This evening, Tuesday, the last day of the month of August, 2010, our president Barack Obama will lie to us. You can be sure of it. It is a fact that all presidents lie. This particular untruth will be a big one. It will hang with us and infect our lives for years after its moment of utterance. The radio and television will return those few Americans who bother to listen to or to watch the actor read his script to regularly scheduled programming after a few minutes perhaps of reassurance from a couple of opinionators that yes, indeed, he said what he said and we are all well served and secured.
We are warned in advance that this lie will be some variation on the one former president George Bush told us many years ago: combat operations in Iraq by United States military forces have ended.
Smoother than G. W. Bush, slicker, and of course smarter, this lying president will not likely be goofed up in buckled and pocketed flight gear, and he will be accompanied by the mandatory American flag on a sturdy stand rather than a blatant Mission Accomplished banner. But the substance will be the same: we did it; don't worry, don't doubt, don't question. The big lie will adhere to us with a greasy butter of calming reassurance.
Here is why this story is a lie. The singular event upon which it is hinged is that the number of men and women under arms in our name in that abused and beaten and corrupted nation has fallen below fifty thousand. Like the Dow-Jones Industrial average falling below or rising above ten thousand, there is some magic apparently attached to this number, a significance not inherent in one a thousand higher and a weight unknown to a number a hundred lower. But here's what we know, though we may prefer to not confront our knowledge: the beat goes on.
Our fifty-thousand-scant soldiers will have guns and ammunition. They will be shot at and they will shoot. Some will die; others will be wounded, crippled, maimed, burned, ruined. They will be "trainers" and "advisers," not "combatants," and we thank you for the distinction, Mr. President.
We will continue to keep tens of thousands of mercenaries in country. We call them "contractors."
We will maintain many large military bases, well-equipped with bullets and bombs, in Iraq, and are even as we hear the news tonight expanding and modernizing them.
We will run as many special operations, secret operations, undercover operations as the CIA and military intelligence types think proper. We will assassinate, we will kidnap, we will imprison and we or our agents will torture.
We will send billions of dollars a year to Iraq for many more years. Much of this will be wasted. A good deal of it will be used to kill. Among the dead will be women and children and non-combatant men. We will not hear much about these deaths from our president or Public Radio or Fox News or CNN.
And so it goes. And so it goes. And so it goes. And so it goes. As it has so often gone before.
We are not surprised that we are lied to. Republicans don't like this president because he is a Democrat. But they do not seem much to mind interminable wars and the business they bring to defense contractors. The truly loopy members of the Republican sect don't like him because he is a Muslim, an alien, a Fascist and a Socialist. And black, of course, too.
Democrats like him because he is a Democrat and raises money for the party and will sign bad bills Democrats like such as the insurance companies' health care scam, and help out Wall Street even though Democrats are usually a little more discreet than Republicans about their affection for money.
Liberals don't like being lied to, but after all it's a tough old world out there and this most Hopeful of presidents sometimes has to "fake right" before he goes left on some unspecified future day, and he can only get so much done with such terrible Republican obstructionism, and he's going in the right direction carefully and incrementally, and he's smarter than George Bush, and he's our first black president. And advising and training sounds better than combating, doesn't it?
Possibly some readers missed the Nick Lowe reference I slipped in to my little essay a few paragraphs previous. Here's another, more direct: All men, all men, all men are liars, and that's the truth. But there are of course degrees. And there are times and places where lying does great harm. And there are those lies nobody much questions because they are crafted less to obfuscate than to cover, to contain, to patch together. Among these are the lies we tell to ourselves
Richard Nixon lied to us early and often and without shame or regret. We do not yet know if Barack Obama is troubled by his lies. He is famous for being cool. No Drama Obama. It's a subjective line between cool and cold. Cold and unfeeling. Cold and calculating. We'll know him better in a few years when we're through with him or he with us. We'll have seen the man and the damage done.
There is no military draft. We maintain forces of economic conscripts (the All-Volunteer Army) and "contractors" and spooks. There is no noticeable hurt put on our entertainments or diversions; we are not invaded, the stores are full of merchandise, Hollywood makes movies, China makes cell phones and GPS devices and an astonishing selection of television sets. We can borrow our way through any number of wars and still have fun on the homefront. All we need to do is to swallow the lie.
Don't ask, don't tell. Eat it up. Make excuses. Find diversions.
Obama owns George Bush's wars now. And tonight each of us will own a piece of Obama's lies.
Once Cooper had a railroad and he made it run. Or a cheesy little newspaper column, anyhow. Now that he has none, fewer of his opinions are thrust upon the world, but from time to time he is still capable of such disgust that he says what he feels for no other reason than that he feels better for doing so. At that point some of you may as well read it. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, but is more likely to be digging a hole or dragging an innocent rock from one part of his property to another than to be lying around the Internet waiting for someone to argue with, so an answer may or may not follow your query. And he is, at sixty, engaged with a five-year-old who lies poorly and guiltily only about inconsequential things and whose mind and character he must help fortify against the world we have built for him to inhabit. Oh, yeah: he's a contractor, too. Hammer. No gun.