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While the Government Accounting Office (GAO) issues its pessimistic report on Iraq, and Mr. Bush puts on his smiley face and spins it to his advantage, U.S. soldiers and Iraqi citizens continue to suffer, bleed and die. The war continues.
Mr. Bush has expressed encouragement by the GAO report, which showed three of eighteen benchmarks met. Republican members of Congress who voted against ending the war last spring said that some significant progress must be shown by the September report, or a real ‘new way forward’ (differing from Mr. Bush’s definition) must be implemented. Now, with Mr. Bush spinning the dismal news from the GAO into a very positive view, Pollyanna style, those same Republicans are being far less forceful than they were just a few months ago.
One can expect little action to end U. S. participation in the war before the inauguration of new Congress members and a new president in January of 2009, and would be naïve to expect too much even then. The pattern has been set: one president involves the country in a war on the pretext that it will protect U.S. interests from whatever the current threat is perceived to be. In the 1960s and 1970s it was Communism; today it is terrorism. After a time the futility of U.S. involvement will be evident to everyone, but U.S. leaders will ‘stay the course’ in order to prove America’s ‘commitment to its allies’ and to ‘keep America safe.’ The death toll of Americans will climb steadily, as the death toll of Iraq’s citizens climbs astronomically. The reputation of the U.S. will deteriorate around the world, and the dissatisfaction of U.S. citizens will be manifested ineffectually at the ballot box and in the streets. The economy of the U.S. will be decimated, with its money being spent to achieve nothing. Finally, after a generation of suffering, some president will embrace the inevitable, and will use some incomprehensible logic to say that American goals in Iraq have been met, and will finally withdraw U.S. soldiers. Iraq’s now long-term civil war will explode by catastrophic proportions, until some kind of government, or possibly multiple governments, can be cobbled together.
Back in the U.S., the alcoholism, suicide, crime, homelessness and divorce rates for Iraq War veterans will spiral out of control, while the rest of the country, those whose loved ones did not serve in the war, look the other way. The men and women who Mr. Bush and subsequent presidents sent to Iraq to protect America from a non-existent enemy will suffer for life, being deprived of the opportunities that their non-military peers took for granted. Some of them will, perhaps, be eligible for sub-standard and generally inadequate care at U.S. veterans’ hospitals, but many will simple suffer with their various afflictions, both physical and emotional. And another generation will talk about the lessons learned from the Iraq War, about why those lessons were not learned in Vietnam, and how such a disaster can be prevented from ever happening again.
Then, as memories begin to fade and U.S. veterans of the Iraq War age and die, some other president will decide to flex American muscle with the expendable lives of its young men and women. Perhaps Communism will resurge, or another terrorist attack will be made upon U.S. soil, something that would certainly pale in comparison to what the U.S. is currently doing to Iraq. But various politicians, opportunists to the last, will rise up in righteous anger and proclaim that the cherished American way of life is in jeopardy, and some other nation will be destroyed as the U.S. vents its wrath.
It is a pattern becoming too familiar, and one that never should have begun. Prior to U.S. entrance into World War I, President Woodrow Wilson demanded U.S. involvement in the ‘war to make the world safe for democracy.’ As that war drew to a close, a disillusioned Mr. Wilson said this: "Is there any man, woman or child in America – let me say, is there any child here–who does not know that this was an industrial and commercial war?" The lofty need to ‘make the world safe for democracy’ only camouflaged the real reason for the war.
Little had changed by the last half of the twentieth century. American involvement in Southeast Asia was nothing short of a disaster for the United States, Vietnam and several of its neighboring countries. The Vietnam travesty taught lessons that any casual student of history can clearly see; why they escape U.S. government officials is a puzzling enigma. So many of those officials have proven that they haven’t learned the lessons taught a generation ago. And even those that have learned hide in fear of offending this or that powerful interest group, and mouth worthless words critical of the war and then fund it, thus signing the death warrants for countless American soldiers and Iraqi citizens.
ROBERT FANTINA is author of ‘Desertion and the American Soldier: 1776–2006.‘