Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Whether It's Iraquagmire, Iraq-Nam, or Bush-Nam...

Tim Russert "Red Meat the Press" Russert thinks he deserves an answer.
Sunday morning I heard an exchange on Meet the Press which caused me to roll out of my chair and and replay my Tivo.

Tim Russert was interviewing Senator Chris Dodd, who is a good man campaigning for an office above his level of competence. Dodd was accurately describing the current failure and paralysis of American policy in Iraq and Russert was doing his level best to skewer the Senator's failing candidacy. The exchange went like this:

I came to the conclusion almost a year ago—in fact, I was here, having just come back from, from Baghdad. We talked at this table. And I met with young soldiers over there who said this is just not working. We need to change this policy. I think we want some decisive action here, we want some clarity on this. We’re not getting it. In my view, we should be changing the fundamental policy. . . . I think we’re, we’re deluding ourselves in believing that $10 billion a month, almost 4,000 lives lost, almost 29,000 injured, 80 to 100,000 Iraqis have lost their lives, four million have left the country. Listen to the ground—troops on the ground. They will tell you over and over again, despite the fact their willingness to serve, this is not going well at all, and it’s affecting us everywhere else in the world, Tim.
You said the other day, “All that loss for what?” Do you believe that the troops have died in vain?
No, I don’t. And I don’t think it’s a question of winning or losing. Baker-Hamilton, other reports have pointed out there was no military solution here. You can’t win or lose where your goal was never to have a victory here. Our, our operation was to create the space for the Iraqis to be able to come to some reconciliation, both politically and religiously. The American president, the vice president, leading military figures, members of Congress have begged the Iraqi leadership to reconcile their differences. This past summer they took a month-long vacation after, once again, we plead with them to try and work things out and come together. I don’t think we can arrange that for them any longer.
But answer that question. “All that loss for what?” What did they die for?
Well, listen. I don’t think soldiers who do their job every day die in vain. They were asked to do a job here.
So what did they die for?
In the end, Dodd was doddering. He couldn't answer the question. Which candidate could? Super-fortified Clinton? Quick-thinking Obama? I'm not sure even he could have done it. Mercifully, Russert finally broke off this line of interrogation when he saw the candidate's blood in the water.

It's deja vue and back to the future.

In fact, Russert's malicious question has been answered once before in American history.

Not sure if my Reader(s) is/are old enough to remember. But there was the same malaise just about 40 years ago. All of the arguments about America’s unstanched wound known as Vietnam had been settled by 1967. Lyndon Johnson saw the futility of continuing the war in stark enough terms, that he decided not to run for re-election. In 1968, an assassin’s bullet cut down Robert F. Kennedy on the day after he won the California Primary; had that not happened, the '68 election would have decided the issue of war and peace. In the years between 1968 and the war’s end in 1975, we Americans lost 37,794 KIA – more than half of our total casualties in the war. We had yet to endure additional years of Richard Nixon’s duplicitous ‘Secret plan to end the war’ which – it turned out – was nothing more than a criminal escalation to prolong the war.

After returning from the Vietnam War, Lieutenant John Kerry became a prominent critic of the war. He testified before the Senate in 1971 and told how U.S. troops had been assigned to fight an un-winnable and unjust war. He called for the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops (my editing of names to spotlight our current perps has been added):

We who have come here to Washington have come here because we feel we have to be winter soldiers now. We could come back to this country, we could be quiet, we could hold our silence, we could not tell what went on in Vietnam, but we feel, because of what threatens this country, not the reds insurgents, but the crimes which we are committing that threaten it, that we have to speak out.

I would like to talk to you a little bit about what the result is of the feelings these men carry with them after coming back from Vietnam Iraq. The country doesn't know it yet, but it has created a monster, a monster in the form of millions thousands of men who have been taught to deal and to trade in violence, and who are given the chance to die for the biggest nothing in history; men who have returned with a sense of anger and a sense of betrayal which no one has yet grasped.

As a veteran and one who felt this anger, I would like to talk about it. We are angry because we feel we have been used in the worst fashion by the administration of this country.

In 1970, at West Point, Vice President Agnew Cheney said,
Some glamorize the criminal misfits of society while our best men die in Asian rice paddies Middle Eastern deserts to preserve the freedom which most of those misfits abuse.
and this was used as a rallying point for our effort in Vietnam Iraq . . . . his statement is a terrible distortion from which we can only draw a very deep sense of revulsion.. . . . because so many who have died would have returned to this country to join the misfits in their efforts to ask for an immediate withdrawal from Vietnam Iraq, because so many of those best men have returned as quadriplegics and amputees, and they lie forgotten in Veterans' Administration hospitals in this country which fly the flag which so many have chosen as their own personal symbol. . . . .

