Sunday, June 19, 2005

Those Voices in the Wilderness...
As of late, the news has been even more chock-full of anti-war screeds than usual. I can certainly think of a few reasons as to why (there's an election coming up, the typical response of people who have not "been heard" is to scream louder, etc.), but the reason, more than likely, is that there seems to be little else to actually talk about.

Going into year three of the Iraqi experiment and we still haven't had an Iraqi center enter the NBA draft (straight from high school, no less). Iraqis are not buying Doritos by the shipful. Martha Stewart has yet to unveil her new line of home furnishings inspired by Iraqi handicrafts. Bobby Flay and Emril have not been cooking up any Iraqi dishes on the Food Network. If none of these things are happening, according to most Americans, then just what is?

Well, at least once a day somewhere in Iraq a bunch of people get blown up in front of a police station or standing in line at a market. Several times a day, someone in Iraq is being kidnapped and beheaded, after being forced at gunpoint (after the mandatory torture period is over) to make an impassioned plea for G.W. Bush and Co. to get out of Dodge and let the "peace-loving people of Iraq" get on with their dreary, 7th century lives. In the meantime, anything that could possibly be classified as a "good" event in Iraq is barely mentioned. Like for example; thousands of Iraqi men lining up to take jobs as police officers despite the risk, a disparate Iraq population taking great pains to establish a fair and equitable government or American soldiers aiding Iraqis in thousands of simple, work-a-day ways like administering inoculations or building schools and hospitals.

The reasons for this are obvious: the story about an American G.I. toiling away to build a schoolhouse for Iraqi children is a) not sexy to network executives and b) starts some people in these parts to wonder why we can build schools in Iraq and not here. One reason is a simple business decision (i.e. violence sells, and the more vicious, random and misdirected the violence is, the better. Especially if it makes a back-handed political statement), and the other is merely common sense (we're supposed to be fighting for OUR children, you know).

However, I believe there are far more insidious, and yet all-to-common, factors at play. The first is the the great majority of the American public (we'll call them the Great, Unwashed Masses) has an attention span which can be measured in MPH. Unless something explodes every fifteen seconds, or unless there's tits on display, they simply lose interest. Give them anything that requires them to think, which involves patience, or which involves an historical perspective, and they immediately begin to watch The Real Gilligan's Island. Mary-Ann in a wet t-shirt is so much more interesting in the inner-workings of the new Iraqi government.

A second factor in the recent upswing of anti-war "news" has to be the sheer volume of anti-war, anti-American and, more specifically, anti-Bush rhetoric from the same old circles. Democrats, of course, can be expected to wail the loudest (and they certainly do), and every piece of bad news from the front is a piece of good news for them. Every one of the political dissidents on this issue, however, can reliably expected to have a convenient barin fart when it comes to accurately recalling their own actions at the beginning of this whole thing. You know, the Congressional debates, and ultimately, votes, that allowed the President to commit American troops to Iraq, and the spending bills that continue to fund ongoing military and civilian activities in Iraq. Democrats can scream about how opposed to the war they are, but they cannot simply resort to blaming the guy on watch when he couldn't do it without their tacit support. This tactic failed when it came to pinning 9/11 on Bush (it was democrats who erected barriers to anti-terrorism incentives, who hamstrung the CIA and FBI and who defunded the military. By the way, that charge was led by John Kerry, in case y'all forgot). Let's also not forget that Iraq was a problem constantly ready to boil over during 8 years of the Clinton administration, which treated Saddam Hussein as a hemorrhoid rather than as a cancer.

Not to be outdone, of course, are the international critics. European countries (particularly France and Germany) which see the United States as a threat to their them, in all senses of the word. The do-nothing-but-rack-up-a-ton-of-parking-tickets brigade at the U.N.. Amnesty International (which hasn't met a gulag it didn't like, unless it was run by a democratic nation, and which has been dead silent on the dictatorship of Mugabe for all I know). The ACLU (which hardly exists in the American Spirit anymore and protects not so much Civil Liberties as Civil Libertines). And last, but not least, the communist and former communist states of Russia and China, which simply opposed an Iraq invasion on the basis that it would shut down a source of ill-gotten hard currency for poison gases. Add the faculty of Berkeley and three quarters of the Kennedy School at Harvard for good measure. They're still upset that Oil-for-Food-for-The-Benefit-of-France was upset by Bush, Blair, Powell, Rice, et. al. for having the temerity to insist that the United Nations actually enforce it's own resolutions.

Yet another factor at play is the fear America itself inspires when it has legitimately been aroused from it's typical torpor. September 11 not only woke America up, it gave it's politicians and military an excuse to be an active force in the world. Naturally, we'd like to be a positive force, but unfortunately, we've had to be a mostly negative force in terms of bombing, strafing, etc. The positive stuff cannot start until all the negative has been purged, and the longer the negative continues, the greater the chance that we'll just get frustrated and be done with it. Permanently. Part of this fear arises from the realization that should America actually find a justification to, it could lay waste the entire planet and there's not much anyone else could do about it. Not going to happen, but it's a fact that most astute statesmen must always keep in the back of their tiny minds. Another fear-inducing aspect is what would happen if we actually succeeded --- if you're a tin pot dictator oppressing your people, you're next on the list, perhaps. Of course, with the United States committed for the long-haul in the Middle East, keeping very close tabs on Iran and circling like a vulture over North Korea, you don't have very many places left to sell Fiats, Gitanes and Brockwursts. If these regions should fall under American sway (militarily, politically or culturally), it would literally wreck most Western economies.

