Monday, March 20

A pesky little thing called war.

Over the last few days it's been very popular in the blogosphere to dig up statements made by supporters of the war back in 2003 and rip them a new one for their arrogance, irresponsibility, what have you. I'm not gonna do that. Instead, at the risk of being shamelessly self-promotional, I bring you what I wrote the day after the war started back in 2003.

Not that this will surprise you, but I stand by everything I said. I know I should feel incredibly fortunate to live in a country that can start a full-scale war and still look and feel so completely unaffected by it at home -- and I guess part of me, selfishly, does -- but at the same time I feel really guilty, maybe even ashamed, as an American that we apparently approach war with such a casual attitude. We've been at war for three years now, more than 2,300 American soldiers have died along with countless innocent Iraqi civilians, and yet we still find the time and energy to devote to runaway brides, Britney Spears, and a whole host of other things.

I realize that I'm no less guilty of this than most people are. And I also realize that if people really did believe in a quick-and-easy, wrap-'em-up war back in the spring of 2003, it wasn't like they were just blindly hoping for it -- after taxing Saddam's ass and routing him out of Kuwait in '91, after liberating Kosovo in less than three months without losing a single American soldier, there was certainly precedent for a swift, successful, and relatively low-impact conflict. But if the last three years have taught me anything, it's that a country's people often take their cues from their government, and whatever overly casual attitude the American people had as the Iraq war got started were absolutely mirrored, if not amplified, by the casual attitude taken by our government.

Donald Rumsfeld thought we could half-ass the invasion, occupation, and reconstruction of Iraq with fewer than 150,000 troops, going so far as to fire the Army's top general for daring to suggest it would take more. Cheney, Wolfowitz, and others at the Pentagon told us we would be welcomed as liberators in Iraq, with rose petals thrown at our feet by the joyous Iraqi people. George W. Bush was so eager to declare victory that he couldn't wait more than 41 days before strutting across the deck of an aircraft carrier with a "Mission Accomplished" banner behind him. Yes, I know, the conservatives and/or Bush fans who read this are going to whip out any number of quotes in which Rumsfeld or Cheney said this or that would be a difficult struggle, but every cautionary quote was followed by a wink -- one minute Bush is telling us what a long hard slog this is going to be, the next he's telling us to support the economy by going out and buying a ton of stuff and acting like everything's normal. They wanted us to believe this would be an easy, low-risk proposition, one that would require a minimum of disruption or sacrifice back here at home, and we eagerly jumped on board.

You're all welcome to have very long and involved debates over the legality of Bush's wiretapping program, Tom DeLay's campaign contributions, the torture that has gone on at Guantanamo Bay, but as serious as all those allegations are, they all pale in comparison to what I believe is the greatest crime the Bush administration committed: They didn't take war seriously. My attitude toward war centers on two points -- that it should be avoided by any reasonable diplomatic means (which the Bush administration did not do) and, barring that, it should be planned and waged with a thorough understanding of all the circumstances and risks involved (which they also did not do). So I'm not going to make any sweeping judgments about the rightness or wrongness of a war, not even this one, but the fact remains, when war is waged -- even if it is the most noble, well-planned, necessary war imaginable -- lives are changed. Soldiers come home missing limbs or in body bags. Families are torn apart. Entire nations incur economic consequences that are felt for months, if not years.

That is the inescapable fact of war, the truism that anyone who has ever actually fought in one will impart to you first and foremost: As Sadly, No! said, "War never doesn't hurt." But this administration, to their resounding shame, tried to deny this fact. They tried to do the invasion as cheaply as possible and demanded absolutely nothing from the folks back home -- no gas rationing, nobody even had to give up the massive tax cuts Bush had been feeding them for the past two years. Whether by accident or with malice aforethought, they didn't take this war seriously enough, and the example they set is the reason people were sitting outside talking, laughing, and drinking beers in Birmingham on March 19, 2003, as bombs rained down and innocent people died half a world away.

Unfortunately, I see no evidence that any of our leaders are taking it any more seriously now, three years and 2,317 dead American soldiers later. None of the people who fed us the greatest falsehoods about what this war would mean have been held in any way accountable for their carelessness -- if anything, they're doing better than they were before: Paul Wolfowitz is now the head of the World Bank. Eric Shinseki is out of a job, but the man who fired him, Donald Rumsfeld, still has his. Ahmed Chalabi, who has assembled a record of dishonesty and malfeasance that surely ranks him as one of the greatest charlatans ever to be associated with this country, whom the U.S. government should have placed in a prison cell, was instead placed in the office of the Iraqi Oil Minister. For their lazy and negligent attitude toward the very concept of war, they have been rewarded. And I don't want to be a citizen of a country where war is looked upon as casual. I don't want to live under a government that tries to tell me that even though we've gone to war, nothing's really all that different.

Obviously I've given countless reasons over the past five years why I oppose Bush and his policies, but this, to me, is the most shameful aspect of his administration's legacy: Barely 25 years after the blood and disgrace of Vietnam, they've already gotten back to thinking war isn't that big a deal. And it's rubbed off on the rest of us.

This may sound like a lot of finger-pointing and self-righteous Monday-morning quarterbacking, and I'm sorry if that's the case, but I do believe that all of this has relevance to the current situation in Iraq and how we move forward to ensure this operation's success. Whether or not Iraq is actually in a state of civil war, whether things are getting better or getting worse, we can't have even a remote sense of confidence in our chances for victory until our government sits down and has a reckoning with the American people: This is the seriousness of the situation we're in. This is where we're at, both the good and the bad. This is what we're going to need to make this thing work. And these are the sacrifices you will have to make to provide it.

The thing is, for all their swagger and machismo toward other countries, I think this government is too afraid of its own people to be able to say that. Which means nothing's going to change, either over in Iraq or here at home. And if this administration has succeeded fully in turning this into a country where war isn't seen as being that big a deal, it will have awful consequences that last long after the last American soldier flies home from Baghdad -- if, in fact, that ever happens.

1 comment:

Tony said...

I'll step forward. I was one of those who supported the war before it stepped off -- I even wrote a letter to Bush in support. Granted, I didn't realize just how incompetent the Republicans were at war, but you're right, I took it a little too lightly.