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Playing Politics With War

If there's a way for the regressive right to be more repugnant, I, for one, am at a loss to see how.

Their latest trick is to accuse Democrats seeking to end the travesty that is Iraq of "playing politics" with war. Imagine that.

At some level, you do have to admire these guys for their genius in figuring out how to have it all. The problem is that that some level is not the moral level, nor the national interest level, nor the peace level, not the democracy level. It's the plunder level, the predatory politics level, and the shame level.

So what, eh? Big deal. Hey, think about it. If that whole morality thing is not an issue, what could be better than to create a war in order to enhance the stature and domestic political power of the president, use the war to win elections, distract from other issues and eviscerate the opposition, and then use it once again to club opponents as they struggle to clean up your spreading mess?

Damn! That's clever stuff. You'd almost need a Karl Rove to dream up a scenario this good. (What's that you say? Oh. Well, never mind.) Anyhow, this is a big-time win-win-win situation for the president and the movement he leads.

But it also happens to be an unmitigated loser for the rest of the world. Call me a nag if you must, but put those on a balance scale and most of us can see the preferred choice. So can Rove, though somehow his calculus comes up a bit different.

War has many casualties, even when an administration works assiduously to make sure you're unaware of them. There are dead Iraqis and dead Americans. There are severely wounded Iraqis and severely wounded Americans. There are emotionally destroyed Iraqis and equally ruined Americans. There are Iraqi refugees and there are American deserters. There is the broken Iraqi infrastructure and the bleeding American budget. There is evaporating security in the Middle East and a wrecked American military. There is a decomposing national morale in Iraq and the destroyed standing of America in world opinion. And there is, always, the shattering of truth - there, here, everywhere.

One casualty that doesn't get a lot of attention is the health of American democracy. The patient was on life support only a couple of years ago. Last rites were administered. And while it has shown some substantial improvement of late, the long term damage done to the poor wretch in the last six years has been incalculable. This is a body politic that smoked four packs of unfiltered Camels and drank a fifth of Old Fedcal every day, that's smashed up the family car more than a few times, that's had a decrepit organ or two removed, and that still today remains addicted to crystal meth. Even the new and improved American democracy is a cripple.

And why not? What breeds more cynicism than to deploy the symbols national security and nationalism itself, in service to a devastating war based on lies? What takes a greater toll on honest national discourse than to attack the patriotism of those who disagree with a given position (let alone a disingenuous and disastrous position) on that war? What corrodes the democratic process more than to punish politicians for speaking even semi-clearly and quasi-honestly about the most significant issue of our time?

The latest conservative deception in a very long line of them is to attempt punishing Democrats for their meager efforts to put an end to this literal and figurative open wound of a war. Since we seem to be doing medical metaphors today, this would be the rough equivalent of hurling poisoned darts at ER surgeons while they're desperately trying to resuscitate a rapidly fading victim of a train wreck.

These regressive deceits would be disgusting even if we didn't know that the war was planned, for purposes of enhancing Bush's political power, from before the administration even came to office. But we do know that.

They would be revolting even if we couldn't prove that BushCo themselves knew the WMD rationale was weak, but nevertheless chose to market the war as though Iraq were an imminent danger. But we can prove that.

These lies would be sickening even if the people behind this sort of political destructiveness had ever once shown themselves remotely competent in executing the occupation - notwithstanding its complete moral bankruptcy - before criticizing others. But they didn't.

And they would be nauseating even if these most savage politicians - almost all of whom checked the 'C' for Coward box when they were being called up themselves - weren't continually hiding behind the very troops they fail adequately and properly to train, protect, deploy and care for at home. But they are.

The reason that such politics of deceit would still be so detrimental, even without all these other exacerbating factors, is because they are so profoundly corrosive of democracy, and so destructive to the process of making of sensible public policy (which is another way of saying avoiding stupid wars).


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Sure, there are politicians who are immune to this basest form of politics, profiles in courage like Paul Wellstone or Russ Feingold. But for every one of them, there are tons more like Hillary Clinton or John Kerry or John Edwards, who are so interested in advancing their careers that they are willing to cast even this most despicable, this most murderous, this most shameful of votes to get there. I see little moral daylight between someone who could knowingly vote for a war based on lies in order to benefit themselves, versus a contract killer. Except that one of these two murderers has only a single victim.

Make no mistake about it. Many, many Democrats have some heavy soul-searching to do over their Iraq-related crimes (assuming said soul can in fact be located).

