Not Just A Number
The US military death toll in Iraq has topped 3,000 (H/T to Barbara O'Brien posting at C&L for this link to Time), and this morning I am asking myself how long the Bush Administration and the McCain/Lieberman doctrinal supporters of escalation will be allowed to continue their folly without being asked how they do so in the absence of public support. Are they elected to serve the wants of the American public as a whole, or only to foist the tyrranny of the minority of fervent, self-deluded neocons on the rest of the nation? From the Time article:
Others, not least the White House and the Pentagon, say, all too blithely, that numbers like these are arbitrary and unimportant. But that only highlights the non-numerical false milestones and would-be watersheds they have set up in the past. It is not just statistics that can lie. When Saddam was captured, it was going to break the back of the insurgency. Same when a democratic government was elected, a constitution drafted, a coalition government formed. The latest false milestone is the death of Saddam, another momentous event in the history of Iraq that is unlikely to change a single thing for American forces or those who are fighting them.
In Plato's Apology, Socrates declares that "the unexamined life is not worth living," refusing to accept a penalty of silence and/or the cessation of public discussion and search for the truth as the price for remaining alive. One of the more troubling aspects of the Bush Presidency for me (aside from the disregard for the rule of law and the attempted perversion and warping of the Constitution for their own unilateral Presidential purposes) has been that feeling that the only things which are examined are those which uphold or sustain the truth that they want to have us all believe — and not the actual truth of the matters at hand. This morning, Arthur Schlesinger has an insightful op-ed in the NYTimes on this very point:
We are the world’s dominant military power, and I believe a consciousness of history is a moral necessity for a nation possessed of overweening power. History verifies John F. Kennedy’s proposition, stated in the first year of his thousand days: “We must face the fact that the United States is neither omnipotent or omniscient — that we are only 6 percent of the world’s population; that we cannot impose our will upon the other 94 percent of mankind; that we cannot right every wrong or reverse each adversity; and therefore there cannot be an American solution to every world problem.”
History is the best antidote to delusions of omnipotence and omniscience. Self-knowledge is the indispensable prelude to self-control, for the nation as well as for the individual, and history should forever remind us of the limits of our passing perspectives. It should strengthen us to resist the pressure to convert momentary impulses into moral absolutes. It should lead us to acknowledge our profound and chastening frailty as human beings — to a recognition of the fact, so often and so sadly displayed, that the future outwits all our certitudes and that the possibilities of the future are more various than the human intellect is designed to conceive.
Sometimes, when I am particularly depressed, I ascribe our behavior to stupidity — the stupidity of our leadership, the stupidity of our culture. Three decades ago, we suffered defeat in an unwinnable war against tribalism, the most fanatic of political emotions, fighting against a country about which we knew nothing and in which we had no vital interests. Vietnam was hopeless enough, but to repeat the same arrogant folly 30 years later in Iraq is unforgivable. The Swedish statesman Axel Oxenstierna famously said, “Behold, my son, with how little wisdom the world is governed.”
That this Administration and, indeed, so many in America, cannot seem to look themselves and the consequences of their choices and actions squarely in the face — no matter the number of deaths, the number of injuries, the number of allies who back away in horror at the mess that we are making of the world around us — that this is how the Bush Administration conducts itself because they are too cowardly, too full of pride to admit a mistake to themselves, let alone the rest of us, is folly. Of the most dangerous sort, because in refusing to see the entire truth, the only things that are considered are the ones which back up the continued delusions and failures of the past.
Our nation is being led by a cabal of immature boys and sycophants and war-loving neocons. And at the top of that dismal heap is George Bush, a man for whom diplomacy means riding his bike on different continents, talking with his mouth full, and on at least one occasion caught by public cameras, groping the leader of another nation. Aren't we proud.
That this President has not been called to account by the rubber stamp Republicans in Congress was documented continuously here and all over the left blogs. As was the constant propping up and enabling of these piss poor policies by the right wing noise machine, including Rush Limbaugh's asinine statement that our actions in the Middle East were "a gift to the world." Do you have a receipt for that? Because I have a feeling that a number of the folks around the world would prefer an exchange for something much better.
The compounded failures of the Bush Administration, and their resulting pile-up of petulant refusals to ever admit to anything approximating the tiniest of missteps is an embarassment. Josh gets this absolutely right:
The Iraq War has been many things, but for its prime promoters and cheerleaders and now-dwindling body of defenders, the war and all its ideological and literary trappings have always been an exercise in moral-historical dress-up for a crew of folks whose times aren't grand enough to live up to their own self-regard and whose imaginations are great enough to make up the difference. This is just more play-acting.
This is the mindset that is leading our nation. Now that it is January, we must hold the Democratically-controlled Congress to its word that there will be some measure of oversight, some accountability, some stabilizing of this tilted mess of a ship of state. We can no longer afford to wait and hope for the best. The best is not coming from George Bush — it is high time we all accepted that fact and went to work on what needs to be done to correct all of the errors that have been committed in our names the last six years — because a correction from the Bush Administration alone will not be forthcoming. Ever.
And if there are Democrats out there who do not understand the urgent necessity of this, I say this to you: if you wait for the Republicans in Congress to provide you cover with their internal dithering about the wisdom of escalation, they will play you just like they did with the FISA provisions and the end-run of habeas. Wake up, stand up for your principles, or get the hell out of our way — because we cannot, will not, back down.
Look at the names inscribed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial above, and understand why we cannot back down and will not do so. There is no policy objective to be obtained, no clear cut strategy for anything other than "stay the course" by keeping our soldiers in the middle of a civil war in Iraq of our making because we have a President and Administration who refuse to admit — to themselves or anyone else — that their ideas were false and their results are nonexistent. No soldier whould be asked to die as a salve to a President's ego. Not one.
No more. These are not just numbers or names inscribed on a wall somewhere. They are human lives, flesh and blood, heart and soul — and their families, their friends, their brothers and sisters in arms deserve far better than a President who prefers stall tactics to being honest with himself. No escalation. No more.
The opportunity cost of George Bush's ego is far too high — and it is other people's children who are paying for it.