What's All This Then?

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Monday, November 28, 2005

I must apologize to my vast reading audience - I know there are at least six of you - for the absence of my words of wisdom for the last five or six days. There is a reason. This is a time of the year when I like to relax and enjoy a holiday mood. My working wife is taking a break and so we’ve be in a "vacation mode" since the day before Thanksgiving and it will extend until next Thursday when she rejoins the working world. That is to say, I had hoped that it would extend until then because I wanted to rest up, clear my mind, forget about Iraq and political scandals and collapsing businesses in this sterling economy created by the Bush tax cuts - and just think pleasant holiday thoughts. - at least for a few more days. The trouble is, the newspaper comes every day, holiday or not and broadcasting goes on, holiday or not - and I’m weak. I can’t stop myself from reading my newspaper and from turning on a radio in the morning. Even watching a little television in bed while I sip my morning tea and my wife sips her morning coffee. And last week - on the eve of Thanksgiving, both the radio and the newspaper got me irritated, then aggravated and then just plain angry.

The morning guy I listen to on the radio took last week off and someone else was doing his shift - someone who has considerable talent but who has a habit of being over solicitous of guests that he speaks to - either in studio or on the phone. I’m being polite with my selection of language and I’ll leave it at that. On Thanksgiving eve he was being supportive of our troops in Iraq by talking to an officer at camp Liberty in Baghdad. After talking about the holiday and what kind of a Thanksgiving meal they were having (supplied by a subsidiary of Haliburton at Lord knows what cost), he just had to ask if the troops were keeping up with the bickering back home and if it was affecting their morale. The guy said yes, they were aware of it. They didn’t like it. They wanted to complete their mission - which comment I found interesting because I’m still waiting for an explanation of the mission from the President. But the thrust of the radio guy’s call was that he was supportive of the assertion that criticism and questions about the Iraq war and whether the American people were misled about the need for war was sending a "wrong signal" to the troops, and it irritated me that he injected this Bush administration "talking point" into a conversation where it didn’t really belong. He tried asking the same question to a newsman at Camp Liberty the following day and got a different answer that didn’t seem to please him but which I imagine holds true for almost everyone serving in Iraq. The troops follow whatever orders they’re given, he was told. As far as the newsman was able to observe, their morale wasn't being affected by exercises in democracy taking place back home. As I wrote recently about my own military service, when you’re a "grunt" on the ground, you take your orders from above and you do your best to carry them out - and what you do and how you do it and feel about it isn’t affected by whatever yacking may be going on back home.

The irritation caused by listening to those radio conversations turned to aggravation when I opened my paper and read an op-ed piece by syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker and found her speculating about - and I quote verbatim - "what Senate Republicans would be saying if polls showed that most Americans overwhelmingly support the war in Iraq. Would they be scrambling toward the defeatist, anti-war side of the political aisle, as they did Tuesday by passing a resolution that suggests a weakening of resolve?"

A defeatist , anti war side? A weakening of "resolve?" This was a war started on the basis of phony information and phony threats to our security and with zero understanding about what would happen or what we would have to do once the war had been "won." I caught the tail end of a speech by Richard Clarke on CNN the other day and he was answering a question about the apparent lack of expertise on what to expect from a military defeat of Iraq, Clarke quickly dispelled that notion. He identified the groups within the Federal government where the expertise was to be found and what they had said about what would happen - exactly what IS happening - but no one in the White House listened to them. Now when people have thought about this mess after watching it become messier and messier for 32 months and are starting to push for an exit strategy other than "stay the course" and the utter impossibility of "defeating" the insurgents, we get armchair pundits calling them "defeatist" and undergoing a "weakening of resolve."

No Kathleen. This isn’t a game of chicken and your choice of words was enough to make my Thanksgiving turkey stick in my gullet. What you call "defeatism" and "weakening of resolve" is the "realpolitik" view of those who think that the President and the group of hawks commonly referred to as the "neocons" - whose desire to invade Iraq was well known during the Clinton administration - are operating from a view of reality that is rooted in theoretical and wishful thinking and that they need to consider the fact that a great many people see a totally different reality.

It’s easy for the armchair warriors to have "resolve." I’m sure those who had all kinds of "resolve" about how to avoid serving in the military when their time came are experts on the subject. But while they are exercising all this resolve, people are dying horrendous deaths every day - Iraqis and Americans. We need to hear what the end game is from our leader. Not "stay the course." Not "we’ll stand down when they stand up." That’s a formula for being in Iraq forever - with internal security of that distant land a permanent American responsibility. We need to hear something other than meaningless slogans. We need to hear something other than vicious attacks on those who disagree with the President - only to be changed 180 degrees when the realization hits that it’s not resonating with voters - even Republican voters. We need to hear some straight talk from our President - and from behind his desk in the Oval Office - not in front of the military backdrop of the week.

At the very least I’d like to approach the Christmas season with some degree of hope that next year’s Thanksgiving can be enjoyed without Iraq being a major topic of conversation that irritates, aggravates and casts a pall on the celebration. But since there can’t be any change in the White House by then, I won’t hold my breath.