The Plea of Abraham

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We're told in Genesis of how Abraham argued with God over the impending destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah: "Will You sweep away the innocent along with the guilty? What if there should be fifty innocent in the city, will You then wipe out the place and not forgive it for the sake of the innocent fifty who are in it? Far be it from You to do such a thing, to bring death upon the innocent as well as the guilty, so that the innocent and guilty fare alike." The Almighty relents his plan for the sake of the fifty, but Abraham continues to question, finally counting down until he arrives at ten; God replies: "I will not destroy, for the sake of ten."

Of course, we know that there weren't even ten innocent souls in either of those doomed cities, and we know well how the tale ends. Still, it's a timely story for now, since this is exactly what we have going on. Given how journalists wax poetic over how religious this Administration is what with daily Bible study groups and Bush's admission that he prays every day, Abraham's plea on behalf of people he doesn't even know should be reworded and presented before the White House: will you destroy Baghdad even if there are at least ten innocent people there?

That the United States is entering a new phase in its history has gone blithely ignored by the media. That national policy is being dictated by a Republican ideology enamored of evangelical arm-waving is declared an example of "moral clarity," consequences be damned. This alleged religiousness of Bush and his cohorts has not met with any serious question probing how moral it is to bomb a city because of one man is a perversion of any serious religious principle. Imagine this exchange at a news conference:

"Will you destroy Baghdad, Mr. President, for the sake of one evil man even though there might be fifty innocent people?" Response: "Yes, I will."

"Will you drop bombs and crush a city for the sake of one evil man even though there might be twenty innocent people?" Response, "Yes, I will."

"Will you erase Baghdad from the map for the sake of one evil man even though there might be ten innocent people?" Response, "Yes, I will."

The only sincere belief that Mr. Bush has is to invade, destroy and occupy Iraq, a country that has not invaded or attacked the United States. This is not a man deeply consumed with the heavy moral weight of armed conflict and thousands of civilian deaths for the sake of "regime change." He does not appear bothered in any discernable way, especially if you watched his 6 March news conference wherein he looked rather sedate. It's a deeply calculating political game, by which Mr. Bush will mouth religious platitudes but leave the cold ugly realpolitik to his advisors and handlers. This mental trickery can convince Mr. Bush that he really is a righteous warrior doing the Lord's work. In reality, he has the theology of a dry drunk.

Mr. Bush had elided the 11 September attacks with Iraq, knowing full well that the Administration's attempts to link Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda is fraudulent. He's cloaked the immorality of pre-emptive strikes in enough religious vocabulary to confuse gullible Middle Americans into thinking he's been personally selected by God to lead the nation. It's a twisted and serpentine juxtaposition of fears, language and feeling that has somehow comforted a large swath of the population. And most of these claim to be righteous, God-fearing people. If religion truly is the opiate of the people, America is the highest nation on earth.

All leaders have invariably invoked the divine to justify their ambitions and plans, and most importantly, their wars. Mr. Bush is no different from any of them, who present themselves as humble servants of a greater power merely doing what is commanded of them. But Mr. Bush is not Alexander chasing the Great King Darius; he is not Xenophon leading the Ten Thousand and our forces in the Gulf are not the outnumbered Greeks fighting the vast, multinational Persian army. Instead, we have the smart technology, the satellite-guided weaponry and night-vision superiority against an enemy with Soviet-era tanks. Indeed, we are Sennacherib to Baghdad's besieged Jerusalem. War does not always need to be a battle of equals, but let's face facts: Iraq's military is weak with aging hardware. War optimists are predicting an easy victory within days if not hours. But no one has asked, if Iraq is so fearsome, why are we so assured that her capitol will crumble and her soldiers melt away? Inconvenient questions when so much canned music and computer-generated effects are ready to roll.

But the final disturbing question remains: why must we destroy a city and cause so much destruction for the sake of one man, lest there be ten innocent people there? I challenge this morally bankrupt and backwards-looking government to answer that before the "shock and awe" of 3,000 missiles begin screaming across the sky.

Can you answer that Mr. Bush? Can you?