06/01/2005 04:03 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

On to the Vatican

On Monday this week, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (I’m sorry; I find this whole name change thing with the Pope rather spooky) went on record against a referendum that would ease restrictions on artificial insemination and embryonic research in Italy. Shortly before that (this guy doesn’t waste time) he had urged the Catholics in Spain to refuse to implement a gay marriage law in their country. He’s all about “family values”, this Pope—secular laws passed by democratic governments aren’t going to get in his way.

I’m not surprised, of course. He is, after all, a conservative Pope (as opposed to what? A Liberal from Massachusetts ?) His job is to keep things just as they were a thousand years ago when, judging by their looks, every pope and cardinal in the Vatican seems to have been born. And really, why shouldn’t he keep things as they were? How else is he going to explain, in today’s logic, that he happens to “represent” a hundred million people just because a handful of men in red robes got together in secret, sent smoke signals from the chimney, then burned all records of their negotiations. Now here he is, living in a palace and dressed in silk, jewels and scepter and all, telling the poor they should be grateful and multiply because God loves them the most, and all he has to do is wave from a window for the crowds below to fall to their knees with joy. Would you give all this up just for the sake of “progress”?

I’m not surprised, either, at the hundreds of millions of otherwise intelligent men and women who actually buy into the whole spectacle, actually believe someone can become holy and get a name change just because his buddies have said so. I was born and raised in Iran. I know all about kings and clergy and the inexplicable reaction most people have to men in uniform.

What does surprise me is how the Vatican has remained, so far at least, under George W.’s radar; how it doesn’t appear on any list of countries where the United States has a duty to bring freedom. I’ve sized the situation up from every reasonable angle and I can tell you, this is one place badly in need of the Bush Doctrine.

True, they already have electricity and running water and a sewer system, but so did Iraq before we bombed it all. And yes, the Pope does share Bush’s amazing ability to communicate directly with God, but then so did Khomeini, and the Shah of Iran, and so do all the mullahs who send suicide bombers directly to the gates of heaven. So what if Vatican City doesn’t have oil? It is, by any measure, one heck of a valuable piece of real estate.

And anyway, these are all minor issues when compared to the principles that really drive Bush forward in his campaign to make the world a holier place. When it comes to the rights of women and children, to having free and democratic elections, government openness and accountability the Vatican is—well—rather wanting. Saddam, at least, brought the women of Iraq out of the Middle Ages. He may not have “loved freedom”, but, hey, can you even imagine what would happen to the church if the Pope suddenly started “loving freedom”?

I think W should use some of that political capital he gained in an election where half the country voted against him, and make himself a new list: Iraq and Afghanistan, we know because he says so, are free and doing fine. The mullahs in Iran have learned their lesson from our invasion of Iraq, and are now shivering with fear all the way to their nuclear sites. Musharaff in Pakistan my be a dictator, but he has been convinced, by a trunk load or two of American money he’ll use to buy weapons we’ll have to some day go in and destroy, to love freedom. As for the fanatics in Indonesia, they’re all out of business because any tourist resort they could have blown up after Bali, has been washed away by the tsunami.

I say let’s invade the Vatican before some crazy neo-con points out to our President, our judges and legislators and media that, the way we’re going, the United States is quickly rising to the top of Bush’s list.