I wrote this in 2003 as our nation stepped into a war that is still going on today, in the dog days summer, 2017. It is well worth reading even today.
When I started publishing my website , I told myself that I would stay away from the weather, politics, and organized religion . . . but that pretty much everything else was fair game. Now I have to change my stance on at least two of the three. The east coast blizzard this past weekend was a wondrous thing to behold, except I was trying to travel in and through it. The snow was pretty to look at but miserable to deal with if you had any thought of going further than twenty feet anywhere in a ten state area.
There, that’s topic number one breached and broached. But what to say about George Bush the Younger and this business with Iraq?
I should caveat by saying that I sort of voted for the guy. Or maybe I just closed my eyes, held my nose, and voted against Bill Clinton. I liked John McCain a lot, but my fellow middle of the road republicans didn’t do what it took, so the former POW from Arizona went back to the Senate to pester his colleagues, and we were left to vote for someone else.
It’s difficult to recall exactly what Mr. Bush stood for when he was merely a candidate. I do recall him bashing away at the previous administration’s penchant for sending American soldiers off to foreign lands to do who knows what for who knows how long. I remember some railing against nation building, if not by Bush, then certainly by the pundits who gleefully supported him on talk radio. I recall more than a little noise from those parts about the moral turpitude of, well, anyone that didn’t agree with the political right. And I certainly have labored under the impression, lo these many years, that Republicans stood for low taxes, small government, and fiscal responsibility, the Reagan years not withstanding. And I say all of this as a registered Republican of nearly twenty five years who keeps wondering who hijacked common sense?
I point all this out because it’s patently clear that none of that describes the current Bush sensibility, or more importantly, the Bush record. As Senator Robert Byrd said in a speech on the Senate floor on February, 12, 2003 . . .
In . . . [a] scant two years, this Administration has squandered a large projected surplus of some $5.6 trillion over the next decade and taken us to projected deficits as far as the eye can see. This Administration's domestic policy has put many of our states in dire financial condition, under funding scores of essential programs for our people. This Administration has fostered policies which have slowed economic growth. This Administration has ignored urgent matters such as the crisis in health care for our elderly. This Administration has been slow to provide adequate funding for homeland security. This Administration has been reluctant to better protect our long and porous borders.
In foreign policy, this Administration has failed to find Osama bin Laden. In fact, just yesterday we heard from him again marshaling his forces and urging them to kill. This Administration has split traditional alliances, possibly crippling, for all time, International order-keeping entities like the United Nations and NATO. This Administration has called into question the traditional worldwide perception of the United States as well-intentioned, peacekeeper. This Administration has turned the patient art of diplomacy into threats, labeling, and name calling of the sort that reflects quite poorly on the intelligence and sensitivity of our leaders, and which will have consequences for years to come.
Calling heads of state pygmies, labeling whole countries as evil, denigrating powerful European allies as irrelevant -- these types of crude insensitivities can do our great nation no good. We may have massive military might, but we cannot fight a global war on terrorism alone. We need the cooperation and friendship of our time-honored allies as well as the newer found friends whom we can attract with our wealth. Our awesome military machine will do us little good if we suffer another devastating attack on our homeland which severely damages our economy. Our military manpower is already stretched thin and we will need the augmenting support of those nations who can supply troop strength, not just sign letters cheering us on.
The war in Afghanistan has cost us $37 billion so far, yet there is evidence that terrorism may already be starting to regain its hold in that region. We have not found bin Laden, and unless we secure the peace in Afghanistan, the dark dens of terrorism may yet again flourish in that remote and devastated land.
Pakistan as well is at risk of destabilizing forces. This Administration has not finished the first war against terrorism and yet it is eager to embark on another conflict with perils much greater than those in Afghanistan. Is our attention span that short? Have we not learned that after winning the war one must always secure the peace?
I suppose you could argue that all of this was thrust on Mr. Bush; that he would have trod a different path but for the intercession of a near perfect storm of economic bubble bursting, a crisis in corporate governance, the implacable drama playing out between Israel and the Palestinians, and of course Afghanistan and Al Qaeda. That may or may not be true, but I think it misses a larger point.
In retrospect, we all missed the driving dynamic. Bush the Younger’s quest for office wasn’t a political campaign. It was and is to this day a mythic quest by the young prince to avenge the defeats of his father and in the process establish a New Jerusalem, a city on a hill to rule the world, administered by the very same grey men who had served the patriarch king before his inglorious defeat by the heathen liberal hordes. The story goes something like this.
