by Barry Crimmins
Reprinted from the Boston Phoenix with permission of the author.
It was the worst of times, and it was the worst of times. The 12 months labeled, stored, and referenced as "2003" will be forever remembered as a "war year." And wars are the worst of things upon which to waste years.
In January, the nation passed the halfway mark of the court-appointed Bush administration. A hardy lot, Americans had survived two years and a day of excruciating corruption, skullduggery, and embarrassment. It was about to get worse. All the best halftime shows took place at peace rallies. The media's electronic war drumbeat was providing George W. Bush with the kind of cacophonous distraction he needed to defy logic, decency, public opinion, and constitutional law.
All winter, Bush considered exactly zero outside opinions as he stuck his head in the sand about his war in the desert. No matter how much bottled water it took, he was hell-bent on quagmire. On January 15, the littlest prez said, in full cowboy bluster, "Time is running out on Saddam Hussein -- he must disarm. I'm sick and tired of games and deception."
Driven by distractions
Saddam was a lightweight compared to Bush when it came to deceptive gamesmanship. Each alleged Iraqi smoking gun turned into licorice. So many intelligence documents were fudged that Cuba feared it would be invaded next, if only for its sugar. Supposed proof of Iraq/Al Qaeda connections screamed on the front page one day, only to be refuted on page 38 the following week. Iraqi weapons of mass destruction (a term Bush expanded to include anything more lethal than a whoopee cushion) were everywhere, but, remarkably, nowhere. Niger nukes, anyone? Whenever any of the administration's "misspeaks" were exposed, Fatherland Security czar Tom Rigid would take to the air and publicly change the Colorform on the Alibi for Authoritarianism Rainbow to a bolder shade.
Duct and cover
Much of the cost of Bush's latest war was to be tacked on in addition to the already obscene $400 billion Pentagon budget. Nevertheless, during one of the Fatherland Security briefings, we were advised to go out and buy duct tape and plastic sheeting to protect our homes. Four-hundred-billion-dollars-plus per year for alleged defense plus the cost of a gargantuan homeland-security apparatus, and we were supposed to run down to True Value to buy duct tape to ensure our safety? Unfortunately, a very effective countermeasure to duct tape and plastic sheeting is a box cutter, bringing us back to square one via a quite expensive route.
The people's voice
Dubyahoo responded to millions of anti-war protesters by saying that to allow them to influence him would be akin to "saying I'm going to decide policy based upon a focus group." Focus groups, no! Special-interest groups, yes!
In time, Bush's relentless croaks for a "regime change" seemed likely to happen -- in Britain, where Tony Blair's refusal to listen to the will of his people lowered his approval ratings to the point where his next job might entail asking, "You want Freedom Fries with that?"
Bush tried to make it seem as if most of the world supported his war by bribing several nations to nominally endorse his efforts. The Dubster called this collection of nations the Coalition of the Willing. Considering how much fiscal inducement was employed to gain signatories, Coalition of the Billing was more like it. Some of the fixes didn't even remain "in." Turkey was supposed to welcome US troops, but its legislature rejected the idea. A gigantic bribe for the Turks remained in a brown paper body bag at the State Department.
In a memorable performance, White House prevarication chief Ari Fleischer criticized Saddam Hussein's lying. It was an E.F. Hutton moment. When Fleischer left his press-secretary job in the summer of '03, it was an indication that not even he could handle the massive task of keeping all Bush's stories straight.
Another big-time joke was W.'s scripted press conference before the embedded White House press corps just before the war. Bush looked as if someone had loosed a clip from an automatic tranquilizer gun into his torso. The court-appointed prez had all the questions and answers in advance, but that didn't stop Republican flacks and most corporate media analysts from discussing his performance as if it were a nimble tour de force. He mentioned 9/11 roughly 911 times. Aaron Copland appeared at less-orchestrated events.
Secretary of State Colin Powell's second show-and-tell at the UN, in which he supposedly presented "devastating evidence" of why the time for inspections had passed, was equally laughable. It turns out that the evidence that wasn't made up of whole cloth was plagiarized from the graduate-school equivalent of Homework.com. At a time when the court-appointed Bush administration was claiming Iraqi spies were everywhere, Powell walked into the UN and sat with CIA chief George Tenet, who corroborated the veracity of all Powell's claims. Oh yeah, nothing placates the doubts of the international community like the soothing presence of the CIA chief.
Finally, George W. Bush did as we all knew he would and discarded reason, world opinion, and the growing awareness that if truth is the first casualty of war, we had already sustained massive losses. He began his attack with what was called a "decapitation strike" on Baghdad on Tuesday, March 20. It was a so-called strategic strike meant to kill Saddam Hussein. Leave it to the Pentagon to use "decapitation" as a sanitized term.
