In 2006, at the mid-point of President George W. Bush’s second term, historian Andrew Preston wrote in Diplomatic History, 30, no. 5:
With the eruption of global hostilities between two universalistic, mutually exclusive ideologies, the president of the United States sought to rally Americans, and people around the world, to the cause of spreading freedom and democracy. What was most striking about his rhetoric was its explicit grounding in religious dogma and imagery. “The defense of mankind against these attacks,” the president told an audience at the onset of the crisis, “lies in the faith we profess – the brotherhood of man and the Fatherhood of God.” “Democracy,” he proclaimed three years later in the midst of an increasingly unpopular, stalemated war, “is first and foremost a spiritual force.” At a subsequent occasion, he warned against complacency because “we are under tremendous attacks” and stressed that Americans must remain vigilant and “establish the fervor, the strength of our convictions, because fundamentally Democracy is nothing in the world but a spiritual conviction, a conviction that each of us is enormously valuable because of a certain standing before our own God.” Finally, later still, when it was clear that the global struggle would last years, if not decades, the president informed the American people that although he had “sworn before you and Almighty God the same oath our forebears prescribed” in the eighteenth century, “the same revolutionary beliefs that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state but from the hand of God.”
These are familiar words of the collective post-9/11 sensibility. Yet they come not from the speeches of George W. Bush on terrorism and Iraq, but from the Cold War rhetoric of Presidents Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and John F. Kennedy….
With its clever introduction, Preston’s article acknowledges the importance of religion in forming and justifying American foreign policy. The statements of both Democrat and Republican presidents, throughout American history, provide ample evidence of the relevance of Christianity in political discourse and action. Bush was hardly unique in linking Christian rhetoric and governance.
As an American foreign policy historian and Bible-believing Christian, I found the intense criticism of and opposition to President George W. Bush’s proposed visit to a breakfast event organized to increase the profile of Tyndale puzzling. Who were these people who opposed any Bush-Tyndale connection? Do people who think of themselves as educated on matters of religion and politics truly believe that Bush is unique among presidents on issues of foreign policy and national security? What are their sources of information for understanding the decisions and action of American governments since the late 18th century? How much reading have they done of peer-reviewed scholarship on US foreign policy history?
Following the line of thinking of the small number of left-leaning individuals who were players in the Bush breakfast cancellation, are we to view the majority of American leaders, past and present, as virtual war criminals? Of course, most fair-minded people see this as nonsense. I encourage those who are truly serious about speaking intelligently on US foreign policy or an American president to find any academic monograph covering these topics and randomly select 50 scholarly titles from the bibliography. The reading will take earnest commitment, but the rewards that come from sensible criticism will be substantial.