US Discontents: Iraq's unspeakable truths, Ann Coulter's unspeakableness, Bush's unspeakable damage still to come
1. The Four Unspeakable Truths
What politicians won't admit about Iraq.
By Jacob Weisberg/Slate.com
When it comes to Iraq, there are two kinds of presidential candidates. The disciplined ones, like Hillary Clinton, carefully avoid acknowledging reality. The more candid, like John McCain and Barack Obama, sometimes blurt out the truth, but quickly apologize.
For many presidential aspirants, the first unspeakable truth is simply that the war was a mistake . This issue came to a head recently with Hillary Clinton's obstinate refusal to acknowledge that voting to give President Bush the authority to invade Iraq was the wrong thing to do. Though fellow Democrats John Edwards and Christopher Dodd have managed to say they erred in voting for the 2002 war resolution, Clinton is joined by Joe Biden and a full roster of Republicans in her inability to disgorge the M-word. Perhaps most absurdly, Chuck Hagel has called Bush's 21,500-troop "surge" the biggest blunder since Vietnam without ever saying that the war itself was the big blunder and that he favored it.
Reasons for refusing to admit that the war itself was a mistake are surprisingly similar across party lines. It is seldom easy to admit you were wrong -- so let me repeat what I first acknowledged in Slate in January 2004, that I am sorry to have given even qualified support to the war. But what is awkward for columnists is nearly impossible for self-justifying politicians, who resist acknowledging error at a glandular level. Specific political calculations help to explain their individual decisions. Hillary, for instance, worries that confessing her failure will make it easier for hawks to savage her if she gets the nomination. But at bottom, the impulse is always the same. Politicians are stubborn, afraid of looking weak, and fearful that any admission of error will be cast as flip-flopping and inconsistency.
A second truth universally unacknowledged is that American soldiers being killed, grotesquely maimed, and then treated like whining freeloaders at Walter Reed Hospital are victims as much as "heroes." John Kerry was the first to violate this taboo when he was still a potential candidate last year. Kerry appeared to tell a group of California college students that it sucks to go and fight in Iraq. A variety of conservative goons instantly denounced Kerry for disrespecting the troops. An advanced sufferer of Senatorial Infallibility Syndrome, Kerry resisted retracting his comment for a while, but eventually regretted what he called a "botched joke" about President Bush.
Lost in the debate about whether Kerry meant what came out of his mouth was the fact that what he said was largely true . Americans who attend college and have good employment options after graduation are unlikely to sign up for free tours of the Sunni Triangle. People join the military for a variety of reasons, of course, but since the Iraq war turned ugly, the all-volunteer Army has been lowering educational standards , raising enlistment bonuses, and looking past criminal records. The lack of better choices is a larger and larger factor in the choice of military service. Our troops in Iraq may not see themselves as cannon fodder or victims of presidential misjudgments, but that doesn't mean they're not.
Reality No. 3, closely related to No. 2 and following directly from No. 1, is that the American lives lost in Iraq have been lives wasted . Barack Obama crossed this boundary on his first trip to Iowa as an announced candidate when he declared at a rally, "We ended up launching a war that should have never been authorized and should have never been waged and to which we have now spent $400 billion and have seen over 3,000 lives of the bravest young Americans wasted." With lightning speed, Obama said he had misspoken and apologized to military families.
John McCain used the same proscribed term when he announced his candidacy on Late Night With David Letterman last week. "We've wasted a lot of our most precious treasure, which is American lives." This was a strange admission, given McCain's advocacy of a surge bigger than Bush's. In any case, McCain followed Obama by promptly regretting his choice of words . (The patriotically correct term for losing parts of your body in a pointless war in Mesopotamia is, of course, "sacrifice.") These episodes all followed Kinsley's law of gaffes . The mistake Kerry, Obama, and McCain made was telling the truth before retreating to the approved banality and euphemism
A fourth and final near-certainty, which is in some ways the hardest for politicians to admit, is that America is losing or has already lost the Iraq war . The United States is the strongest nation in the history of the world and does not think of itself as coming in second in two-way contests. When it does so, it is slow to accept that it has been beaten. American political and military leaders were reluctant to acknowledge or utter that they had miscalculated and wasted tens of thousands of lives in Vietnam, many of them after failure and withdrawal were assured. Even today, American politicians tend not to describe Vietnam as a straightforward defeat. Something similar is happening in Iraq, where the most that leaders typically say is that we "risk" losing and must not do so.
Democrats avoid the truth about the tragedy in Iraq for fear of being labeled unpatriotic or unsupportive of the troops. Republicans avoid it for fear of being blamed for the disaster or losing defense and patriotism as cards to play against Democrats. Politicians on both sides believe that acknowledging the unpleasant truth will weaken them and undermine those still attempting to persevere on our behalf. But nations and individuals do not grow weaker by confronting the truth. They grow weaker by avoiding it and coming to believe their own evasions.
