Just returned from a long weekend in Rome . . . a blur of rich colors, sweet smells, narcotic food and spectacular-looking people.
During one languid dinner with distant relatives by marriage the subjects of politics and religion briefly mixed in a perfect thunderclap of opinion that took me by surprise.
The three relatives included a retired executive of one of Italy’s largest banks and a communications director at a pharmaceutical company. They were educated and well traveled. They were also deeply involved in the Catholic Church through one of its semi-clandestine lay organizations.
During a friendly and wide-ranging conversation we found ourselves talking about the scandals that have shaken the American Church. The mood suddenly turned grave and the former banker explained in measured tones that the entire scandal was an initiative of the Bush Administration to undermine the moral authority of Pope John Paul II and the Vatican so that Bush could carry out his plans to invade Iraq.
I had never heard that one before. It’s sort of a unified field theory of geopolitics.
I tried to explain that Vatican opposition to Operation Desert Freedom was, at best, a factor footnoted in the appendix of any secret strategy to defend the honor of the Bush family. But that sort of reasoning only elicited a weary smile . . . oh you Americans are so brainwashed.
Keep in mind that this seems to be an acceptable point of view in a country where six of the seven national television networks and several of the newspapers are controlled by Italy’s most outspoken supporter of George Bush.
It occurred to me later that the Bushies are missing an opportunity in Europe.
I have no idea how many Italians believe Bush toppled Saddam Hussein to avenge his father’s disgrace but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s a large number. And I would also not be surprised to learn that this would not be considered an invalid reason for acting.
After all, Rome is filled with monuments to powerful families motivated by honor and power – names like Barberini, Aldobrandini, Borgia, and Medici are plastered all over town if you look closely enough.
Indeed, defending one’s family honor by using the tools of state is a long and respectable tradition in Europe. Bush should strongly imply to Europeans that family honor is what motivated him to succeed Clinton and Saddam. I think they'd respect that.
My second thought is that Bush is making a mistake by characterizing the war on Islamofascism as a “War on Terror.”
Terror is not the enemy. You can’t wage war on a technique of war.
The Administration is still very careful to characterize the war as something other than a clash of civilizations. I’m not sure why.
Certainly Europeans take there civilization quite seriously (as they should) and can be downright jingoistic about it when their feathers are ruffled. And unlike us, they are surrounded by the physical manifestations of this civilization – in America all we have are the ideas and little of the art or architecture.
In addition, Europeans are increasingly living next to more and more unassimilatable Muslims . . . Muslims who make no apology for their unrelenting conflict with the West.
Here and there are the signs that Europeans are becoming fed up with Islamic chauvinism – head scarves, separate schools, removal of Christian symbols from the public realm. At some point resentment will turn to action in ways that Europeans know all too well.
George Bush could give outlet to this pressure and connect deeply with ordinary Europeans by saying clearly that our common Judeo/Christian civilization is under attack from an extremist political movement that is using Islam as cover for achieving it’s radical agenda.
It is a clash between the West and a violent, intolerant, uncompromising medieval civilization that refuses to peacefully coexist with us.
That’s the sort of a clash Europeans historically relish.
Forget WMD, shoe bombers, and torture chambers . . . Europe already has plenty of those. Make it about honor and Western Civ and George Bush would be the most popular man in Europe.