson's. "America,"
he quoted, "has a spiritual energy in her which no other
nation can contribute to the liberation of mankind."
Gradually this notion of election has been conflated with
another, still more dangerous idea. It is not just that the
Americans are God's chosen people; America itself is now perceived
as a divine project. In his farewell presidential address,
Ronald Reagan spoke of his country as a "shining city
on a hill", a reference to the Sermon on the Mount. But
what Jesus was describing was not a temporal Jerusalem, but
the kingdom of heaven. Not only, in Reagan's account, was
God's kingdom to be found in the United States of America,
but the kingdom of hell could also now be located on earth:
the "evil empire" of the Soviet Union, against which
His holy warriors were pitched.
Since the attacks on New York, this notion of America the
divine has been extended and refined. In December 2001, Rudy
Giuliani, the mayor of that city, delivered his last mayoral
speech in St Paul's Chapel, close to the site of the shattered
twin towers. "All that matters," he claimed, "is
that you embrace America and understand its ideals and what
it's all about. Abraham Lincoln used to say that the test
of your Americanism was ... how much you believed in America.
Because we're like a religion really. A secular religion."
The chapel in which he spoke had been consecrated not just
by God, but by the fact that George Washington had once prayed
there. It was, he said, now "sacred ground to people
who feel what America is all about". The United States
of America no longer needs to call upon God; it is God, and
those who go abroad to spread the light do so in the name
of a celestial domain. The flag has become as sacred as the
Bible; the name of the nation as holy as the name of God.
The presidency is turning into a priesthood.
So those who question George Bush's foreign policy are no
longer merely critics; they are blasphemers, or "anti-Americans".
Those foreign states which seek to change this policy are
wasting their time: you can negotiate with politicians; you
cannot negotiate with priests. The US has a divine mission,
as Bush suggested in January: "to defend ... the hopes
of all mankind", and woe betide those who hope for something
other than the American way of life.
The dangers of national divinity scarcely require explanation.
Japan went to war in the 1930s convinced, like George Bush,
that it possessed a heaven-sent mission to "liberate"
Asia and extend the realm of its divine imperium. It would,
the fascist theoretician Kita Ikki predicted: "light
the darkness of the entire world". Those who seek to
drag heaven down to earth are destined only to engineer a