“Out, damned spot! out, I say!. . .who would have thought the old man to have so much blood in him?”
--Lady MacBeth (MacBeth: Act V, Scene I)
Can we avert our eyes from the blood on our hands? Will the inherent decency and goodness of George W. Bush's "America that I know" come through in the end, horrified by the carnage, humiliation, and affront to our morality? If the past is any measure, the answer is "No."
Americans can be incited to fight evil on someone else's turf but when we turn the mirror on ourselves, the excuses begin. What if the shoe were on the other foot? What if Iraqis were photographed sexually abusing our soldiers? How credible would we find the declarations of their leader that these terrible acts don’t represent Iraq or Islam, and that the perpetrators would be punished? Yawn. Yeah, right.
The real motive behind the President’s decision not to fire Rumsfeld becomes visible: the American people are deeply angry at the continuing assaults on our soldiers even as we see ourselves in Iraq to help the Iraqi people. Jeeps are blown up and supply convoys attacked. Jessica Lynch and Shoshana Johnson, the first female prisoners of the Iraqi war, are left with permanent, crippling injuries. Americans are murdered and their charred bodies are hung from a bridge. In no case has there been a cry of outrage from the Iraqis. No doubt that in W’s hyper-macho mind, revenge is brewing. Payback time.
Even though Bush claims that he will conduct a “transparent” investigation of these acts of torture at Abu Ghraib, there is much in these incidents that will remain in the shadows. What is the likelihood that when pressed to the wall, the administration will admit that it undercapitalized the war? General Eric K. Shinseki was forced into early retirement when he dared to suggest that the Secretary of Defense had underestimated the number of troops needed to win the war; admitting that he is wrong about anything is not in W’s vocabulary.
During the 2000 presidential campaign, Al Gore was roundly criticized when he admitted having smoked marijuana in college (as most of our generation had); but when Bush was asked about his substance abuse, he said, “When I was young and wild, I was young and wild,” and then refused to discuss the matter further. He refused to apologize for or acknowledge his drunk driving record. How much less likely is he to admit an error in judgment that resulted in over 725 deaths so far?
Bush has a long memory. I wonder if he would have run for governor of Texas if Ann Richards hadn’t made fun of his father, saying, “Poor George Bush. He was born with a silver foot in his mouth.” Or if he would have gone after Saddam Hussein with such an Ahab-like tenacity if Hussein hadn’t tried to assassinate his father?
George W. Bush’s war rationale has been turned on its ear: The Iraqis aren’t scattering flower-petals in the paths of our Jeeps, they’re throwing bombs at them. After the so-called active conflict ended a year ago, he anticipated a peaceful and bustling Baghdad. Instead, there are daily shipments of American caskets back to the states. Under his cheerful exterior is a vengeful and powerful man. Things can only get uglier.
Why is he fulsome in his praise of Donald Rumsfeld? Is Rummy was doing his president’s bidding and taking the fall for him; or, is Bush afraid that he will be perceived as weak if he fires Rumsfeld in the midst of a war? Did anyone think that President Truman was weak when he fired General Douglas MacArthur for his insubordination? Then again, Truman did not run for a second term so he had no election pending. If machismo or politics are the reasons that Bush is keeping our troops in Iraq, those are corrupt reasons for wasting American lives.
Recall George H.W. Bush’s position during the Iran-Contra scandal. He claimed that he was “out of the loop.” At the time, I found it hard to believe that the former head of the CIA was out of the loop and knew nothing about the administration’s involvement in the arms sale. Is his son telling the same convenient lie?
Despite the story fed to the press that Secretary Rumsfeld had not informed the president about the investigations of abuses of the Iraqi prisoner, one cannot believe that it could have been hidden from him for over a year. If that were true, the only course of action would be for the president to fire him and anyone else who might have known immediately. In a nuclear age when the president of the United States has the power over life and death of the entire planet, it is inconceivable that such practices would have been concealed from him. If they were not sanctioned by the president, then why has there been such secrecy around the treatment of the prisoners at Guantanamo? Have human rights organizations or the Red Cross been allowed to visit Guantanamo? I suspect that the Bush administration is simultaneously nurturing the post 9-11 fears that Americans have, and taking advantage of them to wave aside human rights concerns in regards to possible terrorists.
The president is counting on the American public’s notoriously short attention span and on their fear as well as their rage. Ask any American what happened to the main news story of two months ago, the forcing into exile of Haiti’s president, Bertrand Aristide, and not one in ten would be able to answer the question. Ask anyone how much additional funding the president requested from Congress on Monday of this week, for the conduct of the war($25 billion), and that question is likely to be met by a blank stare as well.
Americans may forget but the Muslim world will not. Why did Iran turn so violently against the Americans in 1979 that they kidnapped Americans and held them hostage? Our support of the Shah, a secular ruler who conducted a reign of terror in Iran with the use of a secret police that the CIA supported at all levels; who introduced much western culture to Iran, was hated not only by the Muslim clerics and their followers but by the whole of the Iranian people. In 1978, they threw him out and created an Islamic government. Perhaps if we’d learned a lesson from that interference in the Islamic world (the Iranians are Muslims but not Arabs), we would have made a different set of choices about Iraq, ones that would not have led us to this unfortunate place.
"...will these hands ne'er be clean?"
--Lady MacBeth (MacBeth: Act V, Scene I)
Rosa Maria Pegueros is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Rhode Island.
To contact her, write to firstname.lastname@example.org