Patriotism: the New Third Rail

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The dire consequences of the US invasion of Iraq go beyond a failed occupation and attendant war crimes. By making excuses for torture in public hearings, the US Senate has besmirched itself.

In Senate hearings on May 19, Republican senators enabled three commanding generals of our Iraqi occupation force to explain away war crimes as procedures employed to save lives. The excuse: our heroes are getting killed and we owe it to our troops to find out who is behind the resistance.

One of the generals said that the US military knows right from wrong. The problem is bureaucracy, he said. The military has so many procedures that no one knew which ones were in effect. Things got out of hand, because the military lost control over its procedures. We must get control of our procedures, the general said.

The hearing gave war crimes a makeover and turned them into "procedures to save lives." Even Democrats went along with that spin.

With the flood of photos, videos, and official reports, the Senators are drowning in evidence of widespread abuse of detainees, including torture, rape, and murder. Yet, shame was not detectable in the hearing.

Senator James Inhofe (R, Ok) set the tone during a May 11 Senate Armed Services Committee hearing when he declared his outrage over the outrage over torture: "I am outraged that we have so many humanitarian do-gooders right now crawling all over these prisons, looking for human rights violations while our troops, our heroes, are fighting and dying."

Even as Bush’s poll numbers plummet, hardcore supporters of the Iraq war remember US humiliation in Vietnam for which they blame the media. Their patriotism has been made virulent by neoconservative propaganda in an attempt to protect the neocons’ immoral and disastrous policy from accountability. Senator Inhofe’s "outrage over outrage" attempts to turn legitimate demands for accountability into a new third rail of American politics.

It is not difficult to understand that a country at war doesn’t want to wallow in self-recriminations. It is easy to comprehend that Republicans don’t want to lose power by being held politically accountable for the costly strategic blunder that the invasion of Iraq has turned out to be. Nevertheless, the evasiveness of official Washington concerning the calamity is scandalous.

In his Monday night speech (May 24), President Bush blamed the prisoner abuse on "disgraceful conduct by a few American troops who dishonored our country and disregarded our values." What were Bush’s speechwriters thinking? Everyone attentive to the news knows the abuse was too widespread to be the work of a few rogue troops. "Abuse of Captives More Widespread, Says Army Survey" reads a New York Times May 26 headline.

Bush misfired again when he blamed "our commanders" for underestimating the number of troops needed to successfully invade and occupy Iraq. Both former Army Chief of Staff General Eric Shinseki and General Anthony Zinni, Commander-in-Chief of the US Central Command during 1997—2000, issued loud warnings that the Iraq invasion was ill-conceived and undermanned.

In his new book, Battle Ready, written with Tom Clancy, General Zinni blames senior civilian Pentagon officials for the fiasco: "In the lead up to the Iraq war and its later conduct, I saw at a minimum, true dereliction, negligence, and irresponsibility; at worst, lying, incompetence and corruption."

Why does President Bush blame American soldiers for the dereliction, negligence, irresponsibility, and incompetence of his civilian team — Vice President Richard Cheney, Cheney’s chief of staff "Scooter" Libby, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Pentagon officials Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith, and neoconservative opportunists such as Richard Perle? Bush has seriously damaged himself and his party by allowing the neoconservatives to use his presidency to pursue their personal agenda.

Republicans abandoned President Richard Nixon because he lied about the date on which he learned of a burglary at the Watergate. House Republicans impeached President William Clinton because he lied about an affair with an intern.

President Bush lied America into war and continues to lie to keep us there. Isn’t Bush’s transgression too serious to be wrapped in the flag?

Neoconservatives are a danger to Americans on the home front as well as on the war front. Neocon ideologues have hijacked US immigration policy by denouncing patriots who desire to control US borders as "nativists" and "racists."

While US armed forces illegally overrun the Middle East, Mexican immigrants illegally overrun America’s borders. Why are we squandering $200 billion defending Middle Eastern borders when our own borders are undefended?

Dr. Roberts [send him mail] is John M. Olin Fellow at the Institute for Political Economy and Research Fellow at the Independent Institute. He is a former associate editor of the Wall Street Journal and a former assistant secretary of the U.S. Treasury. He is the co-author of The Tyranny of Good Intentions.

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