But it is far more outrageous for the Neanderthal Right to accuse Democrats of playing politics as they seek a path to at least stop (forget about restoring) the damage done by those who cooked up this little travesty, and who absolutely did use the war for political purposes. These guys were playing with matches and have set the house on fire. Now they're whining about the water damage caused by others seeking to douse the flames.

No ideology that has made a career - from McCarthy to Nixon to Reagan to Bush - out of distorting national security issues into political weapons gets to lecture anyone for supposedly politicizing the attempt to end a disastrous war. These are the very same people, ladies and gentlemen, who brought you the accusations that Democrats "lost" China (as if a billion Chinese didn't have a wee bit more to say on that score), that there were 57 known Soviet spies in the State Department, and that the domino theory was going to spread communism all over the world.

No party that schedules a vote on the Iraq war a month before a national election gets to criticize another for playing politics with the war. Especially when - five years and a million dead bodies later - that other party is trying to end the war in the wake of another election, in which the public expressed just that "finish this now" sentiment with their votes. In droves.

No administration which continually drapes itself in the symbols of national security - from photo ops with (non-maimed only) troops, to plastic turkey dinners in Iraq, to even dressing up (non-)GI George in a flight suit - all while failing to actually care for soldiers properly, gets to question the patriotism and the troop-supporting credentials of those who pass legislation requiring adequate training, rest and equipment for soldiers going to Iraq.

Part of what is going on here is bad habit, picked up over decades. The right has learned all too well that a foolish and ill-informed public can usually be counted on to buy any sort of jingoistic tripe about the threat from the latest big bad bogeyman du jour. Remember the damage a communist China was going to do? Now they own our federal government. Remember Vietnam? Now they're one of our best trading partners. Remember how Nicaragua was just two days' drive from Harlingen, Texas (good god, who writes this crap)? Remember bad, bad Mr. Castro and all the efforts that have gone in to destroying him? He's certainly harmed American security, hasn't he? For fifty years now he's caused damage like..., like... Well, there certainly must be something, that's for sure. Or how about that nasty drug dealer Noriega? Or the looming threat of Granada? Good thing sainted Reagan had the stones to put out that fire, before it swept right across the American Heartland. What a visionary he was! None of the rest of us even realized the danger of the Grenadian menace. Phew! What a close one.

Yep, part of what is going on here is bad habit, but part of it is also sheer frustration. The old magic just isn't working anymore. The handle gets cranked, the machine parts move, the scary film at eleven gets screened, but hardly any stupid votes cast by stupid voters are being spit-out nowadays. And if you think that might be frustrating for a regressive politician, imagine what it feels like when their very next realization is that they'll instead have to go to the voters with other issues - you know, big GOP winners like healthcare, environmental protection, Social Security, the economy, or corruption. We're talking about some very frightened folk, here, with visions of pink slip blizzards dancing in their heads.

Regressives are already dusting off the old Vietnam mythology so that it can be applied to Iraq. This war could have been won, you see, if only liberals / the press / Jane Fonda / whatever didn't snatch defeat from the jaws of victory at the last moment, betraying our national security. But it just isn't working anymore. The Dixie Chicks are winning Grammies, dude, not John "Let the Eagle Soar" Ashcroft.

Partly it doesn't work because of Vietnam, itself, which has made us (just a bit) wiser, and therefore quicker (not to be confused with quick) to spot an unwinnable war based on lies. Partly it isn't working because the lies told in this case were so brazen, and traded so cynically on the genuine fears of a post-9/11 America, that there is a palpable and powerful sense of betrayal floating around out there. Partly it doesn't fly because, in addition to such twisted lies, Americans have been horrified at the utter incompetence which has attended the 'management' of this war. And partly it isn't working because the ownership of this particular fiasco is so transparently in one set of hands. Try as they might, it's tough to get anyone to believe this was Harry Reid's war.

This show is over. And not a minute too soon, either, because it's been one ugly ride.

The only good thing to say about it is that the president's fellow bottom-dwellers of the right who helped create this disaster have been slow enough to disassociate themselves from Bush and his war that it is now taking out the entire movement and the party which represents that movement.

Regressive conservatism, the GOP, and the political opportunists who represent both are dead. You can smell it.

And you can find their bloated and mutilated bodies in the Baghdad morgue.

David Michael Green

David Michael Green

David Michael Green is a professor of political science at Hofstra University in New York.

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