He Tried to Kill My Dad
Cast from his throne, the patriarch king, Bush the Elder, retreated to a quiet forest glen to salve his wounds, take up sky diving, and make speeches for astronomical sums of money. Like aging Parsifals, both Bush the Younger and Bush the Other rode out from the kingdom in search of the grail castle, there to heal the Fisher King and restore the glory of the kingdom. While young George searched in distant Texas for political potency, the evil Grendel and his mother, played by Bill and Hillary Clinton, stalked the great mead hall for eight long years, feasting on republican political planks and depriving the rightful heirs from the right of a place at the big table.
What political knavery and sexual indiscretion couldn’t do, time eventually did. In the end, the evil Bill and Hillary left the mead hall for Chappaqua, New York. A new King was to be crowned, and Parsifal Bill the Younger rode forth to claim what was rightfully his, and in the process, defeat the two monsters that had ultimately caused his father’s downfall: Bill Clinton and Saddam Hussein. That’s it. It’s no more complicated than that. Get rid of those two guys and all would be right in the world. The son would have avenged the father. That was the extent of Bill the Younger’s vision.
Sound overwrought? Then you mistake the quest for higher office for something nobler then it is. As much as we’d like to see the Presidency as great men striving mightily with other great men for the opportunity to do great things, it’s none of the above. Grade school history tends to sand the rough edges off our leaders, sports heroes, and entertainers. A closer look betrays the fact that our President’s have mostly been deeply flawed men, with huge personal validation needs, who tilt at windmills and fight unseen demons in order to prove that they “are to worth it.” The only possible exception I can think of from the past sixty years might have been Jimmy Carter, a truly decent and honorable man who was a horribly ineffective president.
The truth is I don’t know George Bush and I haven’t talked with the shrink he doesn’t have. So I could be way off base on this. For example, I don’t know if he has an Oedipal complex, though it sure looks that way . . . both George the Younger and George the Elder vying for the approval of Mother Babs. Too, I don’t know if he sees the arc of his life in mythic, heroic terms, though his story is a ringer for every father/son, patriarch/hero tale since at least Odysseus. I’m just guessing at all of this, so you might rightfully accuse me of psychobabble.
But look at the evidence. What are we to make of Bush’s obvious disdain for former President Clinton and his putative heir, Al Gore? And what are we to make of his comment, “He tried to kill my dad”? It’s personal, pure and simple. History will show that our current President was thinking about deposing Saddam long before he made his views on the “axis of evil” known far and wide in his State of the Union speech of 2002. This is a man who sees the world in terms of right and wrong, good and evil, beginning with the restoration of the family name. By beating Bill’s heir and defeating Saddam, the son will have truly eaten the father.
Hi Ho, Hi Ho, it’s Off to War We Go
Let’s say my analysis is completely off the mark. Let’s assume that our current President has not sworn out a personal vendetta against Saddam. Let’s pretend that his political judgment is untainted by father/son issues or any of the myriad other psychic daemons that rise up from the well of the soul of middle aged men. No, let’s just assume that our current President is a completely rational actor. Now I’m really concerned. Concerned about him. Concerned about us. Concerned that anyone could have rationally brought as to the edge of an abyss from which there is apparently no retreat. And there is no retreat. But for some miracle, something north of 180,000 or our sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, are soon going to undertake the dubious task of marching on Baghdad, there to depose a tyrant and build a new nation in our image.
I’m not under any illusions about Saddam, Osama, Kim, Momar, and whatever Ayatollah is calling the shots in Iran. They’re a bunch of bad actors and they mean us harm. But I’m not convinced that I shouldn’t fear George Bush and his rush to mayhem and who knows what lies beyond that even more. And while I’m at it, what about the other great statesmen and stateswomen we’ve sent to Washington? What happened to their reason and common sense? Maybe I should be afraid of them as well. The cause of my alarm is spelled out in that same speech by Robert Byrd.
To contemplate war is to think about the most horrible of human experiences. On this February day, as this nation stands at the brink of battle, every American on some level must be contemplating the horrors of war.
Yet, this Chamber is, for the most part, silent -- ominously, dreadfully silent. There is no debate, no discussion, no attempt to lay out for the nation the pros and cons of this particular war. There is nothing.
We stand passively mute in the United States Senate, paralyzed by our own uncertainty, seemingly stunned by the sheer turmoil of events. Only on the editorial pages of our newspapers is there much substantive discussion of the prudence or imprudence of engaging in this particular war.
