Friday, May 25, 2007
They’re asking on this radio program with my hero Tom Ashbrook (he’s up there with Bill Moyers in my admiration) how do we think of the lives lost in Iraq. Which is approaching 3500 American soldiers now, which is really a cruel tip of the mountain of suffering. There are many more wounded physically, countless wounded psychologically (in some parts of the army they’re still punishing people who show signs of war-induced mental illness), countless Iraqi dead, a dead nation, dead hopes and dreams, all the future dead stemming from the cycles of continuing violence in the middle east, which the fucking idiot Bush (sorry, I just have to say that at least once) just inflamed in the name of America and freedom and human values. It is inconceivable that Bush talks about how America can’t leave until the mess is cleaned up. He made the mess, he is the mess. Iraq will sort itself out in spite of us, U.S., but not until America has left. Gradually, but definitely, America must get out, because America is a mess now and has to clean itself up. When America re-enters the world stage, it needs to be on issues like leading the war against global warming. There, that’s a war for Bush to fight. What’s the matter, not sexy enough, not as thrilling as a few radical anti-American muslim fundamentalists whose ranks have swelled thanks to Bush being exactly the kind of unilateral bullying monster that those fundamentalists said America was? Hell, Bush is one of our radical fundamentalists, a Christian fundamentalist who enjoys calling names and sending out punishments and fueling the fire. A wicked enjoyment, a fearful insane enjoyment, but an enjoyment to be sure.
I had the unique privilege last weekend of talking to an Iraqi journalist. It was unexpected, a dinner guest, a woman on a fellowship somewhere. It gradually dawned what she was talking about. She’s an Iraqi from Baghdad, she worked in journalism, she worked with the Americans, she was embedded with the troops, she’s hiding out now in America as long as she can get fellowships, because she’s on hit lists now, if she goes back to her own country, her own city, to all the people she grew up with, she will be killed. Can we imagine what that must be like, to lose everyone and everything to a war you didn't ask for?
She said oh yes, it was great to get rid of Saddam. And then there immediately were so many Iraqis, smart Iraqis, good Iraqis, businessmen and working people, who were expecting to get to rebuild their country. But Bush’s people wouldn’t let them. Can’t trust any Iraqis, they look like bad guys, we don’t know them. The Bush administration gave our tax paid billions to their own friends, no matter how corrupt or incompetent. Billions to Iraqi exiles who hadn’t been in Iraq for 10 years but who had cozied up with Bush while their countrymen were getting killed, billions to Halliburton and other American contractors. The country was given away to contractors and political friends by Bush. De-bathification it was called, the policy of getting rid of Saddam Hussein’s Bath party, a policy that resulted in many Iraqis turning to crime and militancy to survive and/or gain power. The elections were staged by Americans for Americans, Iraq wasn’t ready for elections. There was no good campaigning possible, people didn’t know the names they were voting for, it was all about votes for tribes and sectarian parties, sects that are now at each other’s throats and against Americans in more violent efforts to take their country back. Iraq is burning, there is no end in sight, and it didn’t have to be this way. But Bush would’ve had to take more risks to do that. Not just impose war and give money to his friends, but use trust and diplomacy and planning for Iraq. Not just curse and hunt down villified human beings like animals, but actually defend and respect the Iraqi people. That's how you run a counter-insurgency, all the good generals knew that.
This Iraqi reporter said she was in the Baghdad museum when the looters were breaking in. She helped the museum staff chase the first looters away, but more came later. I remember when I read about the museum being destroyed, the Bush people never thought to send troops to protect it for the invasion. That’s the kind of leader Bush is. Too busy making impassioned speeches about sacrifice and valor against evil, to consider protecting the treasure of humanity that was the Baghdad museum, the center of the cradle of civilization, with its many artifacts of glorious human achievement, the kind that Bush cannot begin to approach with his recklessly stupid legacy.
And he dares to talk of sacrifice! Everyone is sacrificing except Bush. Well maybe his popularity is finally cracked, but he’s not the one bleeding, he’s not the paying, he won’t be suffering. The Bush family money will keep him afloat long after many more die in Iraq, and America for that matter. Think of the billions of dollars and amount of energy and focus that could have been spent on humanitarian programs here and abroad - education, environment, health care, infrastructure, housing, food for the poor, war on poverty and ignorance - instead of dragging out a war for endless years that didn’t have to be. We could have let the right Iraqis, good Iraqis, i.e. the majority that can sort out themselves, rebuild their own country and been out of there, if you even think that we should have gone into Iraq at all. But no, Bush is just more of the incompetent priveledged few deciding recklessly for the many, a very essence of dictatorship alive and well here in America. Dictatorship by a few over the many is a major problem around the world today, and it will continue to be so long as most people are willing to live and die for the status quo, believing whatever they're told because the alternative, that some leaders are dangerously lying or evil or both, is just too horrible.