In our opinion, and from our experience, there is nothing in Vietnam Iraq which could happen that realistically threatens the United States of America. And to attempt to justify the loss of one American life in Vietnam, Cambodia, or Laos Iraq, Iran or Syria by linking such loss to the preservation of freedom. . . is to us the height of criminal hypocrisy, and it is that kind of hypocrisy which we feel has torn this country apart.

. . . . We found most people didn't even know the difference between communism autocracy and democracy. They only wanted to work in rice paddies without helicopters strafing them and bombs with napalm burning their villages and tearing their country apart. They wanted everything to do with the war, particularly with this foreign presence of the United States of America, to leave them alone in peace, and they practiced the art of survival by siding with whichever military force was present at a particular time, be it Viet Cong, North Vietnamese Sunni, Shiite or American.

. . . . . We saw first hand how monies from American taxes were used for a corrupt dictatorial regime. . . . We saw Vietnam Iraq ravaged equally by American bombs and search-and-destroy missions as well as by Viet Cong Islamic terrorism, - and yet we listened while this country tried to blame all of the havoc on the Viet Cong insurgency.

We rationalized destroying villages in order to save them. We saw America lose her sense of morality as she accepted very coolly a My Lai Haditha, and refused to give up the image of American soldiers who hand out chocolate bars and chewing gum.

We learned the meaning of free-fire zones--shooting anything that moves--and we watched while America placed a cheapness on the lives of orientals Arabs.

We watched the United States falsification of body counts, in fact the glorification of body counts. We listened while, month after month, we were told the back of the enemy was about to break. . . . We watched pride allow the most unimportant battles to be blown into extravaganzas, because we couldn't lose, and we couldn't retreat, and because it didn't matter how many American bodies were lost to prove that point, and so there were Hamburger Hills Fallujah and Khe Sanhs Mosul and Hill 81s Sadr City and Fire Base 6s Anbar Province, and so many others.

Now we are told that the men who fought there must watch quietly while American lives are lost so that we can exercise the incredible arrogance of "Vietnamizing" "Iraqifying" the Vietnamese Iraqis.

Each day, to facilitate the process by which the United States washes her hands of Vietnam Iraq, someone has to give up his life so that the United States doesn't have to admit something that the entire world already knows, so that we can't say that we have made a mistake. Someone has to die so that President Nixon Bush won't be, and these are his words, "the first second President to lose a war."

We are asking Americans to think about that, because how do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Vietnam Iraq? How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?

We are here in Washington to say that the problem of this war is not just a question of war and diplomacy. It is part and parcel of everything that we are trying, as human beings, to communicate to people in this country. . . the hypocrisy in our taking umbrage at the Geneva Conventions and using that as justification for a continuation of this war, when we are more guilty than any other body of violations of those Geneva Conventions; in the use of free-fire zones; harassment-interdiction fire, search-and-destroy missions; the bombings; the torture of prisoners; all accepted policy by many units in South Vietnam Iraq. . . . .

We are here to ask, and we are here to ask vehemently, where are the leaders of our country? Where is the leadership? We're here to ask where are McNamara Rumsfeld, Rostow Powell, Bundy Wolfowitz, Gilpatrick Tenet, and so many others? Where are they now that we, the men they sent off to war, have returned? These are the commanders who have deserted their troops. And there is no more serious crime in the laws of war. The Army says they never leave their wounded. The Marines say they never even leave their dead. These men have left all the casualties and retreated behind a pious shield of public rectitude. They've left the real stuff of their reputations bleaching behind them in the sun in this country....

We wish that a merciful God could wipe away our own memories of that service as easily as this administration has wiped away their memories of us. But all that they have done, and all that they can do by this denial, is to make more clear than ever our own determination to undertake one last mission: To search out and destroy the last vestige of this barbaric war occupation; to pacify our own hearts; to conquer the hate and fear that have driven this country these last ten years and more. And more. And so, when, thirty years from now, our brothers go down the street without a leg, without an arm, or a face, and small boys ask why, we will be able to say "Vietnam Iraq" and not mean a desert, not a filthy obscene memory, but mean instead where America finally turned, and where soldiers like us helped it in the turning.

It was patently feckless of Russert to ask such a question of a presidential candidate. This kind of question is only appropriate for returning servicemen as was Kerry 40 years ago. Increasingly, American and British soldiers will give you the direct answer
Russert thought he wanted. Like this anonymous, senior British officer this week:
We are tired of firing at people. . . We would go down there dressed as Robocop, shooting at people if they shot at us, and innocent people were getting hurt. We don't speak Arabic to explain and our translators were too scared to work for us any more. What benefit were we bringing to these people?
Your answer, Russert, is that Bush and Cheney have sentenced our 1st class armed forces to the ignoble mission of an occupation which is military malpractice.