“LEWES, Del. — No one talks, but a lot is said at the intersection of Savannah Road and Kings Highway. Peace demonstrators hung strips of cloth bearing the names of soldiers killed in Iraq as part of their demonstration. Small cities and towns, like Lewes, Del., left, are suffering a large portion of the deaths in the fighting in Iraq. …”
“For me, like most other Americans, Memorial Day is a time for barbecuing, playing Frisbee, loading up coolers with iced beer, and getting out of town. I usually don’t think about America’s war dead on the last weekend of May any more than I think about our nation’s independence on the Fourth of July, or about the birth of Jesus on Christmas.
“No, my memorial days are scattered and irregular. It is monuments that have most often triggered reveries about fallen soldiers. The words ‘Is it nothing to you?’ inscribed on the great gray World War I obelisk in downtown Vancouver, Canada, stopped me in my tracks late on a summer afternoon many years ago. I had not known this biblical phrase from Lamentations, never seen it on a war memorial before. Maybe it’s a British thing. But for whatever reason, it arrested me, and those long-vanished men who died in fields in France or Germany suddenly appeared, a ghostly company waiting for the simple tribute of memory. …”
“Frank Buckles, 106, lied about his age to get into the Army when he was 16. He served in England and France, but he never was close to the fighting in World War I. He lives on a 330-acre cattle farm in West Virginia.”
[Later: The full King James Version of the Lamentations verse cited above is: “Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by? behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow, which is done unto me, wherewith the LORD hath afflicted me in the day of his fierce anger.”
The PBS NewsHour aired a nicely done report yesterday on the much publicized estimate by two noted economists that the Iraq war may ultimately cost the United States up to $2 trillion. The segment did a good job breaking down and explaining the estimate, published by Columbia’s Joseph Stiglitz and Harvard’s Linda Bilmes in 2005 and 2006. Where the report was lacking, perhaps, is discussing what the cost might mean down the road, though it did point out that the money we’ve spent already on Iraq, nearly $430 billion as of this moment, would have paid several times over for rebuilding every school in the United States or would have made a nice down payment on the “unsolvable” problems with the Social Security system.
Opponents of the congressional effort to attach an operational timetable to new funding for our Iraq War and World Improvement Project (IWWIP — trademark pending) have long since adopted a catchy label for the proposed troop withdrawal schedule. Led by the likes of John McCain, the critics condemn timetables as setting a “surrender date” in the war.
McCain and the critics have one thing right: It’s messy for Congress to step into managing the war this way. But there’s nothing unconstitutional or unprecedented about it — in fact, the Constitution gives Congress the power and responsibility, by way of its control of funding, to participate in warmaking decisions on the people’s behalf. The “no surrender” types apparently would continue to cede their power and responsibility to an executive who has proven careless and arrogant in its exercise. The timetable critics’ alternative — to continue writing blank checks and waiting for the executive’s current plan, or the next, or the one after that, to work — is an extension of the same plan that’s killed thousands of U.S. troops, tens or hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, and laid waste to a place that was supposed to turn into the Eden of Mideast democracy.
The “no surrender” types speak of the awful consequences of leaving Iraq “before our work is done.” What I’d like to hear someone in Congress talk about is the awful consequences of surrendering again and again to a president who ignores both the lessons of experience and the clear voice of his people.
On NPR this morning, a brief feature on the family of Andrew Bacevich, a young Boston University graduate and U.S. Army lieutenant killed last week in Iraq. His death drew special attention because his father, also Andrew Bacevich, a former Army officer and military and diplomatic historian at Boston University, is both conservative and a penetrating critic of the Iraq war.
The elder Bacevich published a book a couple years ago called “The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War.” Among other things, it’s a critique of the rise of an “imperial” military culture in the wake of Vietnam, the military’s elevation to a superior moral status, especially in the wake of 9/11, and the current Bush’s attempt to adopt the military as a special constituency. (Here’s an excerpt.)
In the NPR story, Bacevich reflected briefly on his son and his own role as a citizen:
” ‘One of the things that I’ve been really struggling with over the last several days is to understand my own responsibility for my son’s death,” Bacevich said.
“Bacevich says he thought his responsibility as a citizen was to give voice to his concerns about the war. His loss, he says, has made him question the lasting value of his criticism.
