Nasty Letters To Crooked Politicians

As we enter a new era of politics, we hope to see that Obama has the courage to fight the policies that Progressives hate. Will he have the fortitude to turn the economic future of America to help the working man? Or will he turn out to be just a pawn of big money, as he seems to be right now.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Madness in Iraq continues unabated

Gene Lyons

Posted on Wednesday, January 5, 2005


It may have taken an earthquake, a tsunami and a human catastrophe of
unimaginable proportions, but George W. Bush finally changed his mind.
In so doing, the president helped Americans show the generosity,
compassion and know-how for which we’ve long been admired around the
world. "I’d much rather be doing this than fighting a war," a
helicopter pilot, Lt. Cmdr. William Whitsitt, told The Associated Press while
flying victims from demolished Indonesian villages out to the USS
Abraham Lincoln for medical treatment. Too bad there’s so little
evidence that Bush has the capacity to learn from the experience,
because in Iraq, it’s his near pathological inability to admit error
that keeps American soldiers trapped in a nightmare entirely of the
administration’s devising. Unless he develops the moral courage to
change a disastrously misconceived policy, that nightmare can only
continue, isolating the U.S. from its allies and sowing hatred that
breeds terrorists like dragon’s teeth. At first, it appeared that the
administration would handle the Asian tragedy as it handles everything
else: with minimum regard and maximum political spin. Bush’s initial
response appeared niggardly and grudging. Vacationing at his Texas dude
ranch, the president emerged to express halting condolences only after
his silence had evoked worldwide consternation.

Bush’s initial pledge of $15 million in disaster relief came to roughly
a third of what he intends to spend celebrating his own inauguration.
Some puppy in the White House even made a sneering reference to Bill
Clinton’s feeling everybody’s pain. Jump-started by an inaccurate
Washington Times headline claiming, "U. N. official slams U.S. as
‘stingy’ over aid"—Norwegian-born Jan Egeland, undersecretary-general
for humanitarian affairs, had spoken of wealthy nations generally, not
the U.S. —GOP robo-pundits launched an ideological assault upon the
international organization. In short, it looked like business as usual
in Republican Washington.

To be perfectly fair, however, most of this happened before the extent
of the disaster in Indonesia, Thailand, Sri Lanka and India became
widely apparent. Partly because it happened at Christmas, when Western
media organizations were operating with skeleton staffs, partly because
the half-dozen corporations that now own the national news media no
longer think it cost-effective to maintain foreign bureaus, it took
several days for the press to emerge from" Supermodel Nearly Swept Away
by Tsunami" mode to convey the extent of the devastation.

When that happened, the White House upped its aid offer to $35 million,
then to $350 million. Evidently, somebody—most likely Secretary of
State Colin Powell—informed Bush that Indonesia is the most populous Islamic
nation in the world and that the stricken separatist province of Aceh
has the highest proportion of Muslims in the country (not to mention
plentiful oil and natural gas).

Along with their humanitarian mission, U.S. aircraft carriers and
helicopters have more potential to enhance the Muslim world’s opinion
of the United States, thus building resistance to terrorist extremism,
than all the "shock and awe" campaigns the Pentagon could muster.

Because, yes, we see the victims of nature’s wrath as fellow human
beings exactly like ourselves, precisely as al-Qa’ida propaganda
assures them that we do not. Bush’s magnanimous gesture of asking former
Presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton to lead a campaign for private
donations, perhaps the first genuinely non-partisan action of his
presidency, served to underscore the point: We Americans, all of us, do
feel their pain. A reported $163 million in private donations to
international aid organizations spoke eloquently.

More’s the pity, then, to see the madness in Iraq continue unabated.
"There is only one traffic law in Ramadi these days: When Americans
approach, Iraqis scatter," reads an account in the Economist. "...
Every vehicle, that is, except one beat-up old taxi. Its elderly driver,
flapping his outstretched hands, seems, amazingly, to be trying to turn
the convoy back. Gun turrets swivel and lock on to him, as a hefty
marine sergeant leaps into the road, levels an assault rifle at his
turbaned head, and screams: ‘Back this bitch up, [bleeper]!’" The old
man should have read the bilingual notices that American soldiers tack
to their rear bumpers in Iraq: ‘ Keep 50m or deadly force will be
applied.’ In Ramadi, the capital of central Anbar province, where 17
suicide-bombs struck American forces... the marines are jumpy.
Sometimes, they say, they fire on vehicles encroaching with [in] 30
metres, sometimes they fire at 20 metres. "The Economist account quotes
a" bullish lieutenant" as saying, "If anyone gets too close to us, we
[bleeping] waste them. It’s kind of a shame, because it means we’ve
killed a lot of innocent people.... It gets to the point where you
can’t wait to see guys with guns, so you start shooting everybody." Before
his impending retirement, maybe Colin Powell should try this simple
argument on Bush: Regardless of good intentions, to the besieged Iraqis we
Americans are becoming the tsunami.

• Free-lance columnist Gene Lyons is a Little Rock author and recipient
of the National Magazine Award.


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