Bible Commentator


Rabbi Moshe Reiss

Two Bushes are Better than One or The Lemon Did Not Fall Near the Tree.

Before proceeding to Part II of my essay on ‘Anti-Semitism and Anti-Americanism’ for which I am committed (see the February 17 article) I think it worth while discussing the Bushes.

Recent analysis has compared the two President Bushes policies. The first Bush administration’s policies have been called ‘Traditionalist’ while the second Bush administration’s policies have been ‘Transformationalists’.  

Bush pere is represented first by Brent Scowcroft, former General and former Director of the National Security Council (NSC), and mentor of Dr. Condoleezza Rice. He is co-author of the memoirs of Bush pere and opponent of Bush fils in the war in Iraq. Secondly is Colin Powell, former General and former Director of the NSC and during the Bush fils administration former Secretary of State, who resigned. Before the war he suggested to Bush fils that invading Iraq would result in owning it and being be required to pay for fixing it. These policy analysts and experts have been named as the ‘Traditionalists’.

The Bush fils group is represented by three men: Vice President Dick Cheney (no one apparently calls him by his Christian name Richard), former Chief of Staff of the unelected President Gerald Ford, Congressman elected five times (his state Wyoming is so small it has more Senators that  Congressmen), Secretary of Defense for Bush pere, awardee of the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Bush pere, and CEO of the reconstruction corporation active in Iraq named Halbitron. He has the largest national security staff of any previous Vice President and of most previous Presidents – his Chief of Staff Lewis ‘Scooter’ Libby is considered the equivalent of an Assistant to the President and the Director of the NSC. Cheney, not ‘Scooter’, has been referred to as an 800 pound gorilla. Cheney is also known for his humor; he noted that his friend Don Rumsfeld has not made any progress in thirty years still being Secretary of Defense. We do not know whether he thought it was humorous when James Fallows suggesting before the war that America consider inviting Iraq to become the fifty first state (in the Atlantic Monthly, November 2002). According to the New York Times he is being considered as the Master of Ceremony to the 2006 Oscars (March 7, 2005).

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld Secretary of Defense twice, the first time by the same unelected President noted above (both possibly American records), Special Envoy to the Middle East (during that mission America escaped from Lebanon), awardee of the Presidential Medal of Freedom by the same unelected President for which he was also Chief of Staff,  U.S. Ambassador to N.A.T.O., Congressman elected four times, Director of the Economic Stabilization Program, Chairperson of the U.S. Ballistic Missile Threat Commission and C.E.O. of two Fortune 500 companies.

And last and apparently least Dr. Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of State, former Director of NSC (the formal title is Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs - this President during her term as director of the NSC, in fact lost his election but was nonetheless inaugurated as President) and Provost of Stanford University. This group has been named as the ‘Transformationalists’.  

(I have used the terms ‘pere’ and ‘fils’ for father and son respectively and could have used the Americanism Senior and Junior respectively, but the French seemed more elegant. Using the more usual initial “H.” to distinguish the two Bushes always seemed confusing to this author and he is a natural English speaker. Since the French and Americans are in disagreement over the very issue discussed here perhaps using the French can be considered the beginning of a Peace process. (I will discuss the policy differences shortly.) That the Americans and the French are talking the same talk about Lebanon regarding Syria is almost a miracle. What could be next – Palestine or Iraq? I do not actually think the problems of either the Palestinians or Iraqis are sufficiently appreciated by the French. The Lebanese are not French but enough of them speak French, despite with a funny accent, to impress President Jacques Chirac. These Lebanese French speakers do not include the significant Shit’ite minority, perhaps 40% of the population – neither those affiliated with Hizbollah; the terrorist organization that favor Syria and the largest party in the Lebanese Parliament nor those affiliated with Amal, the non-Terrorist organization that does not favor Syria. The French speakers in Lebanon are like those from Montreal who also speak with a funny accent and were previously favored by President and General Charles De Gaulle. My son you lived in Paris and Montreal and speaks Parisian French and Montreal French fluently (but not the Lebanese kind) has told me that the French Montreal language, especially in regards to baseball terminology [there was a baseball team when he lived there – the Montreal Expos] was truly hilarious.)

