The Starting Five, 2/3/2015


We pass another milestone

I wish there were a way to write about the war in Iraq without bringing up George Bush Jr. Most of us, including many who voted for him, have learned more than we wanted to about our president. There was a time when people said they liked Mr. Bush because he seemed like a guy you could sit and have a beer with. They didn’t know at the time this meant drinking with the kind of guy who bends your ear all night — and never says a thing you can count on.

George Bush called himself “a war president,” he called himself “the Decider.” Iraq will be known as George Bush’s war because that’s the country he decided to make war against. Why he decided to do this will be argued for years to come because Mr. Bush has given us different explanations. I could make a list of these explanations, beginning with the weapons of mass destruction that were never found; so could you. I wish I didn’t have to bring this up, but there it is. There’s no way for us to think about this war without considering the false pretenses that got us there.  

I wish there were a way to write about the war in Iraq without mentioning that people appointed by President Bush disregarded the best intelligence available and cooked up a story designed to frighten us into going along with what the president wanted. We first learned about this from our friends the British. The Downing Street Memo suggested that, prior to the war, efforts were made by the Bush Administration to slant what was known about Iraq to make an invasion seem necessary. Recently, an internal study by our own intelligence service has reached a similar conclusion: Administration officials used information to stack the deck for war.

I wish there were a way to write about the war in Iraq without recalling the mood this country was in after the terrorist attacks that took place on Sept. 11, 2001. Approximately 3,000 innocent people were murdered that day. Awesome buildings were destroyed. These crimes were an outrage, but they also succeeded in scaring the living daylights out of many, many Americans — and that proved even worse.

Almost immediately, American officials and media commentators began referring to this country in a new, vaguely Germanic way, calling it “the Homeland.” A new government agency was named the Department of Homeland Security. Members of Congress gathered on the capital steps to sing “God Bless America” and even the ex-jocks who yak about football on TV stuck American flag pins in their lapels. Instead of seeing the terrorist attacks as horrific crimes committed by a group of international thugs, our leaders called Sept. 11 an act of war. The leading senators from both parties stood before the country and declared that, in this crisis, both parties now were one — and this was widely hailed to be a good thing.

I wish there were a way to write about the war in Iraq without having to remember that when President Bush asked Congress to give him the authority to send thousands of troops into battle and to spend billions of dollars to do so, there was barely any debate. When Congresswoman Julia Carson refused to be stampeded and voted against this resolution on constitutional grounds, she wrote home saying she expected to lose her seat for taking what was then considered an unpopular stand. Many Americans, especially our politicians, were afraid of being called weak or timid, unable to wield the big stick. 

I wish there were a way to write about the war in Iraq without talking about what it’s costing us. At the same time that the percentage of Americans living in what’s called “severe poverty” has hit a 32-year high, increasing 26 percent from 2000 to 2005, our military expenditures in 2008 are projected to be $623 billion — a number that includes the Pentagon’s requested budget plus the supplemental budget for the war. This represents a 10.5 percent increase over what’s being spent this year and a 62 percent increase over military spending in 2001. The United States will soon account for over half of all military spending in the world. I wish I could say this money is making the world safer.

Finally, I wish I could write about the war in Iraq without counting the over 3,500 American soldiers, young men and women, who have been killed there, or the thousands and thousands more who have been maimed and now, we find, neglected. I wish, for all our sakes, I could say this carnage was not a waste — but wishing will not make it so. 



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