Heterodox Views on Politics and Public Policy from Michael Blaine

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Deadline Iraq

President Bush has said that the troops in Iraq cannot operate under a deadline for withdrawal. In fact, the opposite is true: without a deadline, there is no incentive to "finish the job" -- whatever that might be. Every student, every working adult and every serious institution works under the pressure of deadlines and fixed evaluations. There is no reason to grant the Pentagon and the White House an exception. It is unclear why this has not been pointedly emphasized by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

In fact, it has been nearly four whole years since the president declared "Mission Accomplished." Since that seeming endpoint, the nation has ever-less-patiently seen its treasure, its system of self-defense and its morale diminished. To what end no one can rationally and satisfactorily explain, without resorting to theories impugning the good intentions and/or wisdom of our nation's political leadership. Why, then, prolong the pain? Indeed, here is a new axiom for the war manuals at West Point: if your military mission is not completed before the jingoistic car magnets fade from exposure to the elements, it never will be.

Twice this week I have been asked -- in one case by a relative by marriage, in another by Fox Sports Radio -- to "Support Our Troops." One could argue, however, that US troops in Iraq deserve no more support, that they have failed at nearly every turn, from the spectacle at Abu Ghraib to the massacre at Haditha to the inability to make Iraq safe enough for its citizens to enjoy the freedoms they were cruelly promised.

One could point out that the weekly barrage of news about lethal explosions at markets and inexorably rising death tolls has demoralized the homeland; we citizens who pay the taxes that purportedly enable our military to "defend our freedoms" have been let down. We have done everything that has been asked of us, yet we have been rewarded only with continuous failure in the field. The "support" has flowed only one way, and now we are tired and fed up. In an unmistakable sign of the debacle that the military operation has become, two million Iraqis have fled abroad.

Although one could possibly argue the points above, sadly the troops themselves have been failed -- too often mortally -- by the same individuals who have failed the rest of the nation: those in the White House and in the Congress. For these people, whether craven politicos or home-grown evildoers of historic proportions, the moral deadline passed long ago.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Madness on the March

For those who enjoy watching the annual NCAA basketball tourney known as "March Madness" on television, one serious drawback is having to sit through countless insipid commercials. Some are even offensive in the violence they depict, including one for beer that features a young man knocking another unconscious with a hurled rock. I'm told this is funny, but still I'm convinced that ads like this insidiously cause the public psychic damage. They set a tone and send a message, which -- when repeated endlessly throughout TV viewers' lifetimes -- coarsens moral sensibilities. At some level, possibly the deepest one, the message is conveyed that using violence to obtain something even as trivial as a bottle of beer is acceptable.

How much greater the psychological impact, then, when instead of watching scripted video clips, a whole country is forced to participate in a years-long destruction of another nation, as in the case of the US vis-a-vis Iraq. Most Americans can tell you that since March, 2003 over 3,000 US soldiers have died in the conflict; some can tell you that at least 60,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed; and a few can tell you that the direct cost of the project runs into the hundreds of billions of dollars. Yet virtually no one in our land discusses the psychic costs borne by all 300 million Americans, day after day and year after year. How repugnant and shameful to know that one is to some degree complicit in raining disaster down on a far-flung populace that never presented any threat to us? How awful to know that one's tax dollars made it possible to keep millions of Baghdad children awake every night to the sound of exploding bombs as the vaunted "Shock and Awe" campaign was carried out? What can one ever say to the 2 million Iraqis who have fled their homeland because US policy made it virtually uninhabitable?

That one opposed the illegal invasion of Iraq from the beginning as both an abysmal policy choice and an immoral act, does not necessarily make it easier to watch a war criminal continue to occupy the Oval Office while the two major political parties that gave him carte blanche to wreak needless havoc on the world maintain their eternal duopoly in Congress. Not only has our nation been deeply stained by the sins of war, but each individual who forms a part of it has suffered a moral contamination. Our collective spirit has been deformed. Perhaps that is why individuals such as David Frum of the American Enterprise Institute -- neither an elected politician nor a federal official, but nonetheless part of a coterie of sadistic academics who designed the Iraq war -- can go on national television and prescribe the next steps to take in Mesopotamia as if death weighed no more heavily on them than the filming of a TV ad.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Can America Afford Another White Male President?

A mature nation, or at least a mature media, would not ask the following: "Are we ready for a woman president?"; "Are we ready for a black president?"; "Are we ready for a Hispanic president?" An advanced democracy would merely select its candidates and elect its leaders based on their qualifications and policy proposals without concerning itself with the superficial and the irrelevant. As it is, though, the political questions that are foisted on the public are insulting and undignified. Who are "we", and just what is meant by "ready"? Is there some special preparation ritual that the nation has missed?

