The older I get the more firmly convinced I become that Greek mythology had it right.
In Greek myths, the number one sin is hubris, the punishment is always tailored poetically to the crime, and you pay for your sins eternally. You get your entrails eaten by vultures during the day, say, then the entrails grow back at night, and then the birds flock over your ravaged body again at first light.
Over and over again, without end. That sort of thing.
Consider George W. Bush. George was going to go his father one better — prove his father a wimp — by going All the Way to Baghdad, something George Sr. famously avoided. George Jr. was going to do it without a true international coalition, opting instead for a light-weight portable plastic Coalition of the Willing.
And he was going to do it by thundering on endlessly about non-existent weapons and the torture prisons of Saddam Hussein.
It all had a whiff of the overweening to it, shall we say.
And look where W. stands today: he has supplanted Saddam Hussein in the global imagination as the Butcher of Baghdad. Last week a new wave of pictures surfaced from Abu Ghraib, demonstrating conclusively that US forces also re-created Saddam’s “rape rooms,” Bush’s other favorite phrase in the run-up to war.
And Guantanamo Bay has become an international rallying cry. Just this past week, the United Nations demanded its closure, a call backed up quickly by Kofi Annan and Tony Blair’s Northern Ireland Secretary, Peter Hain. Even Tony Blair, or a sickly-pale version of the progressive statesman he used to be, called Guantanamo “an anomaly” and said that “sooner or later it has got to be dealt with.”
But on Saturday came the sharpest blow of all.
In a British radio interview, Archbishop Desmond Tutu delivered the most withering Monday Must-Read Sentence in recent memory: “I never imagined I would live to see the day when the United States and its satellites would use precisely the same arguments that the apartheid government used for detention without trial. It is disgraceful.”
Now, that’s gotta sting. Not a lot — Bush has a tough skin and very little appetite for newspapers. But a little. And that little pain won’t go away, ever.
For as long as George Bush is President, and long after, his every attempt to reach for the rhetoric of liberation will be met with firm reminders that he approved various methods of torture, that he carefully and willfully designed his own lawless prisons in which to disappear his own chosen enemies.
The world will not forget. Neither will the history books. And don’t ever think Bush doesn’t feel that sting — he even started, a little desperately, to talk about Darfur last week.
If you listened carefully, the word left the man’s mouth like a small cry of pain.