Which brings us to the plaintive wailing. All of it says pretty much the same thing: surrender now. Which begs the question:why should we? The reasons given, of course, make little to no sense. Those reasons revolve around the typical stuff: we're running concentration camps, we're killing innocent people, we're wrecking our own economy, we're wasting American lives in a quixotic dream. All of these reasons were the staple of the anti-war crowd in Vietnam. And both World Wars. And the American Civil War, too. In fact, they've been the basis of every anti-war movement since the beginning of recorded history.

American Gulags? Last time I looked, not one person has died in US Custody at Guantanamo Bay. In fact, the prisoners there get three meals, prayer time, medical treatment (including dental, mental health services and eyeglasses --- it's a better deal than Medicare), hot water, and somewhat comfortable accommodations. Compare that with the mass graves in Iraq, and even in Serbia, in Europe's backyard. Compare the treatment of Islamic prisoners in Cuba to the treatment afforded Western hostages in Iraq and other shitholes across the Middle East. No one is being mutilated and decapitated on the internet in Gitmo. In the cases where there have been abuses by US troops or officials (Abu Graib, Baghram, etc), punishment is being meted out, the guilty are being called to account. Stalin never did anything like that. Meanwhile, closer to home, we're still debating the utility of the Patriot Act, and it's consequences, without mentioning that no one has yet been prosecuted under it (which also means that no case has been overturned due to constitutional review under it), and that the Patriot Act was passed in true, democratic fashion, by a majority of both houses of Congress. Let's be honest: if you're against the Patriot Act, then vote against it. But don't be cynical and insist that it's unconstitutional" or a "threat to Civil Liberties" secure in the knowledge that should it actually prevent a terrorist act, you can proudly point to your "yes" vote.

Killing innocent people? Last time I looked, Arabs are killing more Arabs than American troops are. Iraqi "insurgents" (let's call them what they are please, which is terrorists) kill more Iraqis on a daily basis than American bullets do. In fact, those self-same car bombers are more likely to come from other places around the Middle East to engage in a massive bloodletting of fellow Muslims. When the scumbags do manage to show themselves in any numbers, we do manage to kill them, and unfortunately, some innocents do happen to die as well. But ask yourself this: is that because the US goes hunting with the intention of killing innocents or is it because the bad guys insist on fighting from inside hospitals, mosques, schools and residential neighborhoods?

As for the economic arguments, the United States can easily afford to fight the war in Iraq. With one hand tied behind it's back and it's eyes closed, no less. What's being spent in Iraq is a fraction of what we spend on indoctrination (i.e. education) in this country every year. If you believe that the difficulties in Iraq are directly tied to recent economic problems here, particularly the price of gasoline, then you're an idiot. Many of the same people who complain about $2.50 gasoline were also the first to shout "No blood for Oil!". They're also the same dolts who find $2 gasoline abominable but who say nothing about $4 milk. You can't have it both ways: you can't come out and say we fought a war to steal Iraqi oil, and then complain that you can't drive 4sblock to work without taking out a second mortgage.If anything, the recent spike in the price of gasoline should put the "Haliburton" conspiracies to rest. The actual causes of the rise in gasoline prices have very little to do with war. The are, in no order whatsoever:

1. There has been no new oil refinery built in the United States since the 1970's. Even with the one we have running over capacity, they still cannot meet the demand.
2. The EPA has regulated us into a gasoline crunch by mandating that gasoline come in 16 different varieties, each specially blended to match conditions in individual regions of the country.
3. The emerging economies of India and China are consuming ever-increasing amounts of oil.
4. OPEC has slowed production of crude to a) take advantage of the higher process, and b) try to reign in US policy in the Middle East by indirect methods. Saudi Arabia does not want to be next on the list of "terror-sponsoring nations" but cannot directly confront the United States.
5. There have been at least two major fires at one Texas refinery site in the last three years. That has to slow production down greatly.

The American economy could very easily take $3 gasoline and not be too adversely affected, if we were honest about it and willing to make the sacrifice.

As for the sacrifice of American soldiers, well, that's what they're there for. They all volunteered with the knowledge that they might have to go to war one day, subject to the orders of those duly elected. The duly elected make decisions regarding war and peace, and while Bush might be the Commander-in-Chief, he didn't just wake up one day and send 150,000 Americans to Iraq. It was a decision made by means of debate; in Congress and in the public square of the media, and in the end, the American people gave him permission to do it through their elected leaders. Of course, the nature of any military operation is that it's near impossible to pull one off without losing anyone. At the end of the day, 1,700 American dead (to date), while tragic, is not anything near to a military disaster, and that sacrifice has not been in vain when you stop to consider the potential they have unleashed in the Middle East: Iraqi elections, Lebanese democracy movements, Libya playing ball and the Saudis extending the franchise.

The voices very often have salient points to make, and they should never go unheeded, however, this is not one of those times to listen. When it comes to Iraq, we also have to take into account a moral imperative. Iraq may not have been a functioning, stable, free state in the terms that we understand, but now that we've knocked out what passed for a government, bombed the place flat, disrupted commerce and removed simple services like electricity and running water, we do have a duty to stay until a modicum of those things can be restored, either by our own force, our own treasure or by the Iraqis themselves. For those who believe that the Iraqi "adventure" was mistake, ask yourself how much worse it would be if after having destroyed, we then abandoned.

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