” ‘What kind of democracy is this when the people do speak, and the people’s voice is unambiguous, but nothing happens?’ ”
Salon has a sort of interesting piece today on documents from the Coalition Provisional Authority (our original occupation government in Iraq, starring L. Paul “Jerry, here’s your Medal of Freedom” Bremer). A Case Western Reserve political scientist discovered some weekly reports from 2004 that still contain all the official edits and deletions. The Salon story cites one remarkable passage: in retrospect, an extended piece of wishful thinking about the insurgency cooling off in al Anbar Province. The CPA appears to have deleted the rosy speculation immediately after insurgents, mobs, or whoever it was killed four U.S. paramilitary contractors in Fallujah, an event that signaled the fact the province was entirely out of government control.
Reading about Iraq in the good old days made me curious about what the current voice of the United States in Baghdad — our embassy — has to say about the state of the nation. Its site includes a link for U.S. Citizen Services, which in turn contains a link labeled Iraq Travel Warning. There’s been a lot of talk coming out of the president’s bunker lately about how the media is exaggerating how bad things are in Iraq and that the good news stories aren’t adequately told. Interesting to read what his people on the ground, the people who actually have to wear flak jackets when they’re in the “Green Zone” and deal with fellow citizens who might wander into trouble, have to say about the situation:
“The Department of State continues to strongly warn U.S. citizens against travel to Iraq, which remains very dangerous. Remnants of the former Ba’ath regime, transnational terrorists, criminal elements and numerous insurgent groups remain active. Attacks against military and civilian targets throughout Iraq continue, including in the International (or “Green”) Zone. Targets include convoys en-route to venues, hotels, restaurants, police stations, checkpoints, foreign diplomatic missions, international organizations and other locations with expatriate personnel. These attacks have resulted in deaths and injuries of American citizens, including those doing humanitarian work. In addition, there have been planned and random killings, as well as extortions and kidnappings. U.S. citizens have been kidnapped and several were subsequently murdered by terrorists in Iraq. U.S. citizens and other foreigners continue to be targeted by insurgent groups and opportunistic criminals for kidnapping and murder. Military operations continue. There are daily attacks against Multinational Forces – Iraq (MNF-I), Iraqi Security Forces and Iraqi Police throughout the country.The Department of State continues to strongly warn U.S. citizens against travel to Iraq, which remains very dangerous. Remnants of the former Ba’ath regime, transnational terrorists, criminal elements and numerous insurgent groups remain active. Attacks against military and civilian targets throughout Iraq continue, including in the International (or “Green”) Zone. Targets include convoys en-route to venues, hotels, restaurants, police stations, checkpoints, foreign diplomatic missions, international organizations and other locations with expatriate personnel. These attacks have resulted in deaths and injuries of American citizens, including those doing humanitarian work. In addition, there have been planned and random killings, as well as extortions and kidnappings. U.S. citizens have been kidnapped and several were subsequently murdered by terrorists in Iraq. U.S. citizens and other foreigners continue to be targeted by insurgent groups and opportunistic criminals for kidnapping and murder. Military operations continue. There are daily attacks against Multinational Forces – Iraq (MNF-I), Iraqi Security Forces and Iraqi Police throughout the country.”
Of course, the embassy might be ignoring all the good news, too.
Home truths: If someone is explaining to you that they’re not an asshole — like the animal control officer who stopped me just around the corner and told me that if were an asshole, he’d write me a ticket for walking The Dog off leash and more than six feet away from me (per city ordinance) — the someone is probably an asshole. And if someone apologizes for being an asshole, they’re probably not one. I said probably. Thus concludes this adult language interlude.
Dog moment: Speaking of The Dog, a year ago today we brought him home from his Central California wanderings; since he’s still not talking, we don’t know anything about that adventure except the way it ended. And now he has his own pet: a mildewed rawhide chew-thing that he buried in the backyard for some weeks or months and recently uncovered for his renewed canine enjoyment. He’s very protective of the rawhide chew, which we’ve named Filthy Bone. As in: “Scout, you can’t play with Filthy Bone in the house.”