Immediately, the corporate media grew giddy over their fluency in military hardware. CNN actually went so far as to create video "baseball cards" of the various tools of death. "This is a Bradley Fighting Vehicle, it can carry enough soldiers, munitions, and firepower to destroy a midsize urban neighborhood!" Their idolatry of these horrific devices was almost sexual. The anchors regularly chimed in with breathless remarks, gasping in awe at the weapons, which inevitably exhibited lethally phallic projections from every angle.
Even worse was how the corporate media seized upon each new story as proof positive that this unprovoked invasion of a sovereign nation had been vindicated.
One of the most consistently sickening elements of the month-long GWII media blitz was watching decommissioned brass hold court in little on-air war rooms while civilian anchors and reporters competed to see who could crawl the furthest up the retired officers' asses. At times CNN's Paula Zahn would have been completely off-camera had she not been wearing high heels.
Among the first soldiers killed was Marine Staff Sergeant Kendall Waters-Bey, 29, of Baltimore, who died in a helicopter crash. He left behind a devastated family, including his wife, 10-year-old son, four sisters, and father.
Waters-Bey's father, Michael, held up a photo of his deceased child before a video crew and said, "I want President Bush to get a good look at this, [a] really good look here. This is the only son I had, only son." He then walked away in tears, with his family behind him. I didn't catch any follow-up interviews with them.
Quiet down, now
As soon as the assault on Iraq began, many people made calls for temperance --from the peace movement! Most of these clowns prefaced their remarks by discussing how devoted they were to our sacred right to protest, but "now that our troops are in battle, dissent is no longer appropriate." We were supposed to forget that the same reactionary elements promoting this bunk weren't exactly up for awards from the ACLU for their unswerving support of protesters' rights during the months leading up to the war. Truth told, these people would use any excuse to quash dissent. "With potatoes unharvested in both Idaho and Maine, it seems to me that this is a very dangerous time to allow anti-war protest..."
The most expensive commodity required to fuel the war machine -- blood -- was heavily infused with salt of the earth not commonly found running through the veins of network executives or political spin-doctors. The majority of casualties suffered by Bush's so-called coalition were inflicted upon poor and middle-class kids. Private Jessica Lynch wasn't particularly heroic in Iraq, but her refusal to corroborate propaganda about her war experiences demonstrated she was quite capable of heroism. Lynch and her military comrades will live with this war long after the rest of us think it has ended. It's not Bechtel execs or Heritage Foundation fellows who have to man lonely checkpoints in the desert, where, if they guess wrong, a suicide bomber will take them out, or they will mistakenly exterminate entire carloads of innocent people and then have to live with their horrible blunder. These kids will know the true horror of war firsthand. Their families and friends will receive secondary exposure.
Killing with kindness
During the invasion, the American command made much of how many civilians it spared through its use of precision bombing. In fairness, the death toll reached nowhere near the hundreds of thousands of fatalities many of us feared might occur during a US-led invasion. The Pentagon's sudden concern for innocent life may have had a little something to do with the peace activists who repeatedly spoke out against any military action that claimed unoffending souls. Nevertheless, the restraint was noticeable, although anything but completely successful. Errant (at least we hope they were errant) warheads massacred many people. Malicious or simply panicked troops chopped down dozens more. As the war became an occupation, this situation only worsened.
A child named Ali Ismail Abbas put a tortured and very human face on the horror of this war. A piece excised from World Link TV's Middle East news digest Mosaic showed the starkest possible footage of the boy, who lost his arms and was severely burned in an American missile attack. If you saw only the video of the child that turned up on the American networks, you have no idea of the ghastly extent of his injuries. Little Ali said, "A mountain couldn't withstand my pain." One look at his armless, skinless, charred, and eviscerated torso substantiated his statement. He lost his family in the attack as well.
Those who speak of "the price of war" rarely mention that children too often foot the bill. Everyone who ever uses the term collateral damage should be forced to watch footage of this child again and again. Were he to survive and grow up to become a terrorist, who would dare ask "why?"
Just loot me
Baghdad fell and fell hard. The United States had plenty of troops to protect every oil well in the country, along with the offices of the oil ministry and information ministry (secret police), with enough left over to handle other high-priority tasks such as establishing US military hegemony over the nation's many statues and murals depicting Saddam Hussein.
Unfortunately, an urgent plea for the United States to safeguard priceless antiquities in the former Mesopotamia, made to the court-appointed Bush administration in January by a committee of scholars, must have gotten lost under a stack of doctored documents. While the corporate media focused quite happily on the looting of government buildings and Saddam's and his collaborators' swanky homes, a two-day pillaging of the Iraq National Museum went undetected.
When questioned about the looting, an impatient Doomsday Don Rumsfeld asked rhetorically, "My goodness, were there that many vases?" Items looted from museums on the banks of the Tigris River are understandably of little interest to Rummy, since the only history he respects is Genghis Khan's foreign policy.