Since I am a theologian rather than a political scientist I would call the ‘Traditionalists’ the party of the High Priesthood. The High Priest’s function was to teach and continue the tradition. The political traditionalists believe their function as Foreign Policy experts was to continue the previous policy assuming it was working.

The ‘Transformationalists’ believe their function is to transform policy – to transform the tradition. Strangely enough they also call themselves Conservatives of unique type called ‘neo’. According to Irwin Stelzer in a recent book entitled ‘The Neo-con Reader’ this may a ‘movement’, a ‘persuasion’, a ‘school of thought’, a ‘strain of thought’, or an ‘attitude’; but not a religion; confusing to a theologian. The ‘Transformationalists’ position is equivalent to the position of Prophet in theological terms. The Prophet rejected the existing tradition, ‘knowing’ it to be sinful and created a new one. Some claimed the prophet was returning to an older tradition rejected only the current variation. Changing the tradition was then and now dangerous. That is why, as we all now, Prophets died before their time, often assassinated. I once claimed they were killed by the god of mercy, due to their changes being by themselves very dangerous to the people.

My colleague Robert A. Juhl, another ‘Speaking Freely’ correspondent helped my understanding by asking whether Bush fil was a dimwitted ‘Bumpkin’ or a ‘competent strategist’? His conclusion is that it is the ‘neo-cons’ who are the ‘Bumpkins. Bush fil captured them for his own purposes. It is neither interesting nor surprising that Dr. Condoleezza Rice felt that Bush fil ‘is more strategic than any other president I have dealt with’.  She may believe that his strategizing comes from a ‘higher power’. As a theologian I, of course have significant problems with that concept. Apparently General Scowcroft, not a theologian; stated there is a problem with those beliefs ‘they can get you into traps in which the ends justify the means’. He stated further that ‘if you believe you are pursuing absolute good then it is a sin to depart from it’. Perhaps the General is a secret theologian. Is Bush fil a ‘true’ prophet or a ‘false’ prophet (see more on that distinction in a moment)? There is one inconsistency in Condoleezza’s references to Bush fil, she stated to her staff that ‘your first responsibility is to staff the president. If that means the president got a paper and he wanted it in 12-point type and it is in 10-point type, it’s your job to go fix that.’ That would appear to be a Freudian slip. (I find it difficult to refer to this very wise person with a Ph.D. whom I do not personally know as ‘Condy’ as everyone seems to do.) (All the above quotes from Scowcroft and Condoleezza are from David J. Rothkopf, March-April 2005, Foreign Policy.)

As a theologian I am reminded of the snake who tempted Eve towards the infamous Tree in the famous Garden.

The danger with Prophets is that they seek change and start or end with a Judgment Day and that always becomes the Apocalypse. Apocalypses for those who have seen the movie are not fun to the participantees, although if one believes Robert Duvall (the one with the cowboy hat in the movie) it is fun to the participants. Why Prophets, those who radically want to change the world, always start out by joining the Culture of Death and bringing Earth into Heaven as immediately as is possible is unclear, perhaps it is genetic?

Some would claim that Prophets may be heretics if they turn out to be false Prophets. Unfortunately whether they were true or false Prophets can only be determined after the fact. In the olden of days the Prophet Jeremiah conflicted with a Prophet named Hananiah. When both were alive there was no way to determine who was the ‘True’ Prophet and who was the ‘False’ Prophet. The prophet Hananiah died only a couple of months after debating the prophet Jeremiah.  That made it obvious that Jeremiah was the ‘True’ Prophet and Hananiah was the ‘False’ Prophet. There are, in theory, other ways to determine truth and falsity, but not as dramatic as in that Old Testament story (Jeremiah chapter 28).

Dr.  Henry Kissinger a former Harvard Professor, former Director of the NSC and former Secretary of State (to the only President of the United States to have resigned under fire) and Consultant since his retirement decades ago, was the mentor of all the above (except Jeremiah and Bush fil). His disciples created both positions, the ‘Traditionalists’ and the ‘Transformationalists’; given the context he is almost god-like.

