This came from listening to This American Life, which has a story this week about the Garden of Eden myth, and the tree of knowledge, yadda yadda. The story is very much in the Mark Twain mode, where the serpent is portrayed sympathetically, and pre-Fall Adam and Eve are dunces.
Anyway todays George W. Bush Insight: people forget about it, but W. is an Evangelical Christian. Everyone kind of thought 'Axis of Evil' was a cute turn of phrase, or hyperbole, or whatever, but it isn't. When an Evangelical says Evil, they mean EVIL. They mean the Devil walks among us, and is pushing the buttons of people like Saddam or the dude in Korea directly. If you don't think they take this seriously, my brother-in-law is evangelical Xian, and worked as a pastor at a Chicago hospital, and he told me in all seriousness that one of the patients he visited told him the Devil had been there first and that he (the patient) had sold his soul for a cure.
So if Bush is a big believer in capital E Evil, it changes everything about how he's going to deal with the world. In effect, everything he sees is run through a half tone filter, and comes out in white whites and black blacks. This simplifies his job, because he can look around, find the bad guys, and kick their asses. End of Story. And Bush does like stories that end tied up all neat, because they won't keep him up past his bedtime worrying.
The problem with this as a guiding principle of foreign policy is of course any two-tone view of the world is by definition crude. It's basically a Cop's view of the world. A cop views his job as one of helping the good guys and taking down the bad guys. The problem isn't so much that taking out the bad guys isn't a laudable goal, it's that it's dangerous to think you can tell who the bad guys are all the time. Cops have shown themselves over and over again content to arrest and work to convict anyone in the general vicinity of a crime who looks like a bad guy; even if they're innocent of that particular crime, they're guilty of something, and deserve what they get.
Back to Bush, I'm not suggesting that Saddam Hussein has much moral wiggle room. He's a shithead through and through. But Bush makes a huge error of logic with his invasion plans: He's assuming that attacking someone who is unambiguously bad makes us somehow unambiguously good, and that there's no question whatsoever about justification.
This coming war, and the war in Afghanistan, and the last Gulf War for that matter have been thought of by their boosters as just wars. We're out there keeping the bad actors in check, and letting freedom and goodness flourish. Would that it were so. Unfortunately, all this sweetness and light has one big drawback: we follow our ideals by killing and destruction.
For all the posturing by Saddam Hussein, his army has never been able to put up more than token resistance, and only a tiny minority of it have any particular allegiance to Hussein -- they're all forced conscripts. In the last Gulf War we killed and killed and killed, but we weren't killing Saddam, we're were just killing poor schlubs Hussein put in harm's way. We had American Patriots like Timothy McVeigh driving bulldozers down Iraqi trenches, machine-gunning anyone in them and then plowing sand over them.
And in the cities we bombed, we killed plenty of civilians. We won't ever know how many. And we're getting ready to do it again. We're going to Kill and Kill and Kill, to make America 'safe', apparently. Then after we've killed a bunch of the Iraqi's friends and neighbors, we'll waltz into town with Coca Cola, Pizza Hut, and The Gap, and expect to be welcomed with open arms. The manifest hideousness of war to me is so gigantic that I really have a hard time understanding people who think it's a good idea. All those self satisfied fucks in their bow ties make me want to retch.
The big problem with being able to point somewhere else and yell EVIL EVIL EVIL is that it distracts you from the evil within you. Or more properly, you're failing to recognize the bad things that you're capable of doing yourself. Evil comes from people convincing themselves that they have to do something they know is bad for good reasons. That's where I think the Bush administration is at: They're willing to kill any number of men, women, and children in Iraq to neutralize the EVIL SADDAM. They'll try to minimize 'collateral damage' and they'll blame any civilian loss of life on Saddam's intransigence. But the fact is we're going to go in and inflict suffering and pain and misery and death on people that have never done anything to us. Not only that, we're sending our soldiers into harms way, to be injured or die, based on a pretty flimsy pretext.