Rumsfeld deepened the pit by summarizing the anarchy thusly, "It's untidy. And freedom's untidy. And free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things." With this remark he unintentionally disclosed that some of the freest people in the world are now occupying 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
The free Iraqis soon began to take to the streets to protest deplorable conditions exacerbated by the war, as well as civilian casualties and the absolute absence of public safety. They also had some religious scores to settle and clearly didn't appreciate the presence of troops supremely commanded by a born-again Christian. They will be even less happy when the several thousand missionaries authorized by Bush arrive to save their pagan souls. People who drop death from above really should be careful about implying that salvation emanates from the same point of origin. The power was out, water was scarce, looted hospitals were unable to provide care, and Western devils were everywhere. On two consecutive days, Americans opened fire on protesters outside an Iraqi school where the soldiers were holed up. Considering all the National Guard troops the US had over there, Qent State was bound to happen sooner or later.
Disarmed and dangerous
The central premise for Bush's war was the weapons of mass destruction he assured us Saddam had and would use unless he was stopped. Well, Dubyahoo got his war, but there wasn't a chemical, biological, or nuclear weapon to be found. Four More Years -- Because W. Needs the Time To Find the WMD! Saddam had such weapons in the past, and the US knew it and condoned it. The Reagan administration had helped facilitate their use in Iraq's war with Iran. Like Osama bin Laden, Hussein was just another little monster the US helped bolt together. Two months after the US invaded Iraq, the world knew that Hussein had been disarmed -- before the invasion.
Once the US-led coalition "won" the war with Iraq (the military equivalent of the Los Angeles Lakers defeating a CYO team), its first move to bring democracy to the area was to name Retired Lieutenant General Jay Garner the head honcho of efforts to transmogrify Iraqi oil into obscene amounts of lucre for the corporate riffraff in line to profiteer from the devastated nation. In an April 2003 interview with the New York Times, Garner said, "If President Bush had been president [during Vietnam], we would have won." Why Garner thought a drunken, drug-abusing, MOOA (Missing Out of Action) National Guardsman would have made a good president back then remains unclear.
Garner's ineptitude once more demonstrated the court-appointed Bush administration's lack of preparedness for any Iraqi eventuality that did not involve oil. It was a weak move even by Bush's feeble standards to select the inept Garner to enter Iraq's political vacuum. Garner did next to nothing to stabilize the country during his brief rule. Seeing an opportunity, Henry Kissinger managed to place one of his lackeys, L. Paul Bremer III, the former managing director of Kissinger & Associates (and the man in charge of counterterrorism in the Reagan White House), in the void widened by Garner.
The vast crusade
Few people, including those in the Middle East, lament the demise of Saddam Hussein, but to the Arab culture, this war was not seen as an invasion of Saddam's Iraq -- it was viewed as an attack upon the Islamic world. It won't soon be forgotten. These folks are still emotional about the Crusades. In Vietnam, people have put America's assault upon their country behind them as best they could. But 30 years from now, you won't find anyone in the Middle East burning incense for enemy souls lost in this war -- embassies maybe, but incense, no.
Wars are easy to start but very difficult to end. Just because Americans have been told this is over and it's time to flip to another show, doesn't make it so. They'll hold the Republican Convention in Paris before Gulf War II hatred for the USA even begins to subside in the Middle East. As the Bushists work toward the neocon dream of Pox Americana, the Islamic fundamentalists will work just as hard to make sure that a Jihad rain is gonna fall.
Stammering about in blissful ignorance on the day after he replaced Garner, and just hours after a series of terrorist attacks in Saudi Arabia, Bush was in Indiana explaining why the best tool in the war on terrorism was a $550 billion tax cut for fat cats. After all, what good would it have been to conquer Iraq and profit obscenely from its rebuilding if the profiteers just had to turn around and pay taxes on their booty?
Bush has been sold to us by Karl Rove, politics' answer to Ron Popeil. Rove is a low-blow boxing champ who knows how to serve us shit and get us to pay extra for it by calling it freedom filets. After the conventional portion of GWII was over and before it began to look too much like a war of occupation, Rove, the mother of all photo-opportunists, decided to have Junior Bush dress up like a pilot and land on the deck of the US aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln in a fighter jet. If Bush pulled this off, Rove promised him a horsy ride next.
Wrapped tightly in the flag, this ersatz patriot took to the deck of the Lincoln as if he were Jefferson. The deserter in drag as a war hero gave a predictably jingoistic speech. Bush stood there, wielding power derived from stolen office, as Rove backlit him in red, white, and blue political glory. It didn't matter that he lied. These days veracity doesn't matter if the video is slick. And this slick video had Bush standing under a gigantic banner that announced: MISSION ACCOMPLISHED! Rove has a smaller sign in his White House office that says: MISSION ACCOMPLICE!
