What Are We Doing There?

Photo by Jim WashburnSo you're standing where your dining room used to be, and a colorful leaflet flutters by. You pick it up. There are two photos: on the left, an obviously prosperous man in a crisp blue business suit; on the right, a poor woman holding her crying baby. The caption gripes, "He lives in splendor as your family struggles to survive."

Don't liberals ever give up driving a wedge between the rich and the less well-to-do with their victim-mentality incitements to class warfare? Didn't George W. Bush slap down Al Gore for doing just that back in the debates?

"He lives in splendor?" Well, of course the guy does! Most successful people do. You don't rise to the top without a lot of hard work, and if your baby's crying, don't blame the other guy with your class-warfare diatribe.

There's a Twilight Zone twist here, of course: it is the Bush administration that printed millions of these leaflets and dropped them over Iraq, to be read, one presumes, by the light of our bombs. The business-suited man is Saddam Hussein, who, while more ruthless than Kenneth Lay, rose to splendor and power the old-fashioned way: by hard work and with a lot of corporate welfare from Uncle Sam. We helped him rise to power, helped him oppress his people, and gave him lots of aid courtesy of the American taxpayer. And now we're siding with the starving women and babies against him?

Though the first shots fired in our new war were a "decapitation strike" aimed at Hussein, the first actual confirmed war dead was a civilian woman. No more struggling for her. And while our TVs showed precision strikes and our tanks racing to secure Oil Wells of Mass Production, Al-Jazeera TV was showing its audience the mangled bodies of children reportedly killed by our missiles. Remember the avulsed civilian intestines I speculated about last week? Now real ones are described in graphic detail in the March 23 Los Angeles Times.

We can only pray that Baghdad has enough underpopulated military sites to absorb the liberating missiles turning their nights into a thudding, burning hell. While our military maintains the Tomahawk missiles are accurate to within 30 feet, two have landed in Turkey, three are reputed to have landed in Iran, while another went haywire, nearly hitting one of our own destroyers at sea. A Patriot missile accidentally destroyed a British attack plane returning to Kuwait. So, no, our missiles aren't necessarily flying over Baghdad in precise patterns spelling out "Surrender Dorothy." They are killing civilians, despite any best intentions. Meanwhile, at more than $1 million per Tomahawk, that's you spending the rest of your taxable life just to pay for part of one errant payload, without one penny ever going to schoolbooks, vaccines, firemen, roads or anything else that will do you or yours a damn bit of good.

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What are we doing there?What are we doing there?These are just ancillary themes to our stated reasons for being there: removing the threat of weapons of mass destruction and regime change. If that crazy dunghead still had stockpiles of the WMDs we helped him acquire, wouldn't he be using them by now? What does Hussein care about world opinion when he knows he's going to be dead or tanning at Guantanamo next week?What are we doing there?What are we doing there?* * *Americans and Iraqis are dying because the Bush administration claims it had exhausted every diplomatic option. But when most of the world's leaders—including longtime allies and neighbors—believe diplomacy and inspections were working; when the citizenry of the world overwhelmingly think this war is unjustified; when the weapons inspectors in Iraq thought so; when our own intelligence discounted links between al-Qaida and Iraq; when much of our evidence on WMDs proved false; when the pope and other religious leaders condemn the war and the head of the UN opines it's illegal; when our morality dictates "Thou shalt not kill" not "Thou art such hot shit that you should kill innocents if an asshole in their midst worries you": then no, Bush and company did not do their jobs before sending our troops into danger to do the job for them.The contradictions abound. As Gary Hart recently noted, "In the name of democracy, we've urged nations' leaders to ignore the will of their people." The largest global protests in history have taken place over this war, and it's not because anyone likes Saddam Hussein or what he did to his country. Instead, they're justly worried about what we're doing to ours, where our vast power is being guided by fear rather than reason.Now we're being told we're unpatriotic if we don't rally behind our commander once our men and women are in the fray. Bullpuckey. That's like saying you should stop telling Michael Jackson not to dangle babies out windows once he's actually doing it. "Michael, we may have disagreed before, but now you the man! Dangle away!" I don't think so. Wrong is wrong, no matter how deeply you mire others in it. * * *Most of the protesters I know are thoughtful, patriotic Americans who support our troops but cannot support Bush's fearmongering and contempt for the international community to which America was once a beacon. Most of the millions who have been taking to our streets are probably of that character. That's most of what I saw last Thursday and Friday at the Bristol and Anton protests, where the ranks have swelled by hundreds since the war started. That protest is largely ignored in the local press, while nationally it seems that, out of a grassroots-organized crowd of 250,000, the cameras are sure to pick out the five whiney, bongo-playing alterna-slackers for broadcast, while giving equal time to a 200-person pro-war protest organized, paid for and promoted by the Bush-supporting Clear Channel radio conglomerate. If our TV news looks like propaganda, it's not necessarily because of an overarching conservative conspiracy, but because the decision-makers are scared rabbits, clueless on how to present complex issues or difficult truths in their dumbed-down, time-constrained formats. It's all they can do just to keep up with the Pentagon PR. When the military announced our "decapitation strike," every malleable network wonk immediately parroted the phrase like they'd used it for decades. What next, "butch-rub strikes"? "Circumcision strikes"? On my cable system, when you change channels, a bottom-screen banner tells you what's supposed to be on. The pre-empted programming has led to some strange juxtapositions: Fox showing Baghdad lit by explosions above a banner reading Texas Justice; a grim UN representative on ABC while the bottom of the screen asks, Are You Hot?The problem is getting the people who typically watch those shows to understand what's being done in their names. That's hard to do from the corner of Bristol and Anton when the other guy's flipping you off from a veering SUV. What can you do when you don't have a handy column or an Oscar platform? (Thank you to everyone who acted like a citizen there.) Speak at the water cooler, the bar, the movie line. And, at least as much as you speak, listen. Then speak some more, and don't ever shut up until we've convinced our fellows that a patriot is not a missile. Now, horrific accounts of our own casualties are coming home. Why are they called casualties? There's nothing casual about it. It's lives torn into filthy meat and pain and loss felt for generations. If it's regime change, does that mean we're going to go after every oppressive dictator in the world? There are boodles, some even that the U.S. didn't help create. That's part of the problem: Shouldn't we be humble when it comes to nation building? And shouldn't the Iraqis be leery, given that the last time the U.S. orchestrated a regime change for them, they got Saddam Hussein and two and a half decades of misery? Bush and his spokesfolk insist we risked our troops to secure Iraq's oilfields so we can turn them over to the Iraqi people. Are we next going to use troops to help nationalize Venezuela's oil industry or wrest America's natural resources from private hands? Bush's guys come from a corporate culture that's privatizing even water rights around the globe, so expect a little handling charge before the Iraqis see any oil money. You could change the pictures and drop those "you struggle to survive" leaflets into most American cities and hit home. People are struggling to get by. There are plenty of things we could be doing here with the $100 billion-plus this war will cost and the lives we are risking overseas. While our troops fight in Iraq, Bush has slashed funds for veterans by billions, while also cutting funding for schools attended by military kids.


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