And this is no small conflagration we contemplate. This is no simple attempt to defang a villain. No. This coming battle, if it materializes, represents a turning point in U.S. foreign policy and possibly a turning point in the recent history of the world.
This nation is about to embark upon the first test of a revolutionary doctrine applied in an extraordinary way at an unfortunate time. The doctrine of preemption -- the idea that the United States or any other nation can legitimately attack a nation that is not imminently threatening but may be threatening in the future -- is a radical new twist on the traditional idea of self defense. It appears to be in contravention of international law and the UN Charter. And it is being tested at a time of world-wide terrorism, making many countries around the globe wonder if they will soon be on our -- or some other nation's -- hit list. High level Administration figures recently refused to take nuclear weapons off of the table when discussing a possible attack against Iraq. What could be more destabilizing and unwise than this type of uncertainty, particularly in a world where globalism has tied the vital economic and security interests of many nations so closely together? There are huge cracks emerging in our time-honored alliances, and U.S. intentions are suddenly subject to damaging worldwide speculation. Anti-Americanism based on mistrust, misinformation, suspicion, and alarming rhetoric from U.S. leaders is fracturing the once solid alliance against global terrorism which existed after September 11 . . .
Will our war inflame the Muslim world resulting in devastating attacks on Israel? Will Israel retaliate with its own nuclear arsenal? Will the Jordanian and Saudi Arabian governments be toppled by radicals, bolstered by Iran which has much closer ties to terrorism than Iraq?
Could a disruption of the world's oil supply lead to a world-wide recession? Has our senselessly bellicose language and our callous disregard of the interests and opinions of other nations increased the global race to join the nuclear club and made proliferation an even more lucrative practice for nations which need the income?
In only the space of two short years this reckless and arrogant Administration has initiated policies which may reap disastrous consequences for years.
One can understand the anger and shock of any President after the savage attacks of September 11. One can appreciate the frustration of having only a shadow to chase and an amorphous, fleeting enemy on which it is nearly impossible to exact retribution.
But to turn one's frustration and anger into the kind of extremely destabilizing and dangerous foreign policy debacle that the world is currently witnessing is inexcusable from any Administration charged with the awesome power and responsibility of guiding the destiny of the greatest superpower on the planet. Frankly many of the pronouncements made by this Administration are outrageous. There is no other word.
Yet this chamber is hauntingly silent. On what is possibly the eve of horrific infliction of death and destruction on the population of the nation of Iraq -- a population, I might add, of which over 50% is under age 15 -- this chamber is silent. On what is possibly only days before we send thousands of our own citizens to face unimagined horrors of chemical and biological warfare -- this chamber is silent. On the eve of what could possibly be a vicious terrorist attack in retaliation for our attack on Iraq, it is business as usual in the United States Senate.
We are truly "sleepwalking through history." In my heart of hearts I pray that this great nation and its good and trusting citizens are not in for a rudest of awakenings.
To engage in war is always to pick a wild card. And war must always be a last resort, not a first choice. I truly must question the judgment of any President who can say that a massive unprovoked military attack on a nation which is over 50% children is "in the highest moral traditions of our country". This war is not necessary at this time. Pressure appears to be having a good result in Iraq. Our mistake was to put ourselves in a corner so quickly. Our challenge is to now find a graceful way out of a box of our own making. Perhaps there is still a way if we allow more time.
There it is. That’s what’s got me scared. For reasons that sound fine in the abstract . . . getting rid of weapons of mass destruction and making our nation safe from terror . . . but don’t hold up in their particulars . . . Colin Powell’s speech at the UN was well wrought but wouldn’t have convicted a petty theft . . . we’re about to head into an illegal, unconstitutional, preemptive war of aggression for which there is no precedent for our nation (remember that the framers of our constitution reserved for Congress explicitly and specifically, not the executive, the job of declaring war, and Congress has done no such thing). A war for which there is scant support above a resigned feeling of, “all right already, if we’re going to do this, let’s do it”. A war that will have cataclysmic consequences for decades. And it’s just sort of happening. That’s the second part that has me all spun up.
Where are our leaders? Where are the political giants? We’ve all stood by in a sort of stupor as Mr. Bush has completely misplayed his hand with friends and foes alike. We are the mightiest nation in the history of the world, and we’ve been reduced to name calling with a bunch of cynical plutocrats from France, Germany, and Russia. Our military, the most awesome killing machine the world has ever known, has reached the point of no return with a nation whose martial glory was last on display 1000 years ago. The asymmetry of it all is absurd. Saddam is playing a weak hand like it’s a royal flush, and our guy is playing a full house like he’s never been to a card game. We’ll win the hand and lose the game, and years from now, we’ll all be able to tell our grandchildren we were there . . . a statement that has a built in optimism I’m not sure I feel.
See the Future in the Rear View Mirror
The feeling that history is repeating itself is unshakable. There are those who have offered a parallel between Saddam and Hitler. I think that strains credibility and mocks the horror that Hitler and Nazism wrought. The history I see repeating is more recent and more proximate than that. In 1953, President Eisenhower authorized the CIA to use its muscle and guile to oust an annoying, but largely harmless nationalist named Mussadegh from his office of Prime Minister of Iran, thus ushering in the return of the despised Shah. Why? Oil. So what else is new?
Twenty five years later, during the Carter administration, that same Shah flees office, only to wind up in an American hospital with the help of David Rockefeller and Henry Kissinger. That turned out to be a great way to rub the Ayatollahs the wrong way, and pretty soon we had ourselves a first rate hostage crisis that didn’t end until the Carter administration did.
Our collective loathing for the Iranian revolution led the Reagan, and later the Bush people into a cozy relationship with the new bad boy of the Mid East, the sectarian Saddam. We, along with our friends the Kuwaitis and Saudis goaded him into getting into it with the Iranians, feeding him intelligence, funds, and materiel for waging war and concocting the very nasties we now want him to give up.
When he got crabby about paying back his considerable financial debts to the Kuwaiti’s, he decided to play rough and you know the rest of the story. Bush the Elder leads a coalition of nations into Kuwait to oust the Evil Saddam. In the midst of the drama, a young Osama offers his help to the Saudis, only to be spurned. That and his subsequent fury over the presence of infidel troops in Saudi Arabia pushes an already radicalized zealot over the edge (recall, that we and the Saudis gave him his start in Afghanistan years before).
That’s the trouble with King making. That’s the trouble with nation building. In a very real way, the men that haunt the US today are creatures not just of our making, but of Bush the Elder's making. And now look at the mess. Maybe if we’d left Mussadegh where he was, none of this would be happening. Who knows?
Are all those events linked? All the way back to Mussadegh. I’d say so, but I may be wrong. I mean while I’m at it, why not throw in Laurence of Arabia and the British machinations following the First World War? Or go back to the Crusaders. It never seems to stop with that part of the world, and no matter how far back you trace a grievance, someone else can trace another one further. So maybe it’s just the names that have changed and we’d be spooling up for war in that part of the world anyway.
We don’t know what alternative present a different past would have wrought. But the history we do have points inexorably to one conclusion: Bush the Younger is about to push over another bunch of dominoes, and the two things we know are that 1) it isn’t going to come out the way anyone thinks it will, and 2) the cost to America in dollars, ill will, and terror will be extraordinarily high. This will not come out well, you can be sure of that.
It may be too late for you or I to do anything about this . . . and I’m making an assumption here that you think something should be done. After all, as I’ve already pointed out, our elected representatives have been largely silent, sitting stoically by as the administration has sent an immense war making machine, and 180,000 of our countrymen—that’s about the number of people that live in Orlando, Little Rock, Salt Lake, or Reno just to pick some examples—half way around the world. All the while pretending that there will be a UN resolution forthcoming that will somehow absolve them of their responsibilities to govern. All the while hoping that if they ignore it long enough, somehow Iraq will take care of itself. All the while hoping that if they look the other way long enough that by the time things get really hot, they can hide behind flag and country and support our war time president. It’s pretty shameful if you think about it.
Maybe I’ve drawn all the wrong conclusions . . . about Saddam, about George, and about our elected representatives. Maybe the only thing that matters is getting Saddam. Maybe there is a grand plan. Maybe, maybe, maybe. Maybe I should do something about my concerns. So I did.
I entered the name of my Senators and Congressperson in Google. That took me to their web sites. I read their positions, or non-positions on the Iraq mess. Then I wrote them what I thought. It’s not much, but it’s a start. You could do it too. Whether you like Bush the Younger or hate him, whether you think that going to war in Iraq is a good idea or a bad idea, whether you think Jacques Chirac is a statesman or a hypocrite, do something. Make your voice heard. Light a match under the hind parts of your elected official. You have a computer. You have access to the Internet. Here’s your opportunity to do something useful with it.