May 13, 2004 

by Joe Sobran

     Once you've killed a certain number of people, even 
with the best will in the world, it becomes awkward to 
make the cheerful admission, "I goofed." Halfway through 
his river of blood, Macbeth reflects that going back 
would be as tedious as going all the way across. 
Actually, it turns out that he hasn't even gone halfway 

     This is why President Bush will "stay the course" in 
Iraq. Forget oil, money, power, and even reelection: The 
deepest vested interest is guilt. Bush has done things he 
can't bear to renounce, no matter how costly to America 
continuing them may yet become. 

     Now the pictures from Abu Ghraib -- merry American 
girls teasing naked Arab men, Arab women forced to bare 
their breasts, and the rest of it -- threaten to undo all 
the good will we've so painstakingly built up by bombing 
Arab cities and starving Arab children. Life is so 

     The photos have added obscene insults to ghastly 
injuries, but Bush and Donald Rumsfeld are trying to 
insist on a pettifogging distinction: that the injuries 
inflicted by war promote democracy and freedom, while the 
insults shown in the pictures are contrary to American 

     Some churlish Arabs find this distinction hard to 
swallow. The values of today's America are no longer the 
wholesome ones expressed by Walt Disney, Norman Rockwell, 
and Ozzie and Harriet; we now live in the land of Bill 
Clinton, Larry Flynt, and, by a natural extension, 
Lynndie England. 

     And the hell of it is, from Bush's point of view, 
that the insults are proving more costly than the 
injuries. The desecration of the body, whether a dead 
American body in Fallujah or a live Muslim body in Abu 
Ghraib, is peculiarly inflammatory. 

     So with poor Nick Berg. His murder might have been 
taken in stride, had it been done by, say, a conventional 
bullet to the head. But the severing of his head arouses 
a revulsion so deep we can hardly express it -- as it was 
meant to. Presumably his killers, among themselves, talk 
like our hawks of the air waves: "This is war! The enemy 
doesn't play by the Marquis of Queensbury rules, so why 
should we? The only thing those people understand is 

     Berg's decapitation did give Bush a chance to step 
back into the pulpit of moral indignation the Abu Ghraib 
disclosures had made it awkward for him to occupy. Like 
Clinton clutching his Bible on the way to a tryst, Bush 
is most comfortable in his pose as champion of morality, 
intoning homilies about freedom, democracy, and 
terrorism. He assures us that there was "no justification 
whatsoever" for cutting off Berg's head -- as if the 
country were divided over the issue. 

     Only a man out of touch with reality could suppose 
that there remains any hope of charming the Arab-Muslim 
world with the talisman of American democracy now. It was 
a lost cause even before the Abu Ghraib revelations; now 
it's less than a wistful hope -- it's a mad fantasy. 

     Yet Bush argues that the unfathomable rage his war 
has created in the Arab world justifies the war itself. 
Every new act of terrorism it provokes proves the need to 
finish the war on terrorism. "We will complete our 
mission," Bush says -- an ironic comment on his own claim 
of a year ago: "Mission accomplished." 

     Berg's murder, he says, shows the "nature" of the 
enemy. But the enemy thinks the war and the degrading 
tortures -- "abuses," as Rumsfeld prefers to call them -- 
show the nature of the American mission. It could hardly 
be clearer that the Arab-Muslim world sees Bush as 
anything but its deliverer. It sees him as the infidel 
writ large. 

     But our mission must continue, Bush insists: "Their 
intention is to shake our will." Now is the time for 
American "resolve." This is no time to admit a colossal 
mistake, let alone confess guilt. Public support for his 
war implicates everyone in the responsibility. That's why 
Bush has to keep insisting that his cause is righteous, 
even if it never achieves its purpose. No wonder that, as 
this sinks in, public support is slipping. 

     In terms of its original stated goals, the Iraq war 
is a failure. Bush's foreign policy might be clinically 
described as autistic -- in its self-absorption, its 
social blindness, even its linguistic dysfunction. Fate 
has delivered enormous power to a very strange man. 


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