On 60 Minutes, President Bush was asked, "Do you think you owe the Iraqi people an apology for not doing a better job?"
Bush eventually answered, "Not at all. I am proud of the efforts we did. We liberated that country from a tyrant."
If Bush stopped there, all he would have been was arrogant. But he kept going: "I think the Iraqi people owe the American people a huge debt of gratitude."
That is inhuman. We destroyed a nation under the false pretense of weapons of mass destruction. Between our invasion and the ensuing civil war, at least 53,000 Iraqi civilians and over 3,000 American soldiers have been killed. Nearly 23,000 US soldiers have been wounded. Tyrants are being hanged, and tyranny is still in the streets.
And the Iraqi people owe us a debt of gratitude?
Bush continued, "I believe most Iraqis express that. I mean, the people understand that we've endured great sacrifice to help them. That's the problem here in America. They wonder whether or not there is a gratitude level that's significant enough in Iraq."
And people thought President Johnson was deluded about Vietnam?
On the same day, on Fox News Sunday, Vice President Dick Cheney sputtered out more lies. Long after bipartisan commissions and committees found no ties between Saddam Hussein's Iraq and 9/11 or Al Qaeda, Cheney was still talking domino theory with the same intensity as Johnson and his minions once did.
"Iraq is just part of the larger war," Cheney said. "It is, in fact, a global war that stretches from Pakistan all the way around to North Africa. We've been engaged in Pakistan. We've been engaged in Afghanistan . . . remember what (Osama) bin Laden's strategy is. He doesn't think he can beat us in the stand-up fight. He thinks he can force us to quit. . . . Iraq is the current central battlefield in that war."
The interviews of Bush and Cheney happened to come on Martin Luther King Day weekend. When King came out against the Vietnam War, he said the Vietnamese must view Americans as "strange liberators." King said, "They watch as we poison their water, as we kill a million acres of their crops. They must weep as the bulldozers roar through their areas preparing to destroy the precious trees. . . we have destroyed their two most cherished institutions: the family and the village. . . What liberators?"
The same can be said of the US involvement in Iraq. To be clear, I am not referring to the vast majority of American soldiers. The soldiers themselves are only following orders of the decider-in-chief. Amid the bloodshed, there are many stories of soldiers helping out individual families in their villages. There are many stories of those people thanking the soldiers.
But Bush's "gratitude gap" is reminiscent of 1967, when Johnson sent special assistant Robert Komer to South Vietnam for several weeks to report on the mood of the country. Komer wrote an upbeat memorandum that said, "Wastefully, expensively, but nonetheless indisputably, we are winning the war in the South." After saying that all the men, money, and resources were in place to "achieve success," Komer added:
"Lastly, that vital intangible -- the mood of the people -- is changing for the better . . . a 'victory psychology' is beginning to emerge in Vietnam. I saw it everywhere I went -- in the confidence shown by GVN (Government of Vietnam) officers and officials high and low in the 10 provinces I visited, in the growing traffic on the roads, the increased pace of economic activity, the tone of the press, and the way in which more civilians are emerging to take part in the political process.
"This optimism is shared by most US military and civilians; the chief remaining doubters are a large segment of the US press corps and many of the US officials concerned with pacification. To my mind many of this latter group fail to see the forest for all the trees."
Forty years later, Bush is even further removed from reality. Polls of Iraqis themselves, including one done last fall by the State Department, show that they want a pullout of US troops. Bush cannot claim a "victory psychology" is beginning to emerge. Instead, he scolds the Iraqis for not being grateful for his destruction. That is a sign of a president so lost in the forest, he no longer recognizes a tree.
Derrick Z. Jackson's e-mail address is email@example.com
© 2007 Boston Globe