The fear of God

PUBLISHED : Monday, 08 November, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 08 November, 2004, 12:00am

This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience ...Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications ... In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

- Dwight D. Eisenhower, farewell address when leaving the US presidency on January 17, 1961.

The menace foreseen by former US president Dwight Eisenhower of an unchecked military, and a supporting cast of industrial suppliers that profit from its wars, realised its fullest flowering during the first term served by the current incumbent of the White House, George W. Bush.

Granted a second term last week by an electorate that now has the government it deserves - having voted for Al Gore the first time around but getting Mr Bush instead - the military-industrial complex that frightened Eisenhower into his famous caution can now look forward to another four years in which to continue drawing the blank cheques written by the Bush administration.

With the election out of the way it will waste no time doing just that.

Undisclosed to voters ahead of last week's poll, were the details and scope of an emergency funding bill due from the Bush administration early next year.

But according to well-sourced forecasts from the Washington Post, at least a further US$70 billion will be sought early in the new year to continue prosecuting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that have failed to deliver their intended results - the capture or killing of Osama bin Laden and his fellow al-Qaeda leaders responsible for the terror strike in New York on September 11, 2001; and the discovery and elimination of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

The new round of funding will raise total war costs to date to about US$225 billion and counting - more than half of the record US$442 billion federal budget deficit rung up to date by the Bush administration. It may be instructive to consider what alternative uses that money might have been put to, in order to remedy poverty and disadvantage that ultimately lies behind much of the conflict wracking the world today.

When Mr Bush took office in January 2001, he inherited a record surplus for the fiscal year to end-September projected at US$313 billion. Based on the budget settings current at the time, that surplus was forecast to grow to US$5.6 trillion by 2011.

A combination of tax cuts for the wealthy, the veto-free passage of every spending bill presented to his administration, and an explosive growth in military spending, turned those surpluses around into a record US$415 billion deficit for the year ended September 30, and a forecast deficit of US$3 trillion by 2011.

The tax cuts, according to a study by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, were almost entirely aimed at the wealthy. The top one per cent of income earners, according to the study released in August this year, would receive average tax cuts of US$78,460 in 2004, versus a tax break of US$1,090 for those in the middle 20 per cent of earners, or averaging incomes of about US$57,000 a year.

So why did a majority of voters who were grossly misled about the purpose or the value of two costly wars, and who were grossly disadvantaged by Mr Bush's tax cuts and will now have to pay, one way or another, for the resulting deficits, turn out in force to vote him a second term?

The answer is, of course, religion. About eight in 10 adult Americans declare they are Christians, and a quarter describe themselves as evangelical Protestants. In an ABC News Primetime poll conducted in February, six in 10 respondents said they believed the world was created in seven days, Moses literally parted the Red Sea, and Noah's Ark was no fable intended as a moral lesson, but the literal truth.

Exit polls conducted during the election indicated that, for 21 per cent of voters, what passed in their lexicon for moral values provided the decisive factors on which they based their votes. And they voted 4-1 for Mr Bush.

Mobilised from the moment he moved into the White House in 2001, and by carefully chosen cues that followed September 11, 2001, the religious right turned out in force to vote back into power a president who famously spoke before the first bombs fell in Iraq shortly after midnight on March 20, last year, of leading a 'crusade' against evil. He was a commander-in-chief who presided over a military whose generals spoke openly of waging a 'Christian battle against Satan' (top-ranking intelligence officer, Lieutenant-General William Boykin); and a self-declared born-again believer who unashamedly cajoled preachers during his presidential re-election campaign into uniting their flock behind his moral crusade of good versus evil.

That was an invitation to electioneering shamelessly and effectively embraced by churchmen of all persuasions, unbaffled by the failure of the Bush administration to produce any evidence to support its claims that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction - or that he had a hand in the terror strike in New York.

Bishops of the US Catholic Church, itself mired in numerous cases of gross sexual abuse by its ministers against minors in their care, warned voters that support for Democrat candidate John Kerry would amount to a sin, requiring confession, since Mr Kerry supported abortion. None of this was accidental. The religious right that George W. Bush rode into power was courted from his very first days in office. On January 29, 2001, the first executive order signed by the new president was to establish a 'White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives'.

No clearer statement could have been made that church and state, under the present US administration, would remain indivisible. The world has had a foretaste in George Bush's first term of the 'disastrous rise of misplaced power' that the religious right, along with US generals, have brought to bear on decision-making in the White House.