I mean hell, I met someone the other day who “isn’t very political”. She's a good person, and she thought that Saddam had something to do with 911 and Al Qaida. She wasn’t sure if they had found weapons of mass destruction by now in Iraq. No, no, no, I had to tell her firmly but gently. Those are the lies Bush and his people get to say over and over, as if whatever they say might be true and should get equal time with other points of view. Like the Bush idea that the few remaining scientists that Bush can pay off to say global warming might not be happening, or if it is it’s limited and we should let businesses voluntarily reduce emissions because anything more drastic would harm our economy and we can’t have that. Just fucking lies, denials of reality that a bunch of rich elite corporate kings get to play with far from the battle zones where people die daily to keep the policies that keep the tyrants rich in power.
There is evil in the world, and this is how it goes.
I was thinking about war. What purpose have soldiers’ deaths served? That’s presumptuous to ask in itself, arrogant, as if these soldiers’ lives revolve around the United States and it’s all about their great sacrifice for war and country. No, there are all kinds of reasons why people die in war. Some are joining in the war party, and they get to play with evil too. Like the American soldiers at Abu Ghraib who tortured and humiliated Iraqis, and soldiers who raped and murdered when they thought they could get away with it. War is a party of evil and a lot of people join in. Others get injuries and mental illness and death, in various forms of pain and detachment from reality, after having joined the war experience. At best, every person has the dignity of their own life, of how they treated themselves and fellow humans in a time of madness and pain. It is possible to fight in a war that wastes lives, and not become a wasted life. It's probably not easy to manage emotionally, though. One lady on the radio was crying, because her husband came back uninjured but different, not the same person anymore. Another lady was stoic because her son had died. All supported the troops, the human beings, and each questioned the war, those decisions of beurocrats far removed from what they were going through.
Would I serve in a war? Not this kind, that’s for sure. Why isn’t there a diplomatic corps for example, alongside army, airforce, navy, and marines? I mean, I look at my own life and how I live it. Things should relate and scale up, right? So, do I kill people when I have a conflict with them? No, if things get bad I call the police, and I support them in detaining and immobilizing, and hopefully rehabilitating (I can dream, can’t I). I don’t go vigilante, I don’t support any businesses or groups that shoot their rivals either, so why is it suddenly okay for a country to mobilize resources to kill an enemy? Killing an enemy might even be defensible at times if it were truly an enemy, truly someone incorrigibly dangerous to civilization, but so often war is about killing the innocent people in between the real enemies. There’s no sympathy in war culture, it’s called collateral damage, and more and more it’s the people who die, not the dictators and warriors. It makes you wonder why Bush distrusted the Iraqis so much after toppling Saddam. Was it because he can’t relate to or trust a majority of people who can police themselves? Bush can’t relate to a lot of people. I’ve heard that Bush often asks embarrassingly ignorant questions about groups to which he pays only lip service. Like the poor. He was going to say stuff about helping the poor for an annual address, and Bush had to ask an academic who studies poverty, what are poor people anyway? Who are they, why don’t they just have money? Bush lives in the bubble of the son of a rich military-industrial king. He’s not as smart as his father though. Bush senior wrote in his book about what a mistake it would be to ever invade Iraq, there would be no good exit plan, but Bush junior was too eager to get rid of his father’s old enemy Saddam to read his father’s book.
The fact is, killing is almost never justified, and most certainly not at the level of indiscriminate war, unless all you can think to do is destroy a country and its environment and cities and people, and weaken your own, and scar another generation or two, at the risk of setting into motion fresh cycles of violence and retribution between all the groups who like to take power and fight to kill and control. That’s Bush, he is just another one after all.
Violence is a failure of the imagination, and war that much more so. If I have a conflict with someone, I gather the majority of reasonable and helpful people around me to my cause, and we formulate a plan to deal with the problem, and we go in together with the full force of the law. I expect the same of governments. Bush did not do that, he flouted the law and exercised his machismo which sees debate and diplomacy as signs of weakness. He says it gives legitimacy to the other side if you do anything less than show a lot of force. But that's disgusting behavior when practiced by the other side, isn’t it? Crazed militant fundamentalist bullying threats about praise Allah we’ll make the Americans pay in blood. Oh yeah, that’s so obviously evil when they say it and strap bombs to themselves to blow up the enemy. It’s so much more civilized to push buttons and sign orders and spend billions and send in armies and missiles to kill innocent people while intending to target the enemy. Oh yeah, there’s so much distinction there. Oops, sorry, we expected to kill you but we didn’t mean to kill you. We’re the good guys. The bad guys want to kill you to cause trouble, we’re just willing to kill you to end the trouble. Total difference, it doesn’t take much imagination to see that.