Read and wonder: A long piece in The New York Times Magazine about the Iraqi diaspora — the flow of refugees all over the Middle East — and the unhappy consequences present and perhaps future of same. A much shorter piece in today’s San Francisco Chronicle on an Indiana teacher fired for suggesting in class that she’s not for the Iraq war. That story begins:
“When one of Deborah Mayer’s elementary school students asked her on the eve of the Iraq war whether she would ever take part in a peace march, the veteran teacher recalls answering, “I honk for peace.”
“Soon afterward, Mayer lost her job and her home in Indiana. She was out of work for nearly three years. And when she complained to federal courts that her free-speech rights had been violated, the courts replied, essentially, that as a public school teacher she didn’t have any. ”
She has appealed, but without much hope of a reversal, to the Supreme Court of the United States. The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision upholding her firing is available here as a PDF file.
Kevin Morrison, an old softball teammate of mine, just put together a four-minute montage of Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1967 “Beyond Vietnam” speech at the Riverside Church in New York. He juxtaposes images of Iraq over King’s words to devastating effect. Kevin also did a Q and A on the historical context of King’s speech, available at a blog called Pop + Politics.
Now that Congress has done the unexpected and voted to try to rein in the president’s open-ended war in Iraq, the president is blustering about how the troops must be “fully funded.” That’s a non-issue, as the Democrats who engineered the bills in both houses made sure that, even if there’s no tax revenue to pay for it, the military and the president get all the money they want over the next year or so to keep the blood flowing into the sand. That’s fine. Congress’s power to limit the president’s warmaking by cutting off the money sounds great in theory, but it’s such a political snare that no one wants to get close to it until they see everyone else headed in the same direction. We haven’t gotten to that point; and if we haven’t yet, you wonder what it would take.
The president and the Republicans who want to prolong the war indefinitely also decry a bunch of politicians trying to manage the war by imposing conditions and timetables on troop deployments. It is a little strange to see a branch of government that appeared content to let the president have his way in Iraq for four years suddenly sit up and take notice. But the bills that have passed and the deadlines they include are trivial limitations on military commanders when compared to the conditions the president and his crew have thrust upon the generals and their troops.
To begin with, the war had to be a streamlined, lightning-fast operation. The number of troops committed was to be kept to a minimum. Planning for postwar Iraq proceeded on the rosiest assumptions about Iraqi society, politics and physical infrastructure. Those who dissented from the plan, who questioned the basic assumptions, were openly chastised or shunted aside. When it turned out that not a single element of the president’s blueprint matched the reality on the ground, there was no Plan B; certainly, there was no option to seek wider involvement from allies since we had charged into battle in nearly complete isolation from those who might have played a part. So, a year after the invasion, when the lid really came off, the commanders were left to figure out how to proceed in a situation whose own architects swore didn’t even exist: those resisting us were just dead-enders, or the insurgency was in its last throes, or it would go away once one or two or three key bad guys were eliminated.
Meantime, the reality of what has happened in Iraq is too awful to honestly contemplate in terms of the destruction of life and the unraveling of a society. We’re privy to pallid secondhand accounts of the ongoing mass killings and car-bomb attacks and the exodus of everyone who has a chance of getting out of the country; but at the president’s urging, we go on with our lives except for offering knee-jerk praise to the members of the armed services. The president’s answer to the disaster he unleashed is essentially the same as it has always been: more of the same, but smarter this time. If the current escalation fails–and it will, if the definition of success is really pacifying Iraq–the president will go looking for another general with a bright idea about how to prevail. And he’ll keep the military handcuffed to a war he never had good reason to start and which long ago ceased making sense. It’s about time someone tried to tell him that this can’t go on forever.
Seventy-six U.S. soldiers have died so far this month in Iraq, according to Iraq Coalition Casualties. That makes March the seventh consecutive month in which the toll of U.S. soldiers killed has reached 70 or above, the longest such period since President Bush launched the war in March 2003.
Five hundred ninety-nine U.S. soldiers have died since September 1, 2006; that’s the highest toll for any seven-month span in the entire war, exceeding the 584 U.S. lives lost from August 1, 2004, through February 28, 2005, a period that included both the costly offensive against Fallujah and an insurgent onslaught leading up to the Iraqi national elections on January 30, 2005.
Iraqi deaths in the same span: Conservatively, about 1,300 and counting for March. More than 13,000 since September 1.