Like many people, I'm of two minds when it comes to the so-called end of the
war in Iraq. I hope the Iraqi people will ultimately be better off but I fear
that the American people won't be.
My split personality was evident even as I marched against the invasion of
Iraq last winter. I wanted more substance and less sloganeering from my
fellow marchers. The failure on our side to fully acknowledge the suffering
of the Iraqi people under Saddam Hussein seemed as disingenuous as the
failure of the administration to acknowledge that Saddam had nothing to do
with 9/11. Our side's claim that this was only a war about oil seemed as
simplistic as Bush's claim that it was only about weapons of mass destruction.
My uneasiness with the discourse was far outweighed by my fear that American
bombs and bloody street-fighting, met with the unleashing of lethal toxins
and nerve gas, was a first step toward Armageddon -- that we'd see thousands
of American kids shipped home in body bags and untold numbers of Iraqi
civilians strewn limp as old dolls across the landscape.
But a few weeks later, as the statue of Saddam toppled again and again on the
evening news, I was happy to begrudge Bush the victory in Baghdad. Yes,
begrudge, because I don't support his policies. Why this seems like heresy to
so many pundits is beyond me. The left won't grant Bush this victory because
they don't want to see him win in 2004. Right. I don't.
Nevertheless, I was wrong about the swift march to Baghdad and I was prepared
to eat some crow, even though there's still plenty about Iraq that most
people agree is worrisome: a fractious ethnic and religious brew, a worldwide
perception that this was a war about oil, those missing WMDs, and the fact
that the evildoer behind this whole mess has disappeared along with Osama in
a spooky version of Sigfried and Roy, Masters of the Impossible.
And it's ironic, at least, that an administration hellbent on dismantling big
government at home is in charge of building a big government in Iraq. Not
But it's the manipulation of this war and its long-term consequences that
worry me the most.
Given the distance we have to go before Iraq is a democracy, Bush's victory
dance should be less managed and more subdued. I saw him climb out of that
jet and swagger across the deck of the aircraft carrier and I envied him the
moment. What a trip! A macho flight suit designed to enhance . . . oh never
mind, the cheering troops, the pomp of "Hail to the Chief," the inevitable
comparison to other great leaders at sea, and a postcard perfect backdrop of
the gulf . . . oops, make that the Pacific.
Because news stories the next day revealed that San Diego was a few miles to
the east, that the ship was sent away from shore to allow Bush his flyboy
landing, and that the camera angles were chosen to view the vast expanse of
the ocean, not the coast of California with its all-but-ignored budget woes.
These are the shots we'll see again and again come election time.
Later the same night I saw a clip of New York City firefighters being cheered
shortly after 9/11 and I thought of the firefighters now being laid off all
across the country thanks to a plummeting economy and budget shortfalls. How
quickly we drop our heroes. Well, our attention spans are notoriously short
and tax cuts trump heroism, I guess.
It's possible that once the oil is secure and there's some semblance of order
we'll just walk away from Iraq. But there's no walking away from our vast
problems at home. And there's no walking away from the consequences of
smashing a despot like Saddam, who is now more highly regarded than ever by
many people in the fundamentalist Arab world.
Once, in a moment of senseless instinct, I whacked a huge furry spider who
lunged out of a banana crate, a perceived threat to my small children. As if
I'd split an atom, the spider went from a lumbering giant into a thousand
little black dots, like peppercorns on a concrete floor. As the mortally
wounded mother struggled to find cover, the babies who had been clinging to
her back scuttled into the woodwork and out of sight. Later that summer,
every shoe, every toy, every towel, every bed, had to be carefully shaken and
inspected to be rid of the now fully grown, and I imagined, very angry,
I can't help thinking that we smacked a venomous spider in Iraq, but that the
offspring will be back, with a vengeance.
Susan Lenfestey is a Minneapolis writer. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org