What would take imagination is to think of ways to listen to all the other parties involved around the conflict and work out agreements to de-escalate tensions and create multi-national organizations to police the hard-core militants, whose numbers dwindle when war isn’t being escalated endlessly. And while we’re at it, let’s imagine that just because Israel contains persecuted individuals and groups in its population, that doesn’t mean that they have license to react so disproportionately to some enemies that they do things like bomb Lebanon back to the stone age in hopes of weeding out a few terrorists. That’s like burning the hayfield to find a needle in a haystack. Oh yeah, a thousand eyes for an eye, ten thousand teeth for a tooth, that sounds reasonable. That'll make us popular, that’ll contribute to world peace, that sounds like the right thing to do.
If you’re really interested in stopping the militants and dictators of the world, it seems obvious that it should be easy to coordinate the vast majority of people who are reasonable and honorable and maybe just need a little help to police themselves. So yeah, maybe throwing Saddam out was a good idea, but then control should have been handed back to Iraqis and multi-national advisors quickly, like UN peacekeepers. And if this was on the back of 9/11, let’s admit that for a precious poignant time the U.S. had the world’s attention and sympathy, and great things could have been done to build that multi-national coalition. But Bush revealed his true colors. You can’t fight dictators and militants with dictators and militants. Bush can’t be what he is not. We needed a good common man who could work with many other good common men and women to police and contain common threats. Instead Bush transformed himself and his country into looking more like one of the self-righteous dangerously reactive armed enemies, by escalating wars that to this day bleed U.S. dry while the world is still waiting for leadership on tomorrow’s problems which are already here today, like various hotspots of genocide and dictatorship around the world, corporate exploitation and poisoning of humanity, and global warming.
What the world needs, and has been getting, is a string of wars to end all wars. And guess what, those don’t look like great triumphs a la WWII. Those look like hopeless quagmires like Vietnam, Afghanistan (remember when the Russians were there?), and Iraq. Bush and his ilk (and I do mean illlllk) just haven’t gotten it yet, that war doesn’t work, that the majority of decent people want and need to work beyond ever allowing wars again, because wars are just too horrific and scarring to everyone involved. Only some people benefit from horror and suffering, they are set up to profit by it, they suffer less than most. I mean, Bush is a hypocritical pig. He talks of sacrifice, he doesn’t sacrifice, he makes others sacrifice while he and his friends get stubbornly greedily rich. He decries activist judges when they do something he can't tolerate, like allowing peaceful gay couples to marry (oh the collapse of civilization!), but he labels it patriotism and defending freedom when his own people make secret decisions to condone torture, spy on citizens, imprison indefinitely without trial, and hire and fire attorneys in hopes of undermining political opponents so he can stay in power. Bush talks of human rights, but he's done more with his "leadership" position to undermine human rights than most entire countries. And Bush tells his critics to stop opposing the war and let generals make the decisions, while his own generals keep saying how much this war is mismanaged, the military is breaking, and they need diplomatic and political solutions not military orders. Bush is out of control.
I think I’ll stop it there, I’ve said what I wanted to say, one way or another.
I rooted for Gore in 2000, and I was dismayed with most of the world when activist judges appointed Bush president despite the majority of Americans voting against him. I rooted for John Kerry in 2004, who said many intelligent things about not rushing to war, about building coalitions and regaining leadership respect in the world of nations for the United States. When Kerry was defeated by one of the slimmest margins in history, and Bush declared it a landslide mandate for his policies, I understood that people didn’t want to change presidents in the middle of a war, and besides Bush couldn’t be that bad, could he? Of course, with endless lies exposed, lies to get us into war, lies to keep us at war, lies to protect his friends and cheat and smear his opponents, now the majority of Americans show in polls that they at last know that Bush really is that bad. Now at last we see the fruits of dictatorship in American democracy, because Bush will do whatever he damn well pleases, and not enough people will oppose him to override his vetos or impeach him, at least not yet, and probably never will because that might destabilize the next election between rich candidates in our two party either-or system. At least the candidates are no longer just rich white men, now they’re rich period. It’s clear what runs our system.
If Gore jumps back in to run for office and save the world at the last minute, because he has all the gravitas of an Oscar winning global warming spokesman who was already voted by the majority of Americans to be president 7 years ago, then at least he’s one rich American I would vote for. Someone to go beyond war and unite the planet, to save us from environmental destruction while helping countries within limits to help themselves to keep their petty dictators in check. Someone to help us U.S. keep our own petty dictators in check would be wonderful, now that a majority of Americans have woken up to realize that we have some enemy right here at home. Here, evil is just better groomed and educated than radical muslims with bombs skulking in the shadows of smaller minds.