Without a doubt, George W. Bush is a lame duck with an even lamer foreign policy. We may well call from our own cells u201CDead man walking!u201D Yet, just as the late Saddam Hussein, Bush remains publicly defiant, the model of a patriotic strongman in a time of national calamity.
As with the late Saddam Hussein, the national calamity Bush addresses — our Middle East militarism — is entirely of his own making. As with the late Saddam Hussein, Bush fancies himself a strategic genius with an under-appreciated political vision. As with the late Saddam Hussein, the number of his devotees has long dwindled, with those remaining faithful tending to do so for tradition rather than principle.
In the fifty states, we grieve our more than three thousand dead American troops, our 400 or so dead American contractors, and our 50,000 physically and psychologically scarred Americans. Occupied Iraq surely grieves its 650,000 dead Iraqis, its millions of wounded, its 25 to 40% unemployment rate, its lost oil revenues. It is abundantly clear that these Iraqi deaths and economic crimes are not the result of Saddam Hussein’s leadership. This fact is not missed by either average Americans or Iraqis.
We can certainly understand why our pimped out and bitch-slapped Iraqi Prime minister Nouri Maliki wants to quit. We wonder at the barely suppressed rage of George H.W. Bush and his team as their compromise path to save the presidency for Jeb — if not salvage what’s left of the U.S. Army — is tasted and then quickly spat out by baby Bush. We are amazed that the tinpot politics of the strutter-in-chief and his replacement of occupation-hardened Army leaders in Iraq by uniformed apparatchiks who promise more genuflecting death and destruction for the glory of the king.
Americans, through elections, polling, activism, lawsuits and personal sacrifice, have shifted their opinion of the war in Iraq, and now overwhelmingly reject the Bush Middle East militarism. At this point, even if we could agree that the goal was really permanent bases in the heart of the Middle East, a regional Sunni political implosion, shattered Iraqi society, and escalated economic and military aggression towards Israel’s arch enemy and China’s future energy provider — we would still sadly have to agree that it didn’t work out, and it has been neither lawful, successful nor worth the cost.
Even cheerleading neoconservatives simper that the u201Cwaru201D wasn’t conducted properly, with enough commitment, or appropriate enthusiasm. For them, the applicable maxim isn’t u201Cpride goeth before a fall,u201D but the New Testament parable of the tares and the wheat. They see the field, after all their hard work, contaminated by weeds, made ugly, unprofitable, even embarrassing. They say, u201CAn enemy hath done this,u201D unable to recognize their own handiwork.
Yet, the dead men continue to walk. Bush’s New strategy for Iraq will be unveiled soon, and will almost certainly include more dead men and women on all sides. In Bush’s final two lame duck years, in spite of a somewhat resistant Congress and an angry American public, he will be able to achieve at least as many dead Americans in Iraq as he has since 2003. We haven’t even mentioned dead Americans in the Afghan front against Iran, or the utter catastrophe that is post-invasion Afghanistan. Bush is lame indeed, but in a very real way, he will manage to continue the mayhem in the Middle East through inertia, if not by design.
The challenge is to shift the dynamic here at home, in our own prisonhouse of misplaced faith in government, our own illusions of goodness where instead there is only the now-metasticized military-industrial-congressional complex described by President Dwight D. Eisenhower nearly fifty years ago. Three generations since then, and maybe more, have disregarded, or perhaps never understood what we were paying for, in treasure and in constitutional principle.
To imagine freedom from our current foreign policy imbroglio, we step into dangerous territory. It is estimated that 60 million American voters have a financial stake in the military-industrial complex, not counting those who invest in the many American companies that rely on militarism abroad and at home to provide shareholder dividends. As we contemplate a draft, we forget that we really and truly don’t need one. Undereducated and underemployed young people may complain, but they don’t really count. Increasingly, college students are willing to take any paying job, including one offered in the name of u201Cserviceu201D and patriotism. Their parents and grandparents will accept the draft as well, in the name of that societal restructure that Eisenhower warned against, and has now become the norm.
Thus, the dead man walking is not just our increasingly confused and cartoonish Mr. Bush. We see dead men walking in the discredited Republican party, once valued for both fiscal restraint and political seriousness. We find them in the United States Army, and in nearly every office of the E-ring of the Pentagon. We see dead men walking as we watch the young men and women who have been sent to the Middle East to spread u201Cdemocracyu201D at the point of the gun, to occupy in a land that will never accept our occupation, and doesn’t need it. Finally, here at home, many Americans who otherwise would stand up and act to reject their government instead cower. Because for all of our understanding of the farce, and our recognition of the cure — leaving Iraq immediately — too many Americans live paycheck to paycheck, burdened by personal and national debt — to the tune of $440,000 for every American household. At least 60 million of us truly believe we need that Department of Defense paycheck, that military contract, that service-sector job that sucks greedily at the military-industrial teat.
Thus, Americans of all parties seem to be nastily cheering George W. Bush as he marches into the valley of the shadow of death, fearing no evil and intending even more murder, more destruction, more breaking of banks and breaking of hearts. Better him than us, we mutter. But we are all dead men walking.
This article originally appeared on MilitaryWeek.com.
Karen Kwiatkowski, Ph.D. [send her mail], a retired USAF lieutenant colonel, has written on defense issues with a libertarian perspective for MilitaryWeek.com, hosted the call-in radio show American Forum, and blogs occasionally for Huffingtonpost.com and Liberty and Power. Archives of her American Forum radio program can be accessed here and here. To receive automatic announcements of new articles, click here.