National Commentary

Nicholas F. Benton: Bush the Idealist Ignores the NIE

The rush to explain the genesis and process that led to the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s nuclear program, released this week and a major embarrassment to the Bush administration, needs more time to become clear. This development constitutes an intervention of the first degree against an otherwise inevitable cascade toward war. Whole chapters of future history books may eventually be dedicated to it.

The NIE’s conclusion that Iran has not worked on building a nuclear weapon in four years conforms with findings resulting from the exhaustive efforts by representatives of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Iran, who’ve stated publicly that their work has been made more urgent by the need felt to prevent another U.S. military invasion.

Still, it should come as no surprise that President Bush has tried his best in the last couple days to ensure that the NIE will not deter, or even stall, his grimly-determined push for war. He is now telling us that Iran’s mere knowledge of how to build a nuclear weapon is grounds for launching World War III.

To those of us who’ve not lost sight of the internal map governing this president’s actions in all his days since rehab, when he alluded to another world war earlier this fall, it was probably associated for him with some special kind of tingle in his tummy. Someone has convinced him that his ultimate legacy is to be the man who led America through the successful prosecution of Armageddon.

One can catch a glimpse of the kind of thinking fueling his messianic delusions in the book, Heroic Conservatism, by his former speechwriter and confidant Michael J. Gerson, now a Washington Post columnist.

Gerson exposes himself as an “idealist” in the book, and this defines everything in it, including an amazingly contemptible defense of the invasion and occupation of Iraq. This same “idealist” worldview can be extended to explain Bush and the neo-conservative movement, more generally.

To Gerson, there are only two worldviews: idealism and cynicism, also identifiable as truth versus skepticism. To him, the goal of U.S. policy should be to “inaugurate an era of idealism.”

Of course, Democrats (and some Republicans) are cynics and skeptics in his oddball mental world, terms that have often been used in the struggles of civilization to emerge from the Dark Age as synonyms for reality and science. To be realistic is to be a cynic and to be scientific is to be a skeptic.

The idealist operates in a kind of la-la land that can’t be bothered with any realistic contradiction to its constructs. That’s why the idealist will cling to something like a literalist interpretation of the Bible, or at least a notion that if the Bible isn’t 100%, word-for-word, on the money, at least it is the divine Word of God when it comes to important matters.

For them, the really important matters don’t involve killing, wars or aggression, but things that undermine the established order, an order that has the male-dominated nuclear family at the bottom and a privileged ruling elite at the top. Give women true autonomy, or children the right to deviate from being girls in the nursery and boys on the battlefield, and to them this is apostasy in the extreme, the core of their passions against abortion and homosexuality, among other things.

Reality is filtered through the rose-colored glasses of the idealist, who throws some money at the AIDS problem in Africa then goes over there to bask in the glory of some colorfully-attired dancing children, as Gerson did. He didn’t see the tragic ineffectiveness of the effort, as AIDS workers on the ground have described, due to a pervasive sense of hopelessness that has gripped so many on that continent, the result of centuries of natural resource looting and infrastructure depravation by Gerson’s imperialist friends.

As a seminarian, I studied idealism as a philosophy in depth, and found it at the time to be the most arrogant, non-grounded, and morally-bankrupt worldview among all I examined. No surprise then that we find it now so closely associated with a White House that will ignore the latest NIE, and will, indeed, march us forth to the final conflagration.