GEORGE BUSH FEBRUARY 6TH 2003 Actually, He has much less to do with it than many Europeans fear ONLY one thing unsettles George Bush's critics more than the possibility that his foreign policy is secretly driven by greed. That is the possibility that it is secretly driven by God. War for oil would merely be bad. War for God would be catastrophic: the beginning of a "clash of civilisations" that would pit Christians and Jews against Muslims. Is there anything to this? The war-for-God crowd can certainly point to bits of evidence. The current White House is the most religious since Jimmy Carter's days. In his memoirs of his time as a presidential speechwriter, David Frum says that the first words he heard in the Bush White House were "Missed you at Bible Study". Mr Bush, a born-again Christian who turned to God after many years of hard drinking, starts each day kneeling in prayer. Michael Gerson, his main speechwriter, is a master at clothing public policy in religious language. The second piece of evidence is that America, despite a decline in churchgoing, is a much more religious place than Europe, supporting more than 200 Christian television channels and 1,500 Christian radio stations. Religion is particularly important to Mr Bush's party. Republican voters attend church more frequently than Democrats do. Evangelical southerners constitute the praetorian guard of the Republican Party. The third piece of evidence is the scariest: some right-wing Christians seem to be spoiling for a clash of civilisations. Jerry Falwell has called the Prophet Muhammad a "terrorist". He has since apologised, but Pat Robertson, who called him a "wild-eyed fanatic", a "robber" and a "brigand", has not. Franklin Graham, son of Billy, has branded Islam "evil". Many American evangelicals believe that the complete restoration of the nation of Israel is a prerequisite for the Second Coming. Thwarting Ariel Sharon is thus tantamount to thwarting God's master-plan. A born-again president; a highly religious country; a bunch of extremist Republican stormtroopers: doesn't this all add up to a clash of civilisations? The surprising answer is no. John Maynard Keynes once described one of Friedrich von Hayek's books as "an extraordinary example of how, starting with a mistake, a remorseless logician can end up in Bedlam". The war-for-God crowd start with not one mistake but three. The first mistake is to equate the role of religion in America with its role in theocratic societies. Americans often argue about where the line between church and state should be drawn--about whether "faith-based charities" are permissible under the constitution, for example--but nobody really doubts there should be a line. Islam is one of the fastest-growing religions in America. Mr Bush has been careful to visit mosques and invite Muslim leaders to the White House. He has also been careful to make his public speeches as ecumenical as possible, couched in the language of faith in general rather than Christianity in particular. Yes, he once uttered the world "crusade", but that slip of the tongue has not been repeated. Yes, he has chosen to cast America's enemies as "the axis of evil", but some of the sternest proponents of regime change in the Middle East are secular liberals who want to bring the benefits of the Enlightenment to an area repressed by religious orthodoxy. The second mistake is to assume that all religious Americans think alike about foreign policy. In fact, no anti-war protest is complete without a large contingent of religious leaders. The Catholic church, America's biggest, is particularly iffy on this subject (and, incidentally, also on Israel). Even the evangelical community is divided. A bishop in Mr Bush's own denomination, the United Methodist Church, appears in a television commercial arguing that going to war against Iraq "violates God's law and the teachings of Jesus Christ". The third mistake is to equate influence on the margins with influence over essentials. Evangelical Christians have certainly put their stamp on some areas of foreign policy, most notably population control in the developing world. But their influence has been constrained by questions of realpolitik and economic sense. The evangelicals failed dismally in their campaign against granting China its most-favoured-nation trading status. DOWN-TO-EARTH IMPERATIVES Since September 11th America's foreign policy has primarily been driven not by religious passions but by an all-too-earthly fear of three things: terrorist networks, rogue states and highly destructive weapons. The people who steer foreign policy on a day-to-day basis, people like Donald Rumsfeld and Condoleezza Rice, are hard-headed realists: Hobbesians rather than holy rollers. The "visionaries" who have been warning about rogue states for years are not evangelical Christians but sophisticated, secular conservative intellectuals who hang out in Washington think-tanks and write for highbrow magazines. What about Israel? Isn't this one area of foreign policy where America is sacrificing its national interest to the combined might of evangelical Christians and the Israel lobby? The answer here can only be wait and see. In the past, the Republicans have never had any trouble standing up to the Israel lobby when national interest demanded it: remember Ronald Reagan's decision to sell radar systems to Saudi Arabia. The alliance between the evangelicals and supporters of Israel has certainly deepened. But the main reason why most Americans, including Mr Bush, have backed Mr Sharon is surely because the Palestinians made the catastrophic mistake of continuing with suicide bombings in the months after September 11th. So Mr Bush is not on a crusade. Yet the fact that he has frightened non-Americans in this way is not helpful to his cause. Religious rhetoric may stir the nation, but Mr Bush's words carry much further. America's squabble is with terrorism rather than Islam. He should keep saying that as often as possible.