Thursday, November 18, 2004


With Colin Powell resigning after what he termed “the worst time in my life” there can now be no illusions that the Iraq War is in the hands – completely – of its architects, a group of radical conservatives none of whom ever fought in a war. Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, Wolfowitz, Feith: ladies and gentlemen, this is your starting team. Without exception they are what we liberals call “Chickenhawks”—rabidly pro-war conservatives who never bothered to fight themselves, and in most cases (Bush and Cheney being the obvious ones) went out of their way to dodge the draft. One of Bush’s professors at Harvard Business School recalls him aggressively championing the Vietnam War as late as 1974 (the MBA program was his early ticket out of the National Guard which apparently wasn’t cushy enough) while sitting in the back of the class with his bomber jacket on. I’ll give you a minute if you want to go to the bathroom and throw up.


By now you all know the obvious criticisms of the Iraq War. In a nutshell, it’s a unnecessary war that was badly planned, that won’t bring democracy to Iraq or the Middle East generally, has nothing to do with 9/11 and the war against Al Qaeda (except insofar as it gives Al Qaeda a new place to kill Americans while drawing resources away from the hunt for Osama bin Laden) and it has cost taxpayers 225 billion dollars and counting.

Now, I know a few of you disagree with this assessment and believe that the Iraq War is a heroic battle to bring democracy to the world and that it is one we will win. If this sounds like you then I strongly encourage you to enlist in the armed forces. It’s okay if you are middle-aged. The Army is in desperate need of soldiers with various kinds of expertise (notably doctors: the Bush administration has even drawn up plans for a medical draft if necessary) so you may very well be able to serve in Iraq even if you’re in your fifties. You can also show your support for the war by encouraging your children to enlist. It’s surprisingly easy. Just go to

and follow the steps in the section marked “Plan Your Military Career.” If you are not internet savvy, I have taken the liberty of downloading the enlistment forms for the Army, Navy and Marines and will gladly mail copies to you or your sons or daughters. All you have to do is email me at and ask.

But before you express your unqualified support for the war in such an honest and courageous way, you may want to read the rest of this message.

As the Washington Post reported on Wednesday, “While at least 38 Marine and Army troops have died in a tough week of house-to-house fighting in Fallujah, that is not the hardest part of the U.S. counteroffensive against the Iraqi insurgency.”

That’s right, folks – “taking” Falluja was the easy part. And given that we apparently failed to capture any of the insurgency’s senior leadership, it’s hard to say what “capturing Falluja” means. The Bush Administration clearly ties this ability to occupy and stabilize Falluja to their plans for Iraq-wide January elections which need some semblance of Sunni support to have any legitimacy. And a nationwide election is part of their broader plan for the “Iraqization” of the Iraqi government and military. “Iraqization” is what, theoretically, will allow the U.S. military to leave. But it is instructive to compare Bush’s optimistic assessments of the “Iraqization” process (which all of you have no doubt heard him tout at one point or another) to Richard Nixon’s description of his “Vietnamization” plan. [All praise be to the "Daily Kos" folks for digging this speech up.]

On 11/3/69 Nixon described to the American people, “the goal of strengthening the South Vietnamese so that they could defend themselves when we left.” He went on to explain:

The Vietnamization plan was launched following Secretary Laird's visit to Vietnam in March. Under the plan, I ordered first a substantial increase in the training and equipment of South Vietnamese forces. After 5 years of Americans going into Vietnam, we are finally bringing men home. By December 15, over 60,000 men will have been withdrawn from South Vietnam including 20 percent of all of our combat forces. The South Vietnamese have continued to gain in strength. As a result they have been able to take over combat responsibilities from our American troops.

Sound familiar? The Vietnam War continued for another bloody five years – in which time it also destabilized Cambodia, leading to the Khmer Rouge’s horrific genocide and the death of at least 1.2 million Cambodians.

Meanwhile, Tuesday in Mosul, a Marine (apparently under extreme stress after being shot in the face the previous day) cracked up and shot an unarmed man lying on the ground in – of all places – a mosque. He is on video tape taken by an NBC freelance journalist saying, “He’s fucking faking he’s dead. He faking he’s fucking dead.” As the journalist then put it, “The Marine then raises his rifle and fires into the man’s head.”

Get ready for more of this, everybody. Political scientists have a word for the unintended longterm consequences of foreign military interventions. They call it "blowback."

Here’s a question for you: who are the two Americans who can be reasonably said to have committed large scale acts of terrorism *on Americans* in the last decade. The answer is Tim McVey, who (with the help of Terry Nichols) bombed the Alfred P. Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people, including 19 children; and John Allen Muhammad who, along with his young accomplice Lee Malvo, shot 13 people from long range in the Washington D.C. area, killing 10 of them.

What do McVey and Muhammad have in common? They were both veterans of the Persian Gulf War.

You’ll recall that that was one of our “good” and “successful” wars. Still, according to leaks of a report, which is due to be released next week by the US Department of Veterans Affairs’ Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses, “a substantial proportion of Gulf war veterans are ill with multisystem conditions not explained by wartime stress or psychiatric illness”. As the New Scientist journal reports, “Some 30% of Gulf veterans suffer from various combinations of fatigue, muscle and joint pains, headache, and gut and cognitive problems – over and above non-Gulf veterans, the report says.” The U.S. is finally, after 13 years, admitting that this syndrome exists and that it was likely the result of Sarin gas exposure.

While Bush has done members of the military an enormous disservice by getting them embroiled in an unwinnable war where they are being maimed and killed, he hasn’t even done them the courtesy of creating a safety net for them when they return or for their families while they are away. U.S. Representative Lane A. Evans has an excellent, detailed speech about Bush’s attempts to decimate the VA Hospital system which you can read here:

Wars reverberate long after they are won or lost – and when we consider whether or not to support a war we should consider these reverberations.

Everyone remembers the Martin Scorcese movie “Taxi Driver” as a movie about a crazy person planning a political assassination – and as a movie that inspired John Hinkley Jr’s attempt to kill President Reagan. But Robert De Niro’s character Travis Bickle is nothing like John Hinkley Jr. And “Taxi Driver”, I’m here to tell you, is a Vietnam War movie:

TRAVIS: Honorable Discharge, May 1973.
PERSONNEL OFFICER: Were you in the Army?
TRAVIS: Marines.

Later De Niro utters the famous lines “Listen you fuckers, you screwheads. Here’s a man who would not take it anymore. A man who stood up against the scum, the c***s, the dogs, the filth, the shit, here is someone who stood up. [He draws his gun.] You’re dead.”

I realize a few of you may find this language terribly offensive -- if so, I would ask you to come to terms with the fact that the men and women in the military traffic in similar language. They may not have spoken it when they enlisted but many of them surely speak it by the time they are discharged, if they live that long. It is the language of the Marine who killed that man in a mosque yesterday as surely as it was the language of the prison guards at Abu Ghraib. De Niro’s monologue is a “bad” War come home to roost. It strikes me as uncannily like the delusions of grandeur which buoyed Tim McVey as he hatched his shocking and awful plan.

Add a long line of disillusioned, expertly trained Veterans to the list of what we are inheriting as a result of Bush’s Iraq War. It may pale in comparison to the 1209 dead and the (at least) 8458 wounded American soldiers; or the tens upon tens of thousands of dead Iraqi civilians; but it is surely another consequence to keep in mind. Bush and his cabinet may be sowing the seeds but we, the people, will reap the harvest.


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