It is not surprising that the ‘Transformationalists’ are more often  than not Secretaries of Defense, like Secretary Rumsfeld, twice who was also Chairman of the U.S. Ballistic Missile Threat Commission and Dick Cheney another former Secretary of Defense. Can anyone imagine either of them as High Priests? They are always white men though not necessarily WASP’s. Is it surprising that both of the representatives of the ‘Traditionalists’, Scowcroft and Powell (the latter also known as ‘bullet proof’) were former American Generals. Generals are familiar and knowledgably with war and its aftermath – death? These Generals did not just lead men to death but were planners, planning an apocalypse, even if a local one. They understood.

The ‘Traditionalists’ are more often Secretaries of State (Foreign Affairs in more elegant English). The last three American Secretaries of State were: Madeleine Albright not only the first woman to hold that position but a half Jew who seemingly did not know of her Jewish roots before accepting that position; Colin Powell, an African American, and Condoleezza Rice, an Hispanic Women. Women and people of color having more often experienced discrimination may be more sensitive to others pain. Could these be thought as High Priests?  (The idea that a High Priest could be a women or person of color is particularly appealing to those of us in favor of liberty.)  Sometimes however they become aggressive as a defense reaction to their sensitivity. Some (although not I) have claimed that Jews followed the shepherd-prophet into the apocalypse of Auschwitz. Some further claim that Israeli’s have reacted with a warrior-like David syndrome aggressively.  

The position of Director of the National Security Council is more ambiguous. (Recall that both Generals Scowcroft and Powell were Director’s of the NSC). Whose security are we concerned with? In my country of residence it means protection against suicide bombers. In America, my birthplace it may have a more aggressive personality. Let us not forget that Col. Oliver North worked for the NSC. Condoleezza is regularly and consistently known as an unofficial member of the Bush fil’s family. The NSC (although no longer Condoleezza) are  ‘infallible’; there are no constitutional limits to its power, its members including critically its Director are not approved by the Senate, in fact are not required to answer congressional questions.

It might be worth reviewing and contrasting a European, particularly a French perspective on the ‘Transformationalists’ position. A French analyst suggested five area of difference: Containment which worked for the cold war as against regime change; second regime change in fact was negative to the war against terror; third Americans are not spreading justice when they allow poverty, inequality and the degradation of the ecosystem; fourth human rights have been lost in several ways – relying on authoritarian states like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, the use of Guantanamo as a prison camp outside of American constitutional rules and the horrific events in Abu Ghraib; and finally did the messenger – war- not destroy the message (Justin Vaisse in Brookings Institute March 7, 2005).

Historians and Theologians know of the ‘Law of Unintended Results’. Not being a Prophet, despite my namesake  (not even liking them for there Unintended and perhaps even Intended Results) I cannot predict what would have happened to the Bush fils’ concept of Foreign Policy had Osama not arranged for September 11, except that it would have been different. (The same is true if the Bush pere administration had not had to face Saddam and his occupation of Kuwait.) However we can see the Unintended Results: Afghanistan has had elections, Iraq has had elections, Saudi Arabia has had what they consider elections, Egypt has announced what they intend to consider an election (according to Tamara Cofman Wittes Mubarak will remain the Pharaoh with his son as heir apparent – she even compared Mubarak to Gerry Ford, America’s unelected President – Brookings Institute, March 7, 2005), Lebanon may soon be free of Syria and Libya gave up its WMD’s. It is difficult to place the elections in Palestine as part of these Unintended Results (although many in fact have) unless one claims that the invasion of Iraq and the defeat of Yassar Arafat’s friend and ally Saddam Hussein contributed to Arafat’s death through shock.

How would America and Israel react to democracy breaking out all over - in Lebanon, Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Jordan? American experts in the State Department personnel worry about states spinning out of control. At best Israel might react by having a relationship with these new democracies similar to that of the French American relationship. They will consider that if Syria has a bloodless revolution (an Orange-Green one) or even a blood filled revolution but afterwards refrains from supporting Hamas and the Islamic Jihad and shipping missiles to Hizbollah in a positive light. To a theologian if peace were to break out all over – not the same as democracy – this would be a reverse apocalypse.

What is clear is that whoever named the ‘Traditionalists’ and the ‘Transformationalists’ was both logically as well as theologically correct.