As President Bush moves to trample international faith in America as a model for the ideals of peace and self-determination, one can't help but think back to other periods of history when a leader or government corrupted the public's faith in an ideal. In Vietnam the Executive branch abused the people's trust in a benevolent use of military power, while in Watergate the president sullied the public vision of ethical leadership. One could argue that the US still has not recovered from these episodes, as evidenced by widespread voter apathy and general distrust of the national government.
Resonant of the Bush administration's current policies, in the early 1500's the papacy pursued a similarly reckless governance marked by warfare, greed, and abuse of the public's trust in a venerated institution. By selling indulgences to Catholics eager to be released from their sins, the Church commodified faith and tarnished its constituents' ideals. The greed and corruption evidenced by Pope Leo progressed to the point where even future sins were being expiated by the passage of coin from one hand to another. One observer remarked "reverence for the papacy has been utterly lost in the hearts of men." The result was Luther's famous revolt at Wittenberg in 1521, his subsequent banishment from the empire by the Edict of Worms, and a Protestant movement of increasing strength taking hold throughout Europe. The papacy's corruption, abuse of public trust, and inclination to warfare led finally to the sacking of Rome in 1527.
President Bush's move into Iraq, reflective of his contempt for our allies, their overwhelmingly anti-war populations, and the US public itself, is similar in vein to the Vatican's disastrous moves in the 1500's. Rather than selling indulgences to his subjects, Bush is demanding indulgences for US sins, indulgences for which he is willing to pay a price. Bush operates on the notion that those countries which demonstrate recalcitrance in the face of American power should be bought off with financial incentives, or threatened and bullied into proclaiming their faith in a benevolent US democracy which in actuality no longer exists, a democracy which, in moving to use war as a pre-emptive weapon, currently espouses neither liberty nor self-determination. Attempts at coercion and bribery are made towards UN Security Council members such as Chile, Mexico, and Pakistan whose populations oppose war with Iraq and increasingly resent US bullying of their democratically elected governments. An outright bribe of $16 billion is offered to Turkey for use of its military bases despite that fact that over 90% of the Turkish subjects oppose any involvement in the Iraq war. In the face of the largest coordinated world protests in history, Bush professes to be unconcerned, stating that in effect he is not constrained by public opinion. His apparent contempt for those voices speaking out of harmony with his own reflects a tendency to autocracy which undermines the very principles which he professes to be fighting for.
By stepping outside the UN's international system, by invading a country which has not attacked us, and by attempting to force nations to supply UN votes and military cooperation against the wishes of their populations, Bush has corrupted the American ideal and sown the seeds for the dissolution of American power. The Bush Administration's own Edict of Worms has been pronounced against countries such as Germany and France which have expressed dissent, with their banishment from Empire on the horizon. Perhaps the coming cycle of warfare and governmental profligacy will not lead to an event as dramatic as the physical sacking of Washington, but the forces set in motion by Bush's war in Iraq will be just as devastating to the American republic.