From cowboy to evangelist

This piece by Ben Macintyre of the Times of London reports that President Bush is drawing inspiration from the words of Oswald Chambers, a Scottish evangelist who died while serving as an army chaplain in Egypt in 1917. As Macintrye notes, World War I shapes our consciousness of war itself, and the literature from that conflict resonates almost a century later. Thus, it is not unusual that such literature resonates with Bush. But Macintyre finds it telling that Bush draws on the work of an uncompromising evangelist — as opposed to the “inspired ironies” of Siegfried Sassoon and Robert Graves or the “poignant, painful questioning” of Wilfred Owen.
Macintyre is probably correct up to a point. However, he pushes his insight too far, I think, when he claims that Bush’s spirituality is “central to explaining the disquiet of nations embedded in secular political traditions, most notably France.” French opposition is based on its perceived self-interest. It is possible that talk of “evil” makes the French marginally more uncomfortable, but this has nothing to do with religion. French reaction would be the same if the word “evil” were being used by Ronald Reagan. And the French would be experiencing no “disquiet” if the U.S. were taking a religiously-based pacifist stance under Jimmy Carter. They would merely be amused.
Macintrye also errs when he suggests that Bush has let considerations of faith influence a decision that should be based on rational, humanitarian and geopolitical grounds. The fact that Bush is following different policies towards the three members of the axis of evil strongly suggests that his decision-making is based entirely on rational grounds. However, I expect to see some of Bush’s critics here at home adopt Macintyre’s theme (a more sophisticated version of the “cowboy” theory), if they have not done so already

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