As Bush's War Strategy Shifts to Iran, Christian Zionists Gear Up for the Apocalypse

Christian Zionists are dancing the hora in San Antonio. Armageddon appears to be at hand.

As George W. Bush sets his sights on Iran, even Republicans are wondering how to constitutionally contain the trigger-happy king. But for an influential group of Christian fundamentalists -- White House allies that garner not only feel-good meetings with the President's liaisons to the "faith-based" community but also serious discussions with Bush's national security staff -- an attack on Iran is just what God ordered.

Biblical literalists, convened together through San Antonio megapastor John Hagee's Christians United for Israel (CUFI), are now seeing the fruits of their yearlong campaign to convince the Bush administration to attack Iran.

Hagee came to Washington last summer on the warpath, and many Republicans -- and even a few Democrats -- welcomed him as an alleged supporter of Israel. More than 3,500 CUFI members fanned out across the Capitol to meet with their congressional delegations. Televangelist power brokers, like rising star Rod Parsley of Ohio, who serve as directors of CUFI, now proudly display photographs of their meetings with senators, brows furrowed over the seriousness of the task at hand. But probably Hagee's most important meeting was smaller and not public, at the White House with deputy national security adviser and Iran Contra player Elliott Abrams.

Did the two men talk dispensationalism or diplomacy? That the president's top national security advisor on Middle East policy met with the popular author of a best-selling book that claims that God requires a war with Iran demonstrates just how intensely politics trumps policy (and human lives) for this unhinged administration. Emboldened, Hagee returned to San Antonio fretting that "most Americans are simply not aware that the battle for Western Civilization is engaged" and "don't want to believe that Iran would use nuclear weapons against mighty America. They will!" As the bloody fighting between Israel and Hezbollah raged last August, Hagee organized a grassroots lobbying campaign to blitz the White House switchboard with callers opposed to a cease-fire. Members were urged to call the White House to "congratulate" Bush on using the term "Islamofascists" and on his "moral clarity."

Armed with blood-red rhetoric and the hubris of the politically connected, Hagee filled his 5,000-seat church for a weekend-long event culminating in his Night to Honor Israel in October. To an eager audience preparing for the end times, analogies to Hitler and denouncement of "appeasement" were flying. Anti-Muslim rhetoric was at a fevered pitch. All of it was dressed up as love and benevolence for God's chosen people. But what masqueraded as Biblically mandated generosity toward the Jews was nothing more than a political rally for a war not just against Iran, but against Islam, and for the dominance of Christianity (Hagee's brand, of course).

By the end of the year, Hagee was warning his followers that Iran was "reloading for the next war," claiming that he had "reason to believe that Iran will face a military preemptive strike from Israel to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons," and denouncing the Iraq Study Group as "anti-Israel." Although he had spent nearly a year claiming that Iran intended to destroy Israel, Hagee, in rejecting the ISG's recommendation to diplomatically engage Iran, fumed, "America's problems with Iran have nothing to do with Israel. Iran's president has said he intends to use nuclear weapons against the United States of America. My father's generation would have considered this statement a declaration of war and bombed Iran by this time."

Bush knows Hagee's minions are locked and loaded for a war to end not only all wars, but the world. He might have already signed a secret executive order authorizing military action against Iran. But last week Bush nonetheless lamely tried to bring the rest of the country on board with his tried (but by no means true) device of uttering the words "Iran," "nuclear weapons" and "9/11" in the same breath.

His saber rattling won't work for the majority of Americans outraged by his conduct of the Iraq war and opposed to its escalation. But for his listeners gearing up for the end times -- a segment of American evangelicals increasingly united around this issue -- Bush fired up the grandiose rhetoric of a final showdown: "The challenge playing out across the broader Middle East is more than a military conflict. It is the decisive ideological struggle of our time."

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