The High Druid's Homily

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Monday, November 21, 2005

Poor policy is what's bad for morale - not dissent.

I keep seeing references by Republicans that all this pesky criticism of the war is “bad for troop morale” – this is despite their own assurances that troop morale remains high. They are, no doubt, doing a heroic job: they are fighting an aggressive and ingenious insurgency while at the same time they are engaged in nation-building that works often in spite of their leadership, not because of it. On-the-ground reports do show high morale, if a growing frustration. Yet the returning troops, once they are out of danger of repercussions from their superiors, have brought horror stories of corruption, confusion, treachery, and blatant incompetence that feed the growing anti-war movement.

So which is it? And what should we do about it?

On the face of it I have this urge to scream and doubt the noble principals our Republic was founded upon every time I hear a Republican say we shouldn’t criticize the policies that have brought us to this war, because “it’s bad for morale”. Yes, we are in a time of war, no doubt about it. But is the Republic to serve the needs of the Military, or is the Military to serve the needs of the Republic, as established by the Constitution?

Criticism and dissent are vital to a functioning democracy, and were considered so important that the First Amendment establishing absolute freedom of the press was the very first item on the Bill of Rights. Some members of the current Administration may have been asleep during that part of civics class, or perhaps they long for the halcyon days of George III, but never did the Founding Fathers intend for there to be censorship of dissent during a time of war – or any other time.

When our nation wages war it is through the auspices of our elected leadership, an elected executive who is answerable to an elected legislature. For five years, now, the Republicans have had a lock on both branches, and because of that anyone who had serious enough concerns about the policies that led up to the war to voice dissent were marginalized into ineffectiveness, not to mention having their patriotism questioned at length. But what the current regime doesn’t seem to understand is that the blank check they wrote themselves to prosecute this war is due at the bank, and they are seriously short of political capital.

What were the stated reasons for going to war in Iraq? WMDs were the primary reasons. Removing an intolerable despot was next, a preserving regional stability after regime change was third. There were vague and ominous references to an Al Qaida/Iraq connection, but those connections were tenuous then and upon further review they are only true now because by invading Iraq we gave Al Qaida a dream-opportunity to strike back at Evil American Crusaders without having to get a passport.

We went to war because the Administration we elected told us there was a danger. They presented us lots of “facts” that they had gleaned to support this. Even back then, during the limited debate on the war, those “facts” were suspect. In retrospect there can be no doubt that the Bush regime cherry-picked the intel, letting their pre-established policy of invading Iraq (something that they had been mulling over since they took power) dictate which reports they would present, not letting the mass of the reports speak for themselves and dictating policy. As a people we were deceived, as correspondence between the Bush Imperium and its former allies is now coming to light reveals.

So when was the time to criticize this policy? Back when we went to war in the first place? Some did just that. While we were abandoning diplomacy? I recall some brave souls screaming that we were doing the wrong thing then, too. Bush told us that he had clear and compelling reasons for going to war, then showed us just enough to get us upset. He didn’t source it (“national security”). He didn’t prove its veracity. Much of what he said was bombastic retelling of rumor and speculation and damn few actual facts. He asked us to trust him that he and his administration had identified a clear and present danger, and we gullably did so.

Four years and hundreds of billions of dollars later, some are finally starting to make some noise about it. His regime is rocked by blatant incompetence, scandal and corruption (the CPB fiasco, Harriet Meirs, Scooter Libby, FEMA secretary Brown, the allegations of torture and the blatantly unconstitutional suspension of habeas corpus at Guantanamo, the no-bid contracts that went to Halliburton in Iraq and Afghanistan, Abu Ghraib, several indictments of key Republicans in Congress, and others). In the face of this he has circled the wagons, descended into the bunker, avoids any sort of press conference, and loudly denounced the opponents of the war as irresponsible and unpatriotic because they do not continue to blindly follow his leadership.