2. Coulter, Cheney, Bush: What's the Difference? – by Jane Smiley/Huffington Post
There was a time when Coulter, Cheney, and Bush could consider themselves in the majority. They could say of themselves that their ideas and policies had found public favor, and so they must be right, or at least popular. Those times are gone. Bush's ratings are in the twenties, Cheney's are around fifteen or so, and Coulter has been
criticized over and over by her own allies for going too far with her trademark hate-speech. But Coulter, Cheney, and Bush just stick with what they know. They do the very thing that gets them in trouble over and over, and, if possible, they intensify or expand it. We know of Bush that he is no longer looking for the approval of us, his contemporaries. Now he is looking for the approval of history--somehow, someday, he plans to be vindicated, and he reads plenty of presidential biographies to bolster his nerve. Talk about betting on a longshot!
Cheney, who is reported to carry a hazmat suit with him everywhere, seems positively delusional. As the situation deteriorates even further in Iraq, he travels around the world, telling people who know better that everything in Iraq is great, and that the administration's policies are a big success. And you have to agree with him--the war on terror is certainly working, if representatives of the Taliban can get close enough to try to assassinate him--not! Coulter, who drew serious fire last summer when she attacked the 9/11 widows, is back at CPAC using her influence to undermine any Republican presidential hopeful who supports her. McCain, Romney, and Giuliani can try all they want to distance themselves from her, but she is going to stick to them until they all go down together. No, Bush, Cheney, and Coulter haven't learned, and yes, they can't learn. What they demonstrate is that their brand of "conservatism" is beyond reason and learning, and is, in fact, an uncontrollable pathology. It will not be Cheney and Bush who refrain from attacking Iran because they have realized that it is beyond stupid and well into suicidal to do so, it will be others who prevent it. As for Coulter, she will continue to invite her supporters to mock and disdain those she disagrees with until she has no more supporters and becomes simply a freak show.
If you look Coulter up in Wikipedia, you will see that she makes a revealing remark about her "faith": she believes Christ's message is that "People are sinful and need to be redeemed, and this is your lucky day because I'm here to redeem you even though you don't deserve it, and I have to get the crap kicked out of me to do it." "According to liberals," though, "the message of Jesus ... is something along the lines of 'be nice to people.'" In other words, Coulter embraces Christianity as an expression of absolute shame and humiliation and Christ as primarily a victim.
One thing that was astonishing about the Bush administration between 2002 and 2004, when it had, to all appearances, a lock on political power in this country, was that this sense of victimization was pervasive. Victimized by Joe Wilson! Victimized by the press (who actually collaborated with them in hiding all their crimes)! Victimized by Saddam Hussein! Victimized, according to Coulter, by the 9/11 widows and by people who don't want to be called "faggots"! Victimized by the captives in Abu Ghraib and the detainees at Gitmo! Victimized, according to Dinesh D'Souza, by those families who don't look or act like traditional nuclear families!
Things that D'Souza says are also telling. How is Osama Bin Laden like American liberal culture? You or I might not see any similarities at all, since Bin Laden is a militant Islamist who would like for America to get out of Afghanistan and for American liberals to abide by sharia law. To American liberals, Bin Laden represents every atavistic, violent social dynamic that they have tried with all their might to leave behind. For D'Souza, though, liberals and Bin Laden are the same, because they victimize him equally. These feelings of victimization (which are evident in the tone of grievance that these conservatives habitually voice), are the key to Bush/Cheney/Coulter conservatism because it is these feelings that are never assuaged or satisfied in a society where all citizens are created equal.
The liberal ideal is that the marketplace would be level, the law would work impartially, and the rules would be the same for everyone. Some liberals additionally believe that historical crimes should be rectified, and that the state should provide the same services for all citizens (in fact, this latter policy was shown, a couple of weeks ago, to produce considerably better lives for the children of Scandinavia and the Netherlands than those of the more conservative US and UK). One rationale behind liberal social policies is that they are just, but another is that they work better to prevent disaster--children whose mothers get excellent prenatal care, for example, have a better chance at being born healthy and living healthy lives, and therefore of costing less and producing more.
What we notice among conservatives like Coulter, Cheney, Bush, and some Christian groups is that "equality" means nothing--they feel victimized if they are not dominant and if challenges to their dominance are not suppressed. Bush and Cheney want unfettered power; Coulter wants to incite explosions, murders, and hate-crimes. Any attempt on the part of anyone to diminish their power in any way they perceive as an attack on all of their power. This is what makes them dangerous, in the same way that killers and abusers are especially dangerous when they are challenged by their potential victims.