Last summer, when W. was asked about the obvious upsurge of insurgent activity in Iraq, he responded, "Bring 'em on!" His machismo is boundless when others are at risk, but if his ass is even within shouting distance of the proverbial line, the lights go off, the lies become more brazen, and not even Queen Elizabeth's quarters are up to security snuff. ("Psst ... Hail the conquering hero. Pass it on.")
Rove's imaginary president capped the year with a heroic secret mission to serve plastic turkey to troops at the Baghdad airport on Thanksgiving. One thing was certain: Bush was comfortable traveling with the lights out, something he has been doing for years.
The war-year's anticlimactic climax came on December 14, when 600 US troops removed the elusive Saddam Hussein from a spider hole (as opposed to a mite hole, where Bush stores his ethics) just outside the former dictator's hometown of Tikrit. The pit was insulated, one presumes, with the minutes of Dick Cheney's energy meetings. Once in custody, Hussein received something of which millions of Americans can only dream -- a medical examination.
Saddam was apprehended in ignominious circumstances, his ultimate cowardice on worldwide display. Everybody knows real men hide in the darkness of Air Force One.
You don't have to be an actuary to understand why Hussein was brought in so far in advance of a potential 2004 October Surprise. Had his homelessness continued, the haggard 66-year-old wasn't a good bet to live long enough to stand trial, much less before an executioner. Saddam's biggest mistake was trying to blend in in Iraq. Had he realized how invisible disheveled homeless men are in America, he'd have taken up residence in Washington, DC, and lived unobserved for years. I'd lay odds that Osama bin Laden is in either Detroit or Buffalo right now.
The US corporate media responded by showing us close shots of huge crowds of people supposedly celebrating in the streets of Baghdad. In a country where the unemployment rate is now 80 percent, the streets are already pretty crowded with those left homeless, jobless, and powerless by Bush's alleged liberation.
The media jubilation provoked a chorus of "All hail Bush!", as if capturing this defrocked piece of crap would make everything suddenly okay. Unfortunately, snagging an impotent old viper did nothing to solve the problems of the three million Americans who have lost their jobs since Bush literally took office. No matter how they try to spin it, we know that imprisoning Saddam will not bring a single slain "Coalition" soldier back to life, or make their deaths retroactively glorious. Nor will it resurrect any of the thousands of dead Iraqis. Not one freshly minted paraplegic arose from a wheelchair upon hearing the news that Hussein had been caught.
Even as the news broke, insurgent attacks continued apace, and US officials warned us to expect a "brief upsurge of violence." They also said there was still "a big job to do." Yes, large portions of the federal treasury had yet to be transferred to Dick Cheney's Halliburton pension fund. And indeed, there are a lot more foreign-devil haters than Baath loyalists in the Middle East. It's still much too easy to envision this cradle of civilization becoming the graveyard of humanity.
If the war is an issue next fall, it will be a bad issue for W. It says here that the captured Saddam Hussein will soon be nothing more than a hood ornament on a blood-red Humvee of war.
This isn't going to end soon: Congress has authorized another $87 billion allegedly for rebuilding Iraq. Those tax dollars, stolen from the pockets of working people whose children are nothing more than cannon fodder to fat-cat war profiteers, are much more likely to end up refurbishing mansions in Houston and bank accounts on Grand Cayman Island than the boulevards of Baghdad.
The only way to extricate ourselves from the Iraqi Quagmire is to use the exits. Take half the dough earmarked for rebuilding and give it to the UN. Then, as John Kerry might say, get the fuck out. There's no other sane choice. Too many people who hate Bush's America already live there. Thousands more are making the commute. In November 2003, 79 American families were notified that their soldier parents, offspring, spouses, or siblings would never again celebrate Thanksgiving with them.
Unless we make George W. Bush nothing more than an asterisk in the roll call of history (who was the only unelected man to serve four years -- and only four years -- as president?), he will have no problem harvesting our children for more senseless wars, serving up the last remnants of the middle class as hors d'oeuvres at the country-club cotillion, and blatantly robbing the elderly of their health, security, and dignity.
To employ the football terminology so favored by the patriarchs who are stomping their metaphorical cleats upon our very way of life, we are approaching the fourth quarter of the George W. Bush era -- at least we had better be -- because if the gun that goes off next November only signals halftime, we are in for a stomping from which we may never recover enough to field a competitive team.
This year's news wrap-up rightfully ignored the Democrats. It's up to you to make them the main story next year. Remember, Christmas 2004 either comes in early November, or it doesn't come at all.
© 2000 - 2003 Phoenix Media Communications Group
Barry Crimmins is a political satirist, radio commentator, rouser of Web rabble (www.barrycrimmins.com) and author. This essay is in part excerpted from his upcoming book, Never Shake Hands with a War Criminal, due in the fall of 2004 from Seven Stories Press.