ON THE MORNING OF Thursday, April 10, 2003, Donald Rumsfeld’s Pentagon prepared a top-secret briefing for George W. Bush. This document, known as the Worldwide Intelligence Update, was a daily digest of critical military intelligence so classified that it circulated among only a handful of Pentagon leaders and the president... The briefing’s cover sheet generally featured triumphant, color images from the previous days’ war efforts: On this particular morning, it showed the statue of Saddam Hussein being pulled down in Firdos Square, a grateful Iraqi child kissing an American soldier, and jubilant crowds thronging the streets of newly liberated Baghdad. And above these images, and just below the headline SECRETARY OF DEFENSE, was a quote that may have raised some eyebrows. It came from the Bible, from the book of Psalms: “Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him…To deliver their soul from death.”By the time you see this, there will be dozens of far more intelligent and informed people delineating what a horrible, nationally and religiously narcissistic and ill-conceived idea this was, but it bears repeating. President Bush had already employed the word "crusade" to describe America's counter-terrorism struggles before these briefings were created. That statement and his subsequent division of the world into a Manichaean vision of Good v. Evil, Light v. Dark, Us v. Them shaped the Islamic world's perception of America's policy as inherently a Christian crusade.
This mixing of Crusades-like messaging with war imagery, which until now has not been revealed, had become routine... At least one Muslim analyst in the building had been greatly offended; others privately worried that if these covers were leaked during a war conducted in an Islamic nation, the fallout—as one Pentagon staffer would later say—“would be as bad as Abu Ghraib.”
Meanwhile, the American military command structure fostered an increasing perception of itself as a Christian organization, an "Arsenal of Christianity," utterly exempt from the Establishment Clause. Jeff Sharlet describes the growth of this perception in the excellent "Jesus Killed Mohammed: The crusade for a Christian Military." And while domestically it's important to acknowledge the severe erosion of the military's former agnosticism and its internal hijacking by people determined to defend the constitution by undermining the first amendment, that attitudinal shift has enormous implications internationally.
First of all, we cannot condemn our enemies as irrational for orienting their foreign policy around the divine will of God when we execute our own with a force we consider to be the manifestation of His will. You literally cannot bring people to a reasonable, secular bargaining table by threatening to send them directly to God by bombing the almighty fuck out of them with His instrument. Second, and most critically, we have effectively legitimized the most hysterical rhetoric of radical Islam by casting our own actions in the lights of the same kind of struggle they believe themselves to be in.
That's the damage and the horror of this trite, shitty cover art that Rumsfeld commissioned on a daily basis. To him it was probably a meaningless means to an end: cast the war as a Christian struggle against evil to manipulate his evangelical, emotional, feeble-minded president. But for everyone else in America, it cruelly undermines their safety. Radical Islamists believe that any murder of an infidel, any act of brutal destruction and terror is acceptable in the midst of a Holy Crusade. And while most of the Arab world and all of the west have earnestly said for years, "What you are doing is unreasonable. There is NO Holy War," Don Rumsfeld said, "Golly, sure there is. I even have today's diary entry about it right here."
He did it all to win political points with his boss and ensure his job security. And he apparently did it with what looks like clip art and MSPaint. (More on this below.) It's as if, in wishing to exemplify the banality of evil, Rumsfeld looked at Banality and looked at Evil and told them it was a contest to see which one could be more completely disgusting.
Maybe this is just the way my mind works, but here's what kills me about this, what really delivers final insult to injury: sure, you're already throwing out part of the constitution, undermining our own foreign policy, scrapping secularism and validating the worst rhetoric of our enemies for such shabby and horrid little reasons, but did you have to make the process of doing that look like so much ass? This is exactly the sort of presentation you'd get out of one of the elderly volunteers in my father-in-law's youth outreach center, who still smack the side of the monitor and say things like, "Uh oh! I think this thing's running out of internet. Should I turn it off to fix it?" before hitting the power button on the display only.
Obviously there was as little thought put into this as possible, from high policy down to lowly layout execution. What was that discussion like?
DOD TECH: OK—get THIS. We're gonna use a bunch of quotes from the Bible and put them in Times New Roman.And, really, what was the worst thing that could happen from all this? Maybe, somehow, someone involved in this daily dose of messianic drivel would accidentally leak details of its existence, instantly giving credence to every muslim extremist criticism of American motivation and conduct toward 1.5 billion people and reflexively justifying the prosecution of inhumane terror against 300,000,000 citizens of the United States?
COLONEL: (squinting) I don't know. We're America. Do we really want serifs? We do dressed down. We're a Helvetica kind of people, son. Earthy, not elite. Besides, that Times New Roman—very old europe, ifyaknowhatimean.
DOD TECH: Hang on, hang on. It's gonna be—no, wait for it—in italics.
COLONEL: What? No, son. Just—NO! That's a queer format. Think about it. Letters're all kinda swishy to one side, like. Jesus—just, Jesus Christ.
DOD TECH: You're not hearing me on this. We're doing this Big Picture. See, we do all that and then—BOOM—we add BOLD.
COLONEL: (nodding) Me likee—
DOD TECH: And we're going to CENTER the shit out of everything!
DOD TECH: Very Big Picture-y.
COLONEL: (snaps fingers) America is a center-right country. That's what we like in fonts. See, we got them sumbitches centered, but I guess you could say the italic letters lean right. Yeah, it works.
DOD TECH: That's not all. We're going to make this sophisticated graphically.
COLONEL: Good, good. You're on the same page as me. This is important stuff, son. This is a publication maybe 20 people in the world get to see. What you have had better be good.
DOD TECH: Oh yeah? Watch this. (reaches hand out like Han Solo going for the hyperdrive levers on the Millennium Falcon, clicks on window showing GIS search result for "TANK," drags TANK pic and drops it into Word file)
COLONEL: It's full of stars.
Pffffft. Omelet. Eggs. Big picture, kiddies.
Print that baby!