What has our $300-400 billion investment in Iraq got us? The undying enmity of the Arab nations, a country beset by a de facto civil war on top of our occupation, a recruiting and training program for a whole new generation of American-hating terrorists, a spiraling debt (weren’t the Republicans supposed to be the party of fiscal conservatism?), a much more secure and belligerent Iran, and a nervous and heavily armed Syria peering across the boarder and wondering if they are next.

What hasn’t it gotten us? Cheap oil. Let’s face it: we did invade Iraq over oil, but not to keep it flowing freely. Petroleum companies don’t make a lot of money when oil is cheap and plentiful. They make money when supply is short and demand is high. If Saddam had miraculously liberalized his government and gotten the sanctions lifted, the first thing he would have done would be to start pumping oil like mad, selling it for whatever he could, and driving the price down to under $20 a barrel – the Kiss of Death for Big Oil. By tying up Iraq in a hopeless political situation that precludes the free flow of oil, Big Oil has been able to score the biggest windfall profits in history. It’s made it cost-effective for Texas to become an oil-producing state again.

It has also enriched Iran immeasurably. Remember them? An “Axis of Evil” state with nuclear ambitions? Yeah, they’re making out like bandits while we pay $3.00 a gallon for gas.
The casualty figures for Iraq, as depressing as they might be, are actually pretty light, in consideration of the scale of the deployment. Our troops are better trained, armed, and armored than their Viet Nam counterparts, and have an advanced communications network that allows for a much more flexible force. Our troops are performing admirably. No one is calling them “baby killers” or war-criminals (that seems to be reserved for the Blackwater mercenaries that we’ve hired to do what we can’t legally employ American troops to do).

The conduct of the troops (with a few lamentable exceptions) is not the issue. The leadership and their policies, those are at issue. And those are fair game for free debate, dissent, and criticism in a participatory democracy. Only the Bush Imperium doesn’t think so, and they’re doing everything they can to stop it. No regime in American history has so blatantly come out against dissent as George II. Having the FBI investigate and intimidate American anti-war protesters under the auscpices of anti-terror legislation is a blatant misuse of authority. Thomas Jefferson would weep.

But the anti-war zealots who advocate a pull-out are just as mistaken. Pragmatically speaking, we are committed, for right or wrong, to see the war through. Not for military victory – as long as there are fanatics who will blow themselves up, that war will never be over. But for something that resembles a legitimate armed authority. The Sunni Triangle needs to be pacified, and the fact of the matter is that the easiest and quickest way to do this would be to withdraw the bulk of our troops North into Kurdish territory, let the Sunnis and Shia duke it out, and be ready to come back in to sit on the winners. Brutal and bloody, yes. Also effective.

But a pull out? That isn’t where the opponents of the Imperium need to focus their attentions. As long as they do that, Bush and Cheney can hide behind the flag and the troops and avoid accountability while making this an issue of patriotism.

Forget a pull-out. Try an audit.

A big, mean, nasty full audit of every dime spent in this war, how it was spent, who it went to and for what. Let’s have an audit with teeth to remove and punish by fine and jail anyone who misused the situation and used that blank check to their advantage. Crawl up Halliburton’s ass with a microscope and I bet we’ll see some action. Get Blackwater Security in front of a Senate committee with cameras and reporters, and we’ll see the Imperium’s policy for what it is: a cynical attempt at market manipulation at tax-payer expense. Once our own house is clean, then we can preach accountability in government to the Iraqis and all other nations we seek to influence.

How can the Imperium have trouble with that? Pressure them on the torture and human rights issues and they plead national security and expediency. Pressure them on faulty intelligence and they play a shell-game with the facts. But hold their feet to the fire with an army of accountants backed by some Congressional clout, and we’ll see Bush’s fiscal conservative base – already exceedingly unhappy – melt away.

In the mean time, keep up the dissent. It’s your constitutional right, and it drives them crazy.

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