Chile recently elected a female (Hispanic, of course!) president, and a few years earlier Canada had a female prime minister. Each of these countries today is in excellent shape. Meanwhile, the US struggles to sort out daunting foreign policy problems of its own making as it grapples with a potential financial meltdown stemming from a collapsing "sup-prime" mortgage sector, a looming pensions crisis and staggeringly high levels of public and private debt. Wages for most Americans have stagnated or fallen, and every day fewer people have health insurance.

Indeed, the question we citizens and our news media ought to be asking ourselves is, "Can we afford another white, male president?" The damage done to our country by the current one can hardly be quantified. The federal budget has swung from record surplus to deficit, adding trillions of dollars to the country's debt; the nation has plunged headlong into an illegal and murderous war, replete with official promotion of torture; and cherished domestic civil liberties and constitutional guarantees suffer constant assault by the White House. Incompetence and malevolence emanate from Washington, DC in waves previously unimaginable.

If white men are the guarantors of this status quo, as implied by the media's questions concerning the gender and race of certain presidential candidates, then the only rational response to prospective changes in the outward characteristics of our next president is, "Bring 'em on!"

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

"Get a Job"

In 1971 I was five years old, yet I was able to experience that tumultuous time from the perspective of an adult just this past weekend during a march on the Pentagon to protest the Iraq war. As I walked from my parking spot in downtown Washington, DC toward the National Mall, it became apparent that the mood of the day would reflect the raw and surly March weather. Instead of fellow peace lovers, I noticed throngs of scowling white men holding placards aggressively touting the benefits of war. Apparently, it had freed the slaves in the 1860's (legally, well into the fighting when the North's hand was forced), saved European Jews in the 1940's (except for six million of them), and even now was sparing Americans the horrors of "Islamic fascism." I looked past these disconcerting advocates of violence to the extent I could as I made my way to the march's starting point.

Then, at the northeast corner of the Lincoln Memorial, my passage was blocked by a mass of heavy-set middle-aged men wearing black leather jackets stitched with patches declaiming their status as Vietnam War veterans. "Where you headed?," the pack leader asked, pointing behind me. "France is that way." Sporting a corporate-style haircut; Ray-Ban sunglasses; a baseball cap; a standard winter parka; and jeans, in my view I hardly fit the stereotype of a left-wing rabble-rouser. As the pack leader jabbed at me with an American flag on a stick, I retreated. These men, their weather-beaten faces turned pink in the winter wind, clearly were itching for a fight. One of them shouted at me, "Get a job!"

I asked myself, What year is this, and who am I? Certainly not a hippie. I cast my first presidential vote for Ronald Reagan. So, a better question is, Who do these men -- these sidewalk intimidators -- think they are? It has been suggested to me that the smart of rejection they felt upon their return from Southeast Asia over thrity years ago, having fought for an unpopular and losing cause, is revived every time they see Americans protesting the current unpopular and losing cause in Iraq. These men have not differentiated between then and now, and feel the old insult afresh every time an internal psycho-dynamic is activated by new simuli. Their reliance on phrases from a bygone era is reflexive. In fact, I have a full-time job -- with benefits!

If not for the practiced ability of the DC police in preventing violence at public demonstrations, the day may have marked the first violent street clash in a contemporary US civil war. Emotions on both sides of the Iraq war issue were at a climax. Ugly verbal taunts were constant, mostly hurled by the pro-war crowd at the peace promoters. While frightening in aspect and attitude, the leather-draped war partisans inspire a certain amount of pity. They caught a bad break by being shipped off to Vietnam as young men; they are probably adepts of a certain domestic political party that in reality cares not a whit about their lot in life; and they are from the precise socioeconomic stratum that gets increasingly buffeted by the forces of economic globalization. Nobody in the national "leadership" looks out for them. And now they rage at another phantom threat -- Muslims -- and have thrown themselves into another doomed and horrifically unjust cause: the war in Iraq. Their collective anger can only increase, especially if they are hit by another potential disaster: a housing market collapse that unleashes a deep recession.

Ultimately, though, the pro-war crowd jeering the peace activists are goons. They are a restive lot, living a hair's breadth from unleashing violence on others. All that was clear from their hateful and/or delusional slogans, their rageful visages. Their politics is amoral: "After all, Hitler was elected," I heard one leather-jacketed veteran say in approving tones to a companion. Frighteningly, these people live among us in the thousands, across the land, and they have access to the ballot box, such as it is. Sadly, their successors already may have been created on the battlefields and in the ruins of Mesopotamia. Someday, my son may be told to "get a job" by someone re-living a trauma that is thirty years old.