Having forthrightly set out to rid the world of evil, first in Afghanistan, then in Iraq, has the United States, willy-nilly, become an instrument of evil? Lying (weapons of mass deception). Torture (if only by US surrogates). The killing of children (''collaterally,'' but inevitably). The vulgarization of patriotism (last week's orgy of bunting). The imposition of chaos (and calling it freedom). The destruction of alliances (''First Iraq, then France''). The invitation to other nations to behave in like fashion (Goodbye, Chechnya). The inexorable escalation (''Bring 'em on!''). The made-in-Washington pantheon of mythologized enemies (first Osama, now Saddam). The transmutation of ordinary young Americans (into dead heroes). How does all of this, or any of it, ''rid the world of evil''?
Which brings us back to that Gothic cathedral of a question: What is evil anyway? Is it the impulse only of tyrants? Of enemies alone? Or is it tied to the personal entitlement onto which America, too, hangs its bunting? Is evil the thing, perhaps, that forever inclines human beings to believe that they are themselves untouched by it? Moral maturity, mellowed across the distance of history, begins in the acknowledgement that evil, whatever its primal source, resides, like a virus in its niche, in the human self. There is no ridding the world of evil for the simple fact that, shy of history's end, there is no ridding the self of it.
But there's the problem with President Bush. It is not the moral immaturity of the texts he reads. Like his callow statement in the National Cathedral, they are written by someone else. When the president speaks, unscripted, from his own moral center, what shows itself is a bottomless void.
This truly extraordinary piece of rhetorical flatulence comes courtesy of James Carroll, leftwing Catholic writer for the Boston Globe (otherwise known as Pravda West), and a man who makes a living wringing his hands over America's many evils. His shtick is ultra-moralistic compassion-mongering which is mainly employed in the service of such moral giants as Saddam Hussein and Yasser Arafat. He apparently matches this moral idiocy with an astonishing (and hitherto unknown) capacity to see directly into the souls of other human beings and see...well, nothing. What I wouldn't give for that kind of x-ray vision. Of course, Mr. Carroll is doing nothing more here than recycling the perennial leftist argument that evil can only be fought by giving it a great big hug. It is, I fear, symptomatic of the narcissism and ignorant naivite of Mr. Carroll's generation that he clearly has no conception of what evil actually is. He has lived in comfort and safety for so long that he can afford to deal with men like Saddam Hussein as an abstraction that can be thwarted on the philosophical level, where the dirty business of war can be condemned from heights so Olympian that moral rectitude is as simple as glimpsing into the soul of another man. Mr. Carroll's morality is a facile, lying one, which refuses to face the terrible dilemmas of real tyranny, real despotism, real evil, and the real necessity for free nations and peoples to stand up and fight it.