Nothing Accidental About This Disaster

“The story today is going to be very discouraging to the American people. I understand that. We value life. And we weep and mourn when soldiers lose their life. And – but it is the long-term objective that is vital….”

– George Bush, Jan. 26, 2005, referring to the deaths of 36 U.S. soldiers in Iraq.

On June 19, 1999, author Stephen King was walking on Route 5 near his home in western Maine. A man in a van on the same road that fateful morning chose to turn around while driving, to feed his dog, sitting in the back seat. Not surprisingly, with his eyes on and off the road, he was unable to control the van, which swerved in and out of his lane for nearly a half mile. Coming around the bend where King was walking, the vehicle veered onto the shoulder and struck King, hurling his body over the van and leaving him in a crumpled heap in a ditch on the side of the road, where he narrowly missed a rocky ledge. King was badly hurt and fortunate to survive. The van driver brought his vehicle over to King, got out, and sat down next to him with his cane across his legs, as though the encounter had been planned and he was waiting for King to wake from a nap. He simply sat there, in actuality waiting for the police to arrive. At one point, in what was characteristic of both his laconic manner and his conviction that this was merely an accident, an inconvenience, he offered words to this effect: "You and I are having a bad day, aren’t we?" (interview with Stephen King, NPR, Nov, 21, 2003)

On Wednesday last week, "the American people" also had a bad day. On that fateful day in Iraq – where every day is fateful – 36 U.S. soldiers died, 31 of them in a helicopter crash, the other five in combat. George Bush’s response was broadcast at a full-blown national press conference. "The story today is going to be very discouraging to the American people," he said, a comment more appropriate to a chess tournament than a war. One can assume with some confidence that the family, friends, and neighbors of the 36 dead soldiers felt something somewhat more piercing than discouragement, something akin to the horror, shock, and grief of profound loss, but whether or not Bush felt any of their pain, despite a passing reference to "weeping" and "mourning," he made no convincing effort to articulate it directly to the families concerned.

The week before these soldiers died, Bush faced another opportunity to stand alongside people who had suffered profound loss in this war. On this day, an Iraqi man and his wife were killed in front of their five children when U.S. soldiers fired on their car after they failed to heed warnings to stop. The children emerged from the car screaming, bloody, and traumatized. There can be little doubt that the soldiers were also traumatized. On this occasion, Bush failed to even publicly recognize the event, revealing that he has neither compassion for Iraqi civilians caught in the crosshairs of a guerilla war he started and maintains, nor real concern for U.S. troops.

We are talking about more than a personality deficit here. More than the failure of a high official to carry out one of the traditional roles of his office: the ceremonial shouldering of the pain brought on by tragedy or sacrifice in service of the nation. This is part of a pattern of failures that supports the conviction that U.S. foreign policy has been hijacked by a small group of self-serving people who believe they can do whatever they want, despite massive opposition and the cost to others. It stacks up neatly alongside the lies and distortions in the rush to war, the ongoing bludgeoning of the United Nations, the mockery of international law, and the systemic abuse of prisoners. This analysis can be a central part of our resistance to their warmaking: A coup is occurring. It gets bloodier every day. Our country is being run by a dictatorial regime.

The failures are also a matter of accountability. By any standard of measurement, Iraq was a wreck prior to the March 2003 invasion by U.S. troops. Health care, education, and critical civilian infrastructure – water and sewage treatment, electrical output – were in disrepair. But there were signs of an economy struggling to breathe again, as the international stranglehold of economic sanctions loosened: Iraq hosted business conferences, signed contracts with European and Asian countries, resumed commercial air travel, and forged improved relations with its neighbors, opening further economic opportunities.

Two years later, what was malfunctioning in Iraq prior to the invasion is now worse – more disease and less capacity to treat it, less electricity, a decapitated education system … the list goes on. Every sign of economic revitalization has been erased, replaced by increased unemployment, massive insecurity, and widespread violence. If Iraq was a wreck before the invasion, it is a full-scale disaster now, the administration’s pathetic proclamations to the contrary notwithstanding. If there were signs before the invasion that people were beginning to pull themselves out of the wreck and piece together their lives, now there is chaos. Despite assurances that "14 out of 18" Iraqi provinces are stable, despite the thin and poorly applied veneer of elections, fires rage out of control.

The credit for this mild transformation – what the president calls freedom on the march – rests squarely on the shoulders of George Bush and his administration, with a little help from their friends in Great Britain. They talk about ending "tyranny" in the world, while practicing it daily. The dead in Iraq, totaling over a hundred thousand, are blood on their hands. The bloody violence is a monster they created. The death, dismemberment, and trauma that U.S. soldiers undergo is this administration’s legacy to military families. This is the visceral cutting edge of resistance to this warmaking, and we should voice it at every opportunity.