Bush's Emotion Without Reflection

Last week at the Center for the Intrepid in San Antonio, President Bush visited soldiers who had been horribly wounded and burned in his invasion and occupation of Iraq. According to the Los Angeles Times, Bush watched Marine Lance Corporal Matt Bradford of Kentucky go up a rock climbing wall despite losing both his legs, an eye, and the vision in his remaining eye.

"Good man, isn't he?" Bush said.Similarly, The Washington Post reported that Bush "spent an emotional two hours" at the center. The Associated Press said, "Bush paid an emotional visit to soldiers maimed or badly burned in combat."

OK, so Bush was moved. Who would not be? This was a Bush we needed 4 1/2 years ago, before he threw so many good men and women at such a bad war.

In San Antonio, Bush talked about how soldier Christian Bagge lost both his legs to a roadside bomb in Iraq in 2005, but came to the White House with prosthetic legs in June of 2006 to jog with the president.

"Our country is inspired by Americans that we find in facilities like these," Bush said. ". . . The spirit of America is strong in facilities like this. Our country is a remarkable country that has produced men and women who volunteer to protect our nation in the face of danger."

But there was also a vignette during this visit just before Veterans Day that made you marvel yet again how Bush, who never saw combat in Vietnam as he served in the Texas Air National Guard, brazenly continues to abuse the willingness of today's soldiers to sacrifice. He took some time to play a virtual reality game with soldiers. Bush and some soldiers were "shooting the enemy with rifles that aimed laser beams at targets in an imaginary neighborhood in Iraq," the Post reported.

White House press secretary Dana Perino said, "They were making sure a neighborhood was safe."

The Agence France-Presse version had Perino saying that Bush helped "shoot the bad guys" in a Baghdad neighborhood.

In other words, Bush sits down to shoot imaginary "bad guys," in the middle of a war where it has been so hard to tell the good guys from the bad guys. In this war, our soldiers, honestly believing that they are doing the right thing, have tragically ended up as "bad guys" because of panic on the ground or arrogance and incompetence at the top.

The Post reported that "Bush appeared relaxed and upbeat as he toured the privately funded facility and greeted soldiers." Sure, no one wants to see a grim president, but you wonder how deeply Bush's conscience is seared by his incendiary decision to go to a needless war. Only he knows. Right now, though, we need a president who, instead of puttering at virtual killing, is out there promoting peace.

For Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, Veterans Day in recent years has been about praising the fallen of Iraq, with absolutely no reflection on their disastrous decisions and needless carnage. In their Veterans Day speeches, neither Bush nor Cheney noted that 3,860 soldiers have been killed, or that 28,451 soldiers have been wounded, according to the Iraq Coalition Casualty Count website.

No, Bush and Cheney just go on conflating Sept. 11 with Iraq. Bush said in his address to an American Legion Post in Waco, Texas, "The enemies who attacked us six years ago want to strike our country again - and next time, they hope to kill Americans on a scale that will make 9/11 pale by comparison. By fighting the enemy in foreign lands . . . ."

Bush told the veterans in Waco, "You humbled tyrants, liberated continents, and freed millions from unspeakable oppression."

There was only scant mention of tens of thousands of soldiers who will suffer forever because of his war. An overwhelming number of news reports and studies over the past year indicate that returning soldiers face years of treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental illnesses, years of difficulty retaining their old jobs and their homes, and years of fighting the bureaucracy to address any and all of that.

Bush told the recuperating soldiers in San Antonio, "we support them when they're coming off the field." One has to wonder if Bush stays up every night, doubting that he was right to send them onto the field to lose their legs and lives in the first place.

Derrick Z. Jackson's e-mail address is jackson@globe.com.

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