Just as the Soviet Union was dedicated to spreading communism, so the United States has always been committed to spreading democratism. The Bush administration's approach to the subject has been as exuberant as it is hollow. I was forcefully reminded of this at a recent off-the-record
briefing at a Washington think-tank, given by two senior officials of the Bush administration. The subject was the Greater Middle East Initiative, devoted to bringing democratism to that region.
The first official was a mild, academic-looking figure who peered benignly over his spectacles: one of the few senior hold-overs from the Clinton administration. When I first met him eight years ago, he was full of Clintonesque bounce. Now he had a broken, sad look about him, and had developed a pronounced twitch on one side of his face.
One reason for his deterioration on this occasion was probably his neighbour: a formidable-looking individual, thickset, balding, muscular and with a pronounced look of barely suppressed ruthlessness. He bore a strong physical resemblance to Tony Soprano.
Here is a literary interpretation of the event in question:
Professor: "This administration looks forward to working closely with our European allies in a spirit of full consultation to promote the principles of democratism in the Middle East."
Question from the audience: "So does this mean that the US will be prepared to change some of its policies in the region in accordance with European wishes?"
Professor: "Well, I . . ."
Don Antonio: "Fuhgeddabadit."
Professor: "And, of course, in discussions with Arab governments and intellectuals about how to bring democratistic civilisation to the Middle East, we are anxious to stress our deep respect for Islam and for the views of the unfortunate benighted savages who belong to that religion."
Question from the audience: "So will the US actually listen to what Arabs are saying about US policies?"
Professor: "I'm sure that . . ."
Don Antonio: "In your dreams, bub. Say, consigliere, we don' have to lissen to this crap. You call the boys and tell them to deal with these wiseguys, OK?"
President Bush, as we know from the third presidential debate, believes that he has only one consigliere, namely God himself - which can only mean that the Almighty has chosen to return to earth in the somewhat surprising form of Vice-President Dick Cheney, with Karl Rove playing the Holy Ghost in the American governing machine. Given the nature of this particular Trinity, readers may be glad to know that, in the view of some of Bush's chief supporters on the Christian right, God does not in fact decide everything that happens on earth. In the Rapture series of apocalyptic novels by the Christian fundamentalist leader Tim LaHaye, as the final days approach, God hands over control of the weather to Satan.
This series had such a powerful effect on me that I had to give it up after the first volume. The bit about the weather comes in a later episode, and was revealed to me in a piece on the hardline fundamentalist website of Biblical Discernment Ministries. The website attacks LaHaye for heresy. One of its charges is that, according to the Bible, God alone is responsible for the weather. Another is that LaHaye, like Moses, is too merciful to humanity for God's taste, in claiming that large numbers of relatives and friends of Christians are saved. The Bible never offers such hope: II Thess 2 plainly states that those left behind who have rejected the truth will not be saved. Given the company in these people's idea of heaven, this is really rather a relief. In his fascinating book on the apocalyptic tradition in America, When Time Shall Be No More, Paul Boyer wrote that, after several years researching the field, he felt he should set down his conclusions "while still of comparatively sound mind".
I feel a bit the same way myself.
Anatol Lieven's latest book, America Right or Wrong: an anatomy of American nationalism, is published by HarperCollins