09/24/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Of Bush's Iraq Delusion and Obama's Dilemma

As if non-existent weapons of mass destruction, a bogus link between Saddam Hussein and 9/11, Halliburton's bottom lines, and "he tried to kill my dad" weren't bad enough reasons for invading Iraq, now comes the revelation that Old Testament luminaries Gog and Magog also helped George Bush justify the war. In 2003, Bush told French President Chirac that Gog and Magog were operating in not-so-covert fashion throughout the Middle East and that it was incumbent upon Bush -- with France's help -- to oppose them. This story has been circulating for a couple of years under the media's radar (lots of room under the media's radar!), but has recently been more widely publicized after the story appeared in Chirac's memoirs, published earlier this year. Reportedly, Chirac was bewildered by Bush's fanaticism and superficiality, which in turn led to the genesis of "freedom fries" once France refused to join the tag team.

This amazing story poses a dilemma for President Obama. Politically-based lies, however destructive, are part of the game. But once Gog and Magog stomp into the mix, the game changes. These are two of the scariest names in the entire Bible! Alone they don't do much: "Hello, I'm Magog and I'll be your waitperson tonight" isn't bad, even a little effete. Together, though, Gog and Magog resound with the authority of a trochaic dimeter, the four hard "Gs" clanging like metal weapons, the "Ma-" sound radiating forth with mantric authority. Gog and Magog. True to their names, they are serious Biblical bad-asses. How bad? Bad enough to scare the former "most powerful man in the world".

Specifically, Bush told Chirac that "Gog and Magog are at work throughout the Middle East...This confrontation is willed by God, who wants to use this conflict to erase his people's enemies before a New Age begins". I wonder which intelligence source got the first photos of Gog and Magog at work? According to the Bible, it shouldn't have been difficult to spot them.

Ezekial, Chapter 38, begins with the prophecy that God will wipe the floor with "Gog, of the land of Magog" when Gog invades Israel with a great host. The connection to the modern Middle East was not Bush's alone - it is a staple of fundamentalist screeds, even down to identifying Gog's lands of Rosh, Meschech, and Tubal with Russia, Moscow and Tibilisi. In Chapter 39, the Lord trash-talks right up in Gog's face: "I will smite thy bow out of thy left hand...I will give thee unto the ravenous birds..."

By the time of the Revelation of John of Patmos, the last book in the New Testament, Gog and Magog are not just a local problem but global, and are identified explicitly with Satan. Their armies will gather from "the four quarters of the earth" and of course, they will be "devoured" by God's own fire.

Well, there you have it -- a perfect blueprint for conducting foreign policy. Historical and literary merits aside, Gog and Magog are taken quite literally as prophecy by modern fundamentalists. It does amaze me that Bush actually thought citing Gog and Magog to Chirac was a deal-clincher. We do know that Donald Rumsfeld constantly fed Bush Biblical passages to stoke his commitment to the war, and that he intended this as psychological manipulation, not merely scriptural inspiration. Amazing! In 2003, the President of the United States saw himself as God's anointed, chosen to do battle against Gog and Magog and the minions of Satan. In other words, all the deaths, destruction, environmental degradation, blows to the U.S. economy, corruption, tearing apart of families in Iraq and our own country -- all was fueled by a demented vision of the world and buttressed by Biblical passages that some of us, at least, believe may be outdated as guides to current events.

So why is this a dilemma for President Obama? Because we are still wallowing in Bush's mire, and we might well be forgiven for doubting whether the President will ever get us out of Iraq, much less Afghanistan, despite his pledge to have all but 50,000 troops out by September, 2010 and everyone home by December, 2011. One of Bush's legacies is the placement of religious fanatics throughout the Pentagon, not only in positions of top command, but among those \rising through the ranks for years to come. Bush did not operate in a vacuum, other than the one between his ears. The religious milieu that stoked his fires has enormous financial and political resources. It is not unlikely that within the Pentagon and other key U.S. agencies, the spectres of Gog and Magog still stalk, along with the conviction that we are divinely pledged to wage war against them.

If back-room interests helped propel us into war, their calculations are still current. The United States has dozens of bases in Iraq, many of them "permanent", including the Green Zone, home to the biggest, baddest, most expensive embassy in the world. In the era of peak oil, the oil wars are not going away; very likely they will be joined by Mid-East water wars. Oil and water. Not quite the ring of "Gog and Magog" but dangerous nonetheless. Add in the President's lack of support among Congressional Democrats, the impact of returning soldiers on unemployment, a fanatical military faction, etc., and the prospects for leaving Iraq soon do not seem so promising.

But now we know that one of the war's supporting pillars is a religious vision that at best is delusional and at worst cynical manipulation by the handlers of a mentally unstable president (Bush Jr.). One cannot pursue a policy based on such impulses without calling it to accounts and re-examining every assumption upon which it rests. And at any time, an outbreak of violence, a major failure of the Iraqi government, or a collapse of our Afghan policy could delay our withdrawal.

We've wrecked Iraq and destabilized the Middle East as efficiently as Gog and Magog could have wished, and still President Obama evokes images of Iraq and Afghanistan becoming self-secured, cohesive nations with our continued intervention. The longer President Obama avoids confronting the perverse legacy of the war, the more distorted will be our decisions, the more fruitless our strategy. At some point, he has to stop playing the cautious politician and take a stand against policies rooted in the absolutist, fatalistic, apocalyptic, end-of-the-world belief system embraced by our previous president. A good start would be prosecuting those responsible for the Bush/Cheney torture policies. The President might also tell American people that our current situation is not simply a political problem with palatable solutions, but a serious threat to our own national interests that require dramatic policy reversals. Until President Obama redefines the premises that led us to war, he is in danger of following the same delusional road that George Bush blazed in his self-envisioned pursuit of Gog and Magog.