Yesterday, a quick line about the Middle East, and a lot on Barack Obama. Today, the other way round. The quick line about Obama: He gave a speech yesterday in Indiana which neatly summed up what he’s been trying to tell people all along. You can view it at Paul Woodward’s site. It’s long, but worth watching, particularly if you harbor any doubts about him.
As to the Middle East. Several small items have stuck in my mind recently, but I didn’t put them together. Now I’ll try to.
Last Thursday, Tex Lameduck held a video conference with military and civilian personnel in Iraq. It was the kind of semi-bullshitty back-and-forth we expect from this President, until he said this.
I must say, I’m a little envious. If I were slightly younger and not employed here, I think it would be a fantastic experience to be on the front lines of helping this young democracy succeed…. It must be exciting for you … in some ways romantic, in some ways, you know, confronting danger. You’re really making history, and thanks.
Yes, no question. Fantastic, as in that which defies reality. Exciting, as in a video game with real bullets and real blood. Romantic, as in bodies ripped apart, minds destroyed. Confronting danger. Sure sounds like fun.
But let’s step back from the bloody wet dreams of this dismal mini-Falstaff. Listen instead to the words of those who were there for the excitement and the romance and the danger. There’s a convention of sorts going on right now in Silver Spring, Maryland.
The four-day event, “Winter Soldier: Iraq & Afghanistan — Eyewitness Accounts of the Occupations,” is sponsored by Iraq Veterans Against the War and is expected to draw more than 200 veterans of the two wars through tomorrow. Timed for the eve of the fifth anniversary of the war’s start next week, organizers hope the soldiers’ accounts will galvanize public opposition.
For some of the veterans speaking yesterday, the experience was catharsis.
Spencer Ackerman of the feisty young Washington Independent was there, and filed stories after each of the veterans spoke. They are not comfortable stories, but if you share the Tex vision of war in Iraq as exciting and romantic, maybe you should read some of them. Here’s just one — a mild one at that — from a member of the 82nd Airborne.
We end up taking two young men [prisoner] regardless. I say to my sergeant, these are not the men we’re looking for. He says, “Don’t worry, I’m sure he would’ve done something anyways.” His mother is crying in my face, trying to kiss my feet. I can’t speak Arabic. I can speak human. She was saying, ‘Why are you taking my sons, they’ve done nothing wrong.” It made me feel very powerless.
Tex wouldn’t have felt powerless, I bet. How would he have felt, though? He’s a short-timer at the White House. He must dream about heroic deeds, the ones he might have done back when he had a chance, if it hadn’t been for the booze and the influential friends and a decided disinclination to put himself at risk for anything.
If you doubt, or have forgotten, or never knew, Juan Cole laid it all out neatly three and a half years ago.
At some basic level, perhaps completely beyond the conscious realm, Tex knows that, despite his grandiose patter and his cocky strut, he is at the core a weasel. Does some part of him still want to go out on the line and show that he can walk the walk?
Then I think back to the resignation of Admiral Fallon. It came on very short notice. And there was something else remarkable about it — I noted it at the time, but didn’t think enough about it.
He resigned — remarkably, in my view — by phone.
Does the four-star admiral in charge of military operations in the hottest spot on the planet just decide one afternoon to call the Pentagon and quit? Not likely. What is likely is that he was on the phone with someone in Washington — Gates, Cheney, Bush, one or more of those guys — and something came up in the conversation, something that amounted to the last straw, or maybe a better metaphor would be that it crossed the final line. And he quit, on the spot, perhaps with no warning at all.
Tex is suddenly having adolescent dreams of glory. Admiral Fallon has been pushed beyond the final line. I don’t at all like the images I get when I put those two ideas together.
[Sidenote: Today is the fortieth anniversary of My Lai. If you don’t know the story, check the PBS summary. But also, please, check the story of Hugh Thompson. He’s the kind of man who helps us atone for the Captain Medinas.]