Royal George as Honest Abe?


Pressured as they are under the weight of public opinion to come up with a rationale for the situation in Iraq, top dogs in the Bush administration compared the situation to post-war Germany and Japan. But people didn’t go for that, and so more recently they have been trying to connect the Iraq war with the American Civil War and are quoting Abraham Lincoln, which conjures up the image of a Lincolnesque George Bush.

“You mentioned Abraham Lincoln in 1861,” Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy secretary of defense, ruminated at a George Mason University conference early this month. “I’ve been reading some of the things that Lincoln wrote or that were written about him in the summer of 1864. Of course, all of us learned somewhere along the way, probably in junior high school, that the Civil War was won at the Battle of Vicksburg and the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863. A full year after those so-called turning points in the Civil War, Lincoln faced bitter opposition here in Washington, possible political defeat, and a war that was going very badly—of course, a war that ultimately was won for the greater benefit of this country and for our moral standing in the world. I don’t want to compare anything that we’re trying to do today to the greatness of that moment or the greatness of Abraham Lincoln. But the point I would make is that we have two challenges in front of us: to win the peace and to win the war.”

A few days later, Attorney General John Ashcroft said at an awards ceremony that “Lincoln’s parable illustrated for a deeply divided nation that true liberty is not license to do as one pleases. True liberty, according to Lincoln, is grounded in morality, and guided by the law. Lincoln said, quote, ‘The shepherd drives the wolf from the sheep’s throat, for which the sheep thanks the shepherd as a liberator.’ But the wolf ‘denounces the shepherd for the same act as the destroyer of liberty.’ Each of you in this room today is a shepherd of justice, dedicated to the enhancement of liberty through the law.”

Additional reporting: Ashley Glacel and Sheelah Kolhatkar