While We’re Waiting…
(Photo from Reuters via The Age.)
Mr. Cheney’s trip was shrouded in secrecy, and he was on the ground for only a few hours, sharing a private lunch with the Pakistani leader at his palace. Notably, Mr. Cheney traveled with the deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Steve Kappes, an indication that the conversation with the Pakistani president likely included discussion of American intelligence agency contentions that Al Qaeda camps have been reconstituted along the border of Afghanistan.
The decision to send Mr. Cheney secretly to Pakistan came after the White House concluded that General Musharraf is failing to live up to commitments he made to Mr. Bush during a visit here in September. General Musharraf insisted then, both in private and public, that a peace deal he struck with tribal leaders in one of the country’s most lawless border areas would not diminish the hunt for the leaders of Al Qaeda and the Taliban.
Now, American intelligence officials have concluded that the terrorist infrastructure is being rebuilt, and that while Pakistan has attacked some camps, its overall effort has flagged.
The historical truth is that the Pashtun areas on the Pakistani/Afghani border have never been under any semblance of governmental control at any time. Period. Read any history or political text about the region to get a sense of just how deeply rooted the tribal culture and the shutting out of outsiders goes — and that includes a larger loyalty to tribal allegiance than to any national boundary line that may have been drawn across their region. That there is a resurgence of al qaeda and Taliban forces in the region, massing for another push come spring from both sides of the border, should have come as no surprise to any military or intelligence officer.
Did no one bother to explain any of the long-time intricacies of the region to Bush and Cheney before we decided to leave a skeletal force in Afghanistan and go off to the mess of our own making in Iraq? Or did they just not care?
The fabricate-and-smear cycle illustrated so dramatically during the case of I. Lewis "Scooter'' Libby explains why President Bush is failing to rally support for the latest iteration of his Iraq policy. The administration's willingness at the outset to say anything, no matter how questionable, to justify the war has destroyed its credibility. Its habit of attacking those who expressed misgivings has destroyed any goodwill it might have enjoyed. Bush and Cheney have lost the benefit of the doubt….
…those words illustrate the administration's political methodology from the very beginning of its public campaign against Iraq. Back in 2002 and early 2003, it browbeat a reluctant country into this war by making assertions about an Iraqi nuclear program that proved to be groundless and by inventing ties between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda that didn't exist.
Then, once our troops were committed, anyone who had second thoughts could be trashed and driven back as a pro-terrorist weakling. The quagmire would be self-perpetuating: Once you checked in, you could never leave.
The evidence presented at the Libby trial has demonstrated how worried Cheney was that this scheme could unravel….
Whatever price Scooter Libby pays, the country is already paying for the divisive practices of a crowd that wanted to go to war in Iraq in the very worst way — and did exactly that. As a result, we confront the mess in Baghdad and the continued threat of terrorism as an angry, polarized nation.
And what price are we, as a nation, paying at the moment? The Europeans, even our staunchest allies, are disgusted by our fundamental lack of understanding of even basic diplomacy — we are making a mess of the Iran situation and Bush's inability to be anything but a pigheaded, stubborn jerk on the world stage has played a large role in toppling the Italian government. As if this were even possible, the American public trusts the Bush Administration even less this month with regard to their conduct of the war in Iraq.
After returning from Iraq in late 2005, Jonathan Schulze spent every day struggling not to fall apart. When a Department of Veterans Affairs clinic turned him away last month, he lost the battle. The 25-year-old Marine from Stewart, Minn., had told his parents that 16 men in his unit had died in two days of battle in Ramadi. At home, he was drinking hard to stave off the nightmares. Though he managed to get a job as a roofer, he was suffering flashbacks and panic attacks so intense that he couldn't concentrate on his work. Sometimes, he heard in his mind the haunting chants of the muezzin—the Muslim call to prayer that he'd heard many times in Iraq. Again and again, he'd relive the moments he was in a Humvee, manning the machine gun, but helpless to save his fellow Marines. "He'd be seeing them in his own mind, standing in front of him," says his stepmother, Marianne.
Schulze, who earned two Purple Hearts for wounds sustained in Iraq, was initially reluctant to turn to the VA. Raised among fighters—Schulze's father served in Vietnam and over the years his older brother and six stepbrothers all enlisted in the military—Jonathan might have felt asking for help didn't befit a Marine.
But when the panic attacks got to be too much, he started showing up at the VA emergency room, where doctors recommended he try group therapy. He resisted; he didn't think hearing other veterans' depressing problems would help solve his own. Then, early last month, after more than a year of anxiety, he finally decided to admit himself to an inpatient program. Schulze packed a bag on Jan. 11 and drove with his family to the VA center in St. Cloud, about 70 miles away. The Schulzes were ushered into the mental-health-care unit and an intake worker sat down at a computer across from them. "She started typing," Marianne says. "She asked, 'Do you feel suicidal?' and Jonathan said, 'Yes, I feel suicidal'." The woman kept typing, seemingly unconcerned. Marianne was livid. "He's an Iraqi veteran!" she snapped. "Listen to him!" The woman made a phone call, then told him no one was available that day to screen him for hospitalization. Jonathan could come back tomorrow or call the counselor for a screening on the phone.
When he did call the following day, the response from the clinic was even more disheartening: the center was full. Schulze would be No. 26 on the waiting list. He was encouraged to call back periodically over the next two weeks in case there was a cancellation. Marianne was listening in on the conversation from the dining room. She watched Jonathan, slumped on the couch, as he talked to the doctor. "I heard him say the same thing: I'm suicidal, I feel lost, I feel hopelessness," she says. Four days later Schulze got drunk, wrapped an electrical cord around a basement beam in his home and hanged himself. A friend he telephoned while tying the noose called the police, but by the time officers broke down the door, Schulze was dead.
This is appalling. It is unconscionable. And it is well past time that the Bush Administration was called to account, along with the Republican members of Congress who allowed this abysmal situation to continue to deteriorate for the last six years under their watch.
For shame. Our nation's soldiers deserve far, far better than this. And so do all Americans. The time for honesty and accountability is now.
It is well past time for questions to be asked, and for Congress and the public and the media to demand that they be fully answered. The lives of every American soldier and our national security depend on the Bush Administration making the right choices for all of our safety over the long haul. Be honest with yourself: do you trust George Bush and Dick Cheney to make these decisions with the nation's interest in mind? Or do you think that maybe, just maybe, they'll be making more decisions and maneuvers that do nothing more than cover their own behinds as they stall in place — in this failed, miserable place — until the clock runs out on the Bush Presidency, leaving this mess for someone else to clean up for them?