As the election recedes there's good news and bad news. And we're not going to like any of it.
Welcome to the world of investigative reporter Seymour Hersh, whose remarkable career has been bookended by two of the most shameful events in America's military history: My Lai in Vietnam, a story he broke as a free-lance reporter, and the Abu Ghraib prison scandal in Iraq, a story he broke for The New Yorker.
During his 38-year career, Hersh has written eight books, won the National Book Critics Circle Award, a Pulitzer and a host of other prizes. His sources serve at the highest levels of many governments, including our own.
In person, Hersh is tall, stooped, rumpled, gray-haired and bespectacled. He speaks rapidly and intensely in a deep voice. Currently touring to "pimp," as he put it, his newest book, "Chain of Command: The Road from 9/11 to Abu Ghraib," he spoke last week at Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass., to a rapt audience of about 900 people. They greeted him with applause; he said, "Thank you, but you'll be less happy once I'm done."
Hersh's message is simple and frightening: "(George W.) Bush is an ideologue, a Utopian," Hersh said. "He wants to clean out the Middle East and install democracy. He doesn't care how many body bags come back home. There's nothing more dangerous than an ideologue who is completely bonkers and no one is going to tell him."
Bush is committed to perpetual war, Hersh said.
"He risked his presidency on this war," Hersh said. "He could have gotten more votes if he backed off. But he insisted he hasn't made any mistakes."
Hersh has talked privately with many in the military and CIA, including some who have recently resigned. All told him that if the Iraq war had gone "right" - say, if the Americans had been greeted as liberators
- our military would have marched "right and left" - to Syria and Iran.
Oil is a big factor in this war, Hersh said, and so is Israel, but to Bush it's about ideology: "Whether this man communicates with God, or is on a crusade, or really is a neo-con, or if he thought that his father's not taking Baghdad was a mistake - in any case, I think he is absolutely committed to staying in Iraq to the end."
After 9/11, Hersh said, America had some good choices.
"Early in 2002, the Taliban was split," Hersh said. "About 50 percent of the Taliban leadership hated Osama bin Laden and wanted him out. We could have worked with them. But we went ahead and treated the Taliban as one entity. The Taliban has survived. Al Queda has survived. We wanted to eliminate crazy people who want to fly planes into buildings. But instead we dehumanized everyone in Afghanistan and Iraq."
After March 2002, the question about Iraq was not if, but when.
"They started moving secret units, the commandos, the Delta Force, secret British elite forces, into the Middle East staging areas," Hersh said. "They were pulling people away from a war which was much more important - against al-Qaida - and putting them in a staging area for Iraq."
How could the administration have made such a mistake?
"Inside, if you agreed that the road to ending international terrorism ended in Baghdad, you were a hero," Hersh said. "You were promoted. Bush didn't have to ask for information to be slanted his way. If you wanted promotions, or to sit in on the conferences with the big boys, you told him what he wanted to hear. If you disagreed, then your career stalled. Totally wacky."
This sorry state of affairs continues today. Bush is told only what he wants to hear, and since he doesn't read newspapers, he has become completely divorced from reality. For example, the people we're fighting in Iraq are not insurgents, Hersh said.
"They're the same people we fought in the beginning," he said. "It's not like we had a war, and then installed a government, and then gradually people rebelled and an insurgency sprung up and we have guerrilla operations. These are the people we went to war against. According to my sources, there are remarkably few foreign fighters in Iraq. And when has an occupying force ever won a war?"
Hersh pointed out that Fallujah was once famous for resisting British imperialism; it is also the ancient center of Sunni Wahaabism - the state religion of Saudi Arabia.
"Now Bush has guaranteed that the Saudi princes, no matter what they say, will be giving money to the insurgents," Hersh said. "We've basically committed ourselves to Saudi opposition."
We cannot win in Iraq, Hersh said. "We have no intel. We can't find the insurgents. When they bomb something, we only know about it afterward. We can't figure them out. Someone said, 'We play chess, they play Go.' All we can do is lose. All we can do is bomb."
The United States cannot afford this endless war, Hersh said. The dollar is already falling against the Euro, and the Chinese and Japanese hold trillions of dollars of U.S. debt.
"Soon China and Russia will start buying oil in Euros," Hersh said. "They'll stop buying American in Europe because they hate us so much
- Disney in Paris is already going down. Large American corporations doing business abroad are going down. We could see more anti-American violence abroad. The dollar will fall. Billionaires are now telling other billionaires to get out of the stock market and buy foreign currency and stocks."
Then what could the good news be?
"The good side - and I promise you I'm not selling uppers - is that there will be direct attacks on the Supreme Court, a change in the filibuster rules, it's going to be down and dirty, a complete hoe-down, but there won't be anything subtle," Hersh said. "It's all going to be out in the open."
We must let events take over, Hersh said.
"We have put ourselves in an enormous hole," he said. "There's no magic story to get us out. The market will crash. Maybe people will come to their senses. Maybe some Democrat will step forward to do the right thing. And maybe the Easter bunny will turn out to be real."<
Joyce Marcel (email@example.com) is a free-lance journalist who lives in southern Vermont and writes about culture, politics, economics and travel.