Gerson also complained that Douthat unfairly accused President George W. Bush of a “divisive public piety,” while also labeling the Iraq War as “messianic nationalism,” which Gerson called “nonsense.” That war was a “prudential calculation” about removing a mass murderer, Gerson countered.
Whatever else was behind the decision to invade Iraq, the war was most certainly sold to the public using explicitly religious and nationalist language. Whether he actually believed it or not, Bush presented the coming war in terms of America’s divinely-appointed liberalizing mission. If that isn’t “messianic nationalism,” it is something very similar. Bush was certainly guilty of preaching some form of American nationalist heresy during his time in office. Gerson ought to remember this, since he was helping to craft Bush’s public statements during much of that time.
This is how Bush concluded his State of the Union address two months before the invasion of Iraq:
And we go forward with confidence, because this call of history has come to the right country. Americans are a resolute people who have risen to every test of our time. Adversity has revealed the character of our country, to the world and to ourselves. America is a strong nation, and honorable in the use of our strength. We exercise power without conquest, and we sacrifice for the liberty of strangers. Americans are a free people, who know that freedom is the right of every person and the future of every nation. The liberty we prize is not America’s gift to the world, it is God’s gift to humanity.
Bush was pretty clearly claiming that the U.S. would be doing God’s will by unnecessarily and illegally invading Iraq. (Earlier sections of the address are even worse when Bush incredibly claims that the coming war was going to be “forced” on the U.S.) The invasion would have been an outrageous crime and the Iraq war would have been unjust in any case, but we shouldn’t forget the warped religious rhetoric that was used to justify it.