mercredi, décembre 06, 2006

a series of revolting developments

Does it surprise you to hear that we've been "staying the course" in Iraq for longer than it took to complete the european half of World War II?

Each time I think about it, I get my knickers in a twist and become incoherent. Fortunately, my friend Sandra recently wrote (quite eloquently, in my opinion) about the topic.
A Series of Revolting Developments
By Sandra Millers Younger
My father has this saying that he uses mostly to comment on slight inconveniences. For example. If your dog looks up from his kibble with disgust as if to say: "Give me a break. You're over there eating filet mignon, and I get cereal? Again?" Or if you sit down to watch your favorite t.v. program only to find it's been pre-empted by the World Series. And you hate baseball. In that kind of situation, my father might say, "What a revolting development!" I'm not sure where this idiom of his came from, probably some old Bob Hope movie. But it's been running through my mind a lot lately, and with a more sinister timbre than my dad ever intended. In fact, it seems we're hip deep in revolting developments these days. It's hard even to decide where to start the list. Oh, wait, I know. How about Iraq? Let's call it Revolting Development No. 1.

The situation "on the ground in Iraq," as White House press secretaries and intrepid reporters love to say, continues to devolve from bad to worse to worst. As the weeks, months and years creep by, things rachet down a few more notches and go right on devolving, descending beyond the boundaries of human imagination into a whole new nightmarish paradigm. A few major U.S. media outlets have finally taken the in-itself-newsworthy step of using heretofore verboten terminology to describe the hell Iraqi citizens and deployed U.S. troops must live--or die--with every day, every hour, every minute. So it's OK now, well, almost OK, to call this Dantean scenario "a civil war."

A few pundits have noted it has already taken us longer to impose our will on the formerly sovereign state of Iraq than to complete the European half of World War II. But still there's end in sight. Warring insurgent groups are competing to see who can create more havoc and instability. And the fledgling puppet government we've installed, purple thumbs notwithstanding, seems impotent to control the violence. So the bombs just keep exploding, and the body parts just keep flying. At this point, anywhere from 30,000 to 650,000 Iraqi citizens have died in the violence. The first figure even George W. Bush accepts; the second is the conservative midpoint of a recent and respected study. Respected, that is, by everyone except George W. Bush, who immediately dismissed it as "just not credible." Adding to these horrific losses, a goodly proportion of the Iraqi intelligentsia, those most able to lead and sustain a nation, have fled the country rather than join the casualty statistics. Yet in the midst of all this mayhem, we in the U.S. must debate the PC-ness of whispering, much less printing the words "civil war." Revolting Development No. 2.

Of course I'm oversimplifying for effect. The media's real problem with officially declaring Iraq a civil war zone is that the White House refuses to use the term. And the reason for that is the rules of war say third parties should not intervene in family squabbles. So if Iraq really did deteriorate into civil war, which--despite what NBC, the New York Times and the L.A. Times may think--the White House insists it has not, how could we possibly continue our current involvement there without seeming to take sides one way or the other? We couldn't. We'd have to get out instead. Omigod! Revolting Development No. 3? Only to the presidential cowboy and his posse.

More rational minds have long been arguing it's time for us to get out anyway. And of course while the debate rages, we continue to lose American lives. Which, if you believe the president, are much more valuable than Iraqi lives. That's what I conclude anyway from his continual warnings that if we don't fight the terrorists over there, we will end up fighting them over here. Much better then by his calculus for Iraqi children rather than American children to be blown into bits by random explosions in the streets. At least until they're old enough to join the military, and then it's OK for us to send them "over there" where they can be blown up, too.

In addition to all the Iraqi lives lost, more than 3,000 American sons and daughters, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, grandsons and granddaughters, nieces and nephews, cousins, friends, coworkers and comrades in arms, have died in the violence. Which, just for emphasis, is more of us than the terrorists killed on 9/11. (Revolting Development No. 3.) Add to that 20,000 wounded. Twenty thousand, the population of my hometown, all with some sort of injury, some temporary, some permanent. Lost arms, legs, eyes, mobility, brain function. That kind of thing. No. 4.

Then there are those who return home physically intact, but with shattered psyches. Many Iraq War veterans have now served two or more combat tours. Can you imagine being 18 or 21, even 38 or 51 for that matter, and living in constant, unrelenting mortal danger? There is no front in this war; thus, no behind the lines security, not ever a moment when it's safe to let down your guard. Car bombs, improvised explosive devices and outwardly benign suicide bombers may be lurking in every shadow, around every corner, behind every smile, 24-7, eight days a week. In short, any moment in Iraq could be your last. What kind of toll must that take on the mind? Now and for the rest of these young lives? What kind of reverberations must that have in the lives of their friends and families? The damage is simply incalculable. Are we only up to No. 5?

I am not merely humming kum bah yah here. I was a once a Marine wife. So I know a little bit about the way military people think. I know that nearly every one of today's military personnel volunteered for duty. I know most are competent, well-trained and highly principled. Most believe in the mission, believe they are making a difference. And despite the lack of press about the noncombat side of our effort in Iraq, there's no denying the good work American military people have done in terms of "nation-building," trying to put things back together again and helping the Iraqi people regain their footing. The problem is not with the military. The problem is with the White House. Those who volunteer to protect our nation with their very lives should never have been asked to go to Iraq in the first place. Not by a paranoid cadre of power-hungry egomaniacal civilians. Not on the basis of lies. Not without sufficient resources to succeed. Not without a plan beyond an initial triumphant, statue-toppling march into Baghdad. And certainly not over and over and over again. Which brings us to Revolting Development No. 6.

I recently met a young woman, the mother of three small children, whose Marine husband is currently serving his fourth tour in Iraq. His fourth tour. How many times can you roll the dice? No wonder even un-retired generals are starting to say, enough, the U.S. military is simply maxed out. And yet, in his radio address today, President George W. Bush, the same George W. Bush who four weeks ago admitted to a "thumpin" rebuke at the hands of midterm voters and sacrificed his beloved secretary of defense in penance, this same George W. Bush had the gall today to reprise his ragged mantra. The U.S. is committed to staying in Iraq until the job is done, he said, that is, until we've achieved victory. Sure the going is tough, he said, but never doubt that we are leading the Iraqis into a new era of democracy. Yada. Yada. Yada. Let freedom ring.

And there you have No. 7, a particularly revolting development. With all due and genuine respect for the office of the president, please, Mr. Bush, just stop talking. We don't believe you anymore. You've told so many lies I doubt if even Barney or Mrs. Beasley believes you anymore. All that talk about victory and freedom. Staying the course. Beating back the evil empire. All those religious words you throw around to appease big blocks of voters. It all just sounds ridiculous now. Because we're not doing the right thing in Iraq, and the world knows it. We're not accomplishing anything. We're not finishing anything. We're not winning anything. And we're certainly not leading the Iraqis to democracy. If anything, we've led them to slaughter.

Of course, Saddam Hussein was a psychotic despot. Of course, life in the old Iraq was difficult and repressed. Political dissidents were tortured and killed. It was a bad scene. I get it. But have we really improved the situation "over there"? Or have we only made it worse, dramatically worse? Have we really made the American people one bit safer? Or have we betrayed the sacrifices made by past generations to protect our liberties, so many of which we've now traded, in a moment of national vulnerability, for your empty promises of national security? Have we really staunched terrorism at its source? Or have we only confirmed the extremists' accusations of American arrogance, depravity and imperialism? Have we really defanged the evil empire? Or have we at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and Haditha, and in countless congressionally approved offshore torture chambers, actually become the evil we once so loudly decried? Which of course would qualify as a truly revolting development.

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