Mr. Bush spoke to the nation Tuesday night about the war in Iraq. He offered no new solutions and he reaffirmed his belief that the best response to hatred and violence is more hatred and violence. The most critical questions remain unanswered: did the Bush Administration invade this country in order to establish US control over Iraq's natural resources, and to transfer billions of dollars from US taxpayers to selected military contractors? Again in these remarks, Mr. Bush steadfastly refused to reassure Iraqis and the world that permanent occupation is not his aim.
He again sought to conflate his war in Iraq with the Al-Qaeda attacks on September 11, 2001. Five times he reiterated that killing people in Iraq was necessary because of Iraq's relationship to 9/11. It was as if the 9/11 Commission and the Congressional inquiries hadn't long ago conclusively demonstrated that there was no relationship between these conflicts. He said, "Iraq is the latest battlefield in this war. Many terrorists who kill innocent men, women and children on the streets of Baghdad are followers of the same murderous ideology that took the lives of our citizens in New York and Washington and Pennsylvania. There is only one course of action against them: to defeat them abroad before they attack us at home." No evidence was offered that killing insurgents in Iraq makes Americans any safer anywhere.
By seeking to conflate all the enemies that Mr. Bush has made into followers of a single irrational and hateful ideology, he has done what all invaders through the ages have done: dehumanize the opponent and legitimize killing them. He insisted, "We are fighting against men with blind hatred and armed with lethal weapons who are capable of any atrocity. They wear no uniform; they respect no laws of warfare or morality. They take innocent lives to create chaos for the cameras. They are trying to shake our will in Iraq, just as they tried to shake our will on September 11, 2001." Mr. Bush seemed to forget the extent to which he had himself broken all the laws of warfare and morality by unilaterally invading and occupying a country that posed no imminent threat to the citizens of the United States, despite the united and unprecedented protests of tens of millions of people around the world.
He acknowledged that his war had become a cause celebre for Arabs from many nations, and that what started out as a quest to remove a single foreign leader has now turned into a bellicose effort to take on all comers. He said, "Our military reports that we have killed or captured hundreds of foreign fighters in Iraq who have come from Saudi Arabia and Syria, Iran, Egypt, Sudan, Yemen, Libya and others." The stunning thing that no one seems to acknowledge is that a willingness of these opponents to leave the comfort of their homes and to die signifies an extraordinary belief in the rightness of their cause. Mr. Bush has repeatedly and explicitly ruled out any efforts by our government to discern what these grievances might be. Why are so many people clearly willing to surrender their lives with no benefit to themselves, to redress their grievances against the occupying power?
The key issue seems clearly to be a perception that no true "transfer of sovereignty" has occurred. The orders of US interim Administrator Paul Bremer still preclude any litigation against American contractors for the wrongful death of Iraqi citizens. Judging by Mr. Jaafari's responses at his joint news conference with Mr. Bush last week, the Iraqi administration appears to view itself as completely dependent on Mr. Bush's military decisions and financial largesse. In response to a question about timetables for withdrawal, Mr. Bush said, "There's not going to be any timetables. I mean, I've told this to the Prime Minister. We are there to complete a mission, and it's an important mission." The implication was that Mr. Bush gives the orders, and Mr. Jaafari follows.
Does Mr. Bush in fact intend permanent US occupation of Iraq? On this subject, he said weakly, "Sending more Americans would suggest that we intend to stay forever, when we are, in fact, working for the day when Iraq can defend itself and we can leave." This was probably the largest intimation he's ever offered that occupation may not be permanent. But his actions betray his words, in the current expansive construction of permanent US bases and the selective engagement of US contractors to invest in the energy-harvesting infrastructure. The investments of these US companies will not be abandoned anytime soon.
From a Catholic standpoint, the use of violence to accomplish any desireable end is a violation of Jesus' most fundamental teaching: "Love your enemies." When Mr. Bush states unequivocally, "We'll fight them there, we'll fight them across the world, and we will stay in the fight until the fight is won," how can he possibly square this attitude with Jesus' unflinching rebuke to those who kill, torture, and humiliate?
Many people will respond to this faithful interpretation of Jesus' words as being impractical, in essence that God didn't really know what He was talking about when He told us to work our miracles with love rather than coercion. We are told repeatedly that we are dependent on the use of force for civilization to persist in our world. What goes mostly unexplored is the question of whether the violent men from whom we are being protected are any worse than those who currently have the power and use violence to defend it.