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, May 25, 2005

Extreme silliness characterizes debate on Iraq

Gene Lyons
Posted on Wednesday, May 25, 2005

With respect to the Bush administration’s "war on terror," Americans appear to have entered the Monty Python stage of debate, where extreme silliness trumps all competing values. I refer to the inspired scene in "Life of Brian" in which a cabal of toga-clad revolutionaries styling itself the "Judean People’s Liberation Front" meets in a Roman coliseum to argue strategy. It’s time to confront the real enemy. Poor Brian, the amiable dunce who keeps being mistaken for the messiah, obligingly shouts an anti-Roman slogan, only to be coolly informed that the real enemy is, in fact, the "People’s Liberation Front of Judea."

As a send-up of Sixties’ left-wing factionalism, it’s priceless. So now we’re doing it all over again, except this time the crackpot radicals appear to be the White House and its allies. (It doesn’t help that so many of the administration’s principal figures appear to have been driven bonkers by Jane Fonda-style radicals during the Vietnam era.) Instead, the administration spent last week attacking not al-Qa’ida or Iraqi insurgents, but the real enemy: Newsweek magazine and pusillanimous Americans who doubted the wisdom of invading Iraq to begin with. Washington Post columnist Terry Neal found it "mind-boggling listening to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who used information from a now discredited source known as ‘Curveball’ to make the case for war against Iraq, calling out Newsweek: ‘Newsweek hid behind anonymous sources, which by their own admission do not withstand scrutiny. Unfortunately, they cannot retract the damage they have done to this nation or those that were viciously attacked by those false allegations.’ "

It was almost as if the Newsweek fiasco had occurred in a vacuum, or in an alternate reality, where the Iraq war, fought over non-existent weapons of mass destruction, had never occurred. "Meanwhile, the same newspaper’s estimable Walter Pincus, in a story unaccountably buried on page A26, reported that back before the war, both the CIA and German intelligence sources handling" Curveball" warned that the Iraqi defector was at best "problematical." Nothing he said could be confirmed. He was eventually determined to be a fabricator peddling tall tales. Contrary to the White House line that the president was misled by poor intelligence, Pincus said that "many U.S. intelligence analysts were internally questioning almost every major piece of prewar intelligence about [Saddam] Hussein’s alleged weapons programs."

Elsewhere in the news, The New York Times broke yet another story about an under-trained and poorly supervised group of soldiers who allegedly decorated their tent with a Confederate flag and called themselves the "Testosterone Gang," systematically beating and torturing prisoners to death at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan. Even worse, Army investigators believe, some victims were innocent civilians caught up in the chaos of war. It’s estimated that 85 percent of Bagram detainees were released without charges.

Atrocities happen in all wars. Two things, however, make the reported American transgressions at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and Bagram AFB particularly appalling: first, the way they appear to confirm everything Islamist propagandists say about the "crusaders ’" contempt for Islam; second, that they proceeded directly from the administration’s country-club tough-guy rhetoric. Classic psychology experiments have repeatedly shown that, absent stringent discipline among their captors, isolated groups rendered helpless and defined as the "other" often fall prey to sadism and brutality—a phenomenon hardly unknown to U.S. military authorities. Instead of proper training, however, inexperienced American Reservists were encouraged to treat the captives as "terrorists" to whom the president naïvely determined the Geneva Conventions did not apply. In effect, if not intent, George W. Bush and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who signed off on memos validating torture for "enemy combatants," declared open season on detainees.

Then there was the story of former NFL star Pat Tillman, a genuine American hero who gave up a $4.5 million contract to defend his country after 9/11. After he was killed by his own troops in a tragic combat blunder on a mountainside in Afghanistan, the Pentagon hid the actual circumstances of his death from his own family for many weeks, seemingly fearful that the facts would render his sacrifice meaningless. "They realized," Tillman’s embittered father told The Washington Post, "that their recruiting efforts were going to go to hell in a handbasket if the truth about his death got out. They blew up their poster boy."

With all due respect, I think the elder Tillman and the Pentagon are both mistaken. His son is no less a hero for the tragic circumstances of his death, and most Americans are grown up enough to handle the truth. Hardly anybody opposed the mission into Afghanistan, and few do today. What they can’t handle, and what’s forcing the Bush administration and its supporters into increasingly absurd postures, is their growing awareness of the comprehensive disaster caused by their misguided obsession with Iraq and the propaganda campaign that got us there. –––––—

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


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