January 7, 2007

Feeding the War of Choice

[Click on the cartoon to go to the original image, and to visit the Jeff Danziger archive.]

After finding recommendations by the Iraq Study Group to pursue regional diplomacy and begin the withdrawal of forces in Iraq unpalatable, President Bush is expected to announce his own "new plan" for the American occupation of that country some time this week. Those plans, it has been reported, will call for additional troop deployments of about 20,000 men and women, who, it is hoped, will be able to finally secure Baghdad and allow jobs and reconstruction programs to take hold.

Having met with less than enthusiastic support among even the military for what the White House is determined to call a "surge" rather than the escalation it is, the President has gone so far as to replace Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff John Abizaid and the top commander in Iraq, General George Casey. Both of these men, it should be remembered, were commanders to whom he had previously pledged to listen in making decisions about troop levels, but that was apparently only so long as those decisions were in line with the political necessities of a commander in chief circling the political drain.

The stakes are high - with even Frederick Kagan, the author of the escalation plan admitting, "If we surge and it doesn't work, it's hard to imagine what we do after that"- but George W. Bush has entered a phase of his presidency in which his "legacy" appears to trump both the national interest and the lives of those who will be futilely cast into the cauldron of Iraq in an attempt to shore it up.

Appallingly, although perhaps not unexpectedly in a nation benumbed but personally unaffected by daily violence in Iraq, there has been little outrage over the prospect of wasting more lives to allow Mr. Bush to save face. The President, reported to be working on a speech announcing his plan whose "central theme will be sacrifice," appears determined to forge ahead despite an apparent inability to address even the fundamental question about from where additional troops would be drawn, telling Senator Blanche Lincoln that that is "a very good question."

There are signs that the new Democratic majority in Congress is speaking with a unified voice, and is determined to subject the President's plan to intense scrutiny, but it is beyond time to stop simply accepting that nameless, faceless body counts will continue to rise. It is time to own up to the very basic betrayal we are visiting on the men and women of the armed forces by throwing them into the maw of this blundering war of choice, and it is unquestioningly time to stop comforting ourselves that the American death toll, when "compared to previous military operations, [is] relatively small."

It takes a special kind of person to put his or her life on the line for this country. It requires courage, dogged determination and loyalty to one's brothers in arms, but it also requires faith in the commander in chief and belief that the people at home value soldiers and sailors and airmen, and will waste neither their lives nor their bravery. By talking about a "surge" rather than escalation, by couching policies of failure in terms of "sacrifice" and honor," President Bush seeks to take advantage of their genuine drive to succeed, as well as the desire of most citizens to do right by their soldiers. Permitting him to do so, however, will not only have tragic results for more Americans and Iraqis, but it is to the great future detriment of our armed forces.

The point is not that people die in war; the point is that this war should never have been fought, and that with every betrayal, with every deployment based on political expedience rather than national interest, we make it harder for the United States to recruit and retain the type of men and women we need to defend ourselves in situations of genuine threat. George W. Bush is both breaking the Army and pointlessly sending soldiers to their deaths, all in the name of selfishness, crass stupidity and desperate vanity.

As we wait for the unveiling of the President's newest Iraq policy speech, it is vital to remember that it is deeds rather than words that matter, and to recall that, by that measure, his past performance should countenance no faith whatsoever in his ability to lead responsibly going forward. While there is undoubtedly a lingering national desire to "make things right" in Iraq, it is up to us as citizens to recognize futility when we see it, and to enforce the mandate of the midterm elections that were a clarion call for change.

Every person who dies in Iraq has a family that loses a child, a father, a mother, a brother or a sister. If Mr. Bush's plan is followed, we wound ourselves as a nation by wasting valuable members of society, and by hurting the people we will count on when freedom is actually threatened. Perhaps worse, we diminish men like First Sergeant Charles Monroe King who wrote these words in the journal he left for his newborn son before being killed in action on October 14th:
Things may not always be easy or pleasant for you, that’s life, but always pay your respects for the way people lived and what they stood for. It’s the honorable thing to do.
While supporters of the Bush Administration would have us believe that Sgt. King died "protecting our freedom," the facts that have slowly and tragically become public knowledge since the U.S. invasion of Iraq have made it abundantly clear that that is not the case. While Sgt. King did die serving his country,
it is crucial that we understand the difference, and that we only call on men like him when the nation is truly in peril; not to implement some flawed vision of a new world order rooted in the ignorant bravado of the wholly unqualified. Their lives - all lives for that matter - are simply too precious.

The honorable thing to do is to pay our respects to the men and women we have put in harm's way by making sure that as few of them as possible die for what has been a tragic mistake. The honorable thing to do is to begin withdrawal from Iraq. The honorable thing to do is stop George W. Bush from sacrificing more lives to a failed policy.

Outrage, and action, are needed.

Please take a moment to read From Father to Son, Last Words to Live By, an appreciation of First Sergeant Charles Monroe King written by his widow, and to view Keith Olbermann's special comment on sacrifice, below.

No comments: