By James C. Moore
Italy, there is a bust of Julius Caesar in Torlonia Museum
that scholars have insisted depicts the great conqueror as
a Christ-like icon. The resolute warrior's face has been more
compassionately composed and the oak wreath of the soter,
or savior, slips low across his brow, hardly distinguishable
from a thorny crown. As grand a general as Caesar was, though,
he fought with no more moral purpose than to expand the glory
of the empire. His deification was about art; not history.
Caesar's and, ultimately, even Rome's undoing was that its
armies drew blood without a righteous cause. A soldier must
fight for something more eternal than the emperor's reputation.
The notion of empire is still as misguided today as it was
when the legions of Rome were marching the earth. America
and Great Britain, however, have always been able to rationalize
our presence in foreign lands with intellectual constructs.
We may have been extracting natural resources and other treasure
to sustain our own homelands, but we were educating and civilizing
the natives whose countries we were occupying. We gave them
our governmental institutions and our religion and were convinced
that we had improved the backward colonies.
We were wrong, of course, and the deadly lesson, whether
it was learned by Her Majesty's armies in Africa or American
troops in Vietnam, is that the occupied never want to be occupied.
They will outfight us, out-die us, and outlast us because
our boots are on their ground. Through loss, Caesar slowly
came to understand that the further his armies were from Rome
the more difficult it was for them to retain power. Geography
may be less of a challenge to the modern military, but the
battle still offers the same teachings. And no matter how
loudly President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair
argue to the contrary, the U.S. and the U.K. are presently
engaged in repeating history's most egregious mistakes with
their Iraqi exploits.
Both Bush and Blair have tried to convince the world that
Iraq had to be invaded as the first front in the war on terrorism.
Stopping al Qaeda and ridding Iraq of Saddam and his torture
chambers provided the moral justification for rolling our
armies across the ancient plains of Persia. If the dead are
given the truth at the time of redemption, though, our fallen
soldiers now know they lost their lives for considerably different
reasons than those provided by their leaders. The war in Iraq
began with a lie and it has spiraled into an even greater
immorality, which is where all lies eventually lead. Our bombs
and bullets cannot tell the difference between the innocent
and the enemy and in our effort to learn the distinctions
we have resorted to immoral tactics.
More than prisoners died at Abu Ghraib prison. America and
the U.K. lost our moral purchase; we killed the story that
we were liberators guided by our god to bring freedom to the
oppressed. Bush, meeting with Palestinian leaders last year,
explained to them, "God told me to invade Iraq."
The Muslim world must presently be wondering if the god of
Bush and Blair also told them to torture and kill at Abu Ghraib.
If not, how did that happen? Undoubtedly, Muslims are as unfamiliar
with that Christian god as they are the Allah whose name is
invoked by al Qaeda during decapitations. The denouement of
this plot is the moment when the camera reveals the liberators
have the same tendencies as the oppressor they have just deposed.
Nothing has changed for the Iraqis except for the fact that
the prisons are now open under new management.
More than even oil or terrorism, though, it was faith that
sent Americans and the British to Iraq. Of course, it is also
religious conviction that is prompting Jihadists from every
Muslim nation on the planet to make their way to Iraq. Each
al Qaeda fighter or Iraqi insurgent who dies is convinced
god is on his side; just as Bush and Blair are confident their
troops are doing the Lord's work. It is unsettling, as an
outsider, to hear descriptions of the British prime minister
as having a stillness, a kind of peace and confidence about
him while Iraq disintegrates into near anarchy. The American
president, meanwhile, admits to rarely being awake past 10:00
each evening and has said, repeatedly, "I sleep well
at night." These two men of faith have clearly trusted
too much; either in their god or their commanders.
From the time of Caesar through the invasion of Iraq, the
command has always reflected the commander. The Anglo-American
breakdown of morality in the treatment of Iraqi prisoners
was caused by the conflict between the warrior's objectives
and religious tenets. Bush and Blair can be as filled with
the spirit of their god as is a Muslim Mullah with his; but
if their armies do not have strict orders to choose right
over wrong, the faith of the president and the prime minister
becomes nothing more than a personal attribute. When Jesus
said he didn't like killing, he never added a qualifying clause
that it was okay as long as it was for appropriate political
Immorality is the gangrene of the war in Iraq and manifests
itself in wild political assertions; not just torture. As
Marines and Iraqis were dying in Fallujah, President Bush
was on television telling his constituents "most of Fallujah
has returned to normal." Our failed morality at Abu Ghraib
cannot prevent Donald Rumsfeld from being described as a "superb"
secretary of defense or inhibit Blair from his unwavering
commitment to stand "shoulder to shoulder" with
Bush. A beheading is repositioned as an independent act of
evil rather than retribution for our own moral collapse. Everything
is opinion; nothing is fact. This is the most insidious form
Caesar's legend, eventually, was turned into a religious
parable representing the betrayal of Christ. Brutus, as Judas,
turned his back on the dictator-general claiming to have "loved
Rome longer and better." Bush is no American Caesar.
However, Blair cannot avoid what his rigorous intellect must
be telling him about Iraq; only his faith is betraying him.
Ultimately, that too, will falter and the prime minister will
have to choose his country over his confederacy with the U.S.
president. Blair's political career will become a minor consideration.
Finally, his faith will not be enough.
Truth dies swiftly and easily in every war. But a battle
can still be won if morality is the last casualty. There is
always hope that what is good and right will prevail. In Iraq,
however, it is no longer easy to know whose cause is more
just and there is little reason to think our two nation coalition
When morality is destroyed from the battlefield, a war is
James C. Moore is the author of the just-released Bush's
War for Reelection: Iraq, the White House, and the People,
and is the co-author of the New York Times bestseller
Bush's Brain: How Karl Rove Made George W. Bush Presidential.