People like Cheney, Bush, and Coulter always present a problem to the societies they live in, because they are hair-trigger aggressive. Their "fight or flight" instincts are easily aroused and they cannot perceive the actual degree of danger in any situation--all dangers are equally overwhelming, and so must always be met with an overwhelmingly forceful response, which is as likely as not to get them into even more trouble. Cheney's hazmat suit and his refusal to discuss his daughter's lesbianism show the same terror as Bush's constant use of the word "terrorist" to describe those who disagree with American aims in those "terrorists'" very own countries. The terms Coulter is always using to disparage perceived rivals--terms having to do with sexuality, gender roles, and looks--show where her terror lies.
As their supporters desert them and they come to feel more and more endangered, the question becomes one of containment. We have all noticed that Bush and Cheney are more dangerous. Quietly subverting them has become a Pentagon project; whether it can be done is an open question, given that they still have a core of true believers.
Fortunately, Coulter doesn't yet have her finger on the red button, but looking at her, you can begin to understand some of the female crazies we have known--Madame Mao, Imelda Marcos. The best thing about them--maybe the only good thing--is that as they become increasingly ridiculous and frightening, they demonstrate for all to see that they are exactly the sort of persons our society needs to innoculate itself against.
3. How Much More Harm Can Bush Do? -- by Paul Craig Roberts
US casualties (dead and wounded) have now reached 27,000 in a war that was supposed to be a "cakewalk," over in a few weeks. If what four-star Gen. Wesley Clark, former supreme commander of NATO, told Amy Goodman in a March 2 interview is correct, U.S. casualties are yet in their early days.
Gen. Clark told Amy Goodman that shortly after 9/11 he was shown a Pentagon "memo that describes how we're going to take out seven countries in five years, starting with Iraq, and then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and, finishing off, Iran."
That sounds exactly like the plan that neoconservative Norman Podhoretz set out in Commentary magazine.
The media have done a good job for the government of keeping the blood and gore out of the living room. Except for close friends or relatives of one of the 27,000, Americans have not been impacted by the war. They are even less aware of the consequences for Iraqis.
Every day 100 or more Iraqi civilians are killed and 100 or more are maimed and injured. For example, as of early evening Tuesday, March 6 , the U.S. had lost 10 GIs killed. Iraqi casualties for the day totaled 621, with 215 killed and 406 wounded.
U.S. troops routinely kill Iraqi civilians mistakenly or from frustration, but the heavy daily casualties are the result of the civil war made possible by the U.S. overthrow of the Iraqi government. U.S. troops per se are not responsible for much of the daily toll, but the Bush administration, Congress, and the American people are.
The March 6 toll of 621 civilian casualties is high even for Iraq. Assume 200 casualties each day and the result is 73,000 Iraqi casualties per year. Why does anyone in the Bush administration, Congress, or among the public believe that the U.S. has the right to wreck a country and inflict such extraordinary harm on a civilian population?
How did the "war on terror" become a war on the Iraqi people?
We have heard every answer: intelligence mistakes, incompetence, and evil machinations. Whichever answer we take, the killing and destruction continue.
It has recently come to light that the U.S. government has imposed an oil deal on the puppet Iraqi government that turns Iraqi oil over to U.S. and British firms for exploitation. Bush-Cheney have not brought Iraqis democracy, but they have stolen their oil revenues.
The profits of the military-industrial complex are soaring, and higher military budgets are being appropriated. The value of Cheney's Halliburton stock options has not merely doubled or tripled but multiplied by a factor of 32.
The Israel Lobby sees the war as enhancing Israeli hegemony in the Middle East and making possible the completion of Israel's theft of Palestine from Palestinians.
Thus, the three most powerful lobbies in America are the beneficiaries of the devastation of Iraq. The combined power of these lobbies makes it impossible for Congress to respond to the American people and end the war.
American politicians and administrations still cloak their motives in idealistic principles, but it has been a long time since anyone has seen any principled behavior in Washington.
Despite the unrelenting U.S. propaganda against Iran and North Korea, a poll of 28,000 people in 27 countries for the BBC World Service (March 6) found that Israel, Iran, and the U.S. in that order are regarded as the most negative influences on the world. Even North Korea is regarded as a less negative influence than America.
Japan, Canada, the EU, France, China, and India are all regarded as more positive influences on the world than the United States.
The Bush-Cheney regime has achieved this deplorable result in a mere six years.
Yet the Democrats cannot even pass a toothless resolution against committing more U.S. troops to Iraq.
Far from making Americans safe by attacking a country that posed no threat to the U.S., Bush and Cheney have alarmed the Russians and the Chinese. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Gen. Yury Baluyevsky, chief of the Russian General Staff, have both warned that the Bush regime's military aggression and drive for hegemony are setting off another arms race. Gen. Baluyevsky says that Russia might pull out of the 20-year-old Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty.
China has announced a 17.8 percent increase in its military budget for 2007.
China is America's most important banker. How long will China fund America's wars and trade deficit when it finds itself so threatened by America's "leaders" that it has to accelerate its military spending?
Americans still regard themselves as the salt of the earth. But the rest of the world no longer sees Americans that way. When citizens of other countries turn their eyes toward America, they see evil.