God help me, I don’t really feel like one of those crazed anti-war fanatics.
I mean, I’m not wearing my pajamas outside the house; not staying up into the wee hours of the morning painting protest signs with psychedelic poster paints; not shouting at passers-by in military uniforms.
I have always felt that prefacing a statement with the caution that “I’m not really crazy, but …” pretty much destroys the possibility of persuading anyone at all of the validity of whatever it is you are about to say.
But, lately, I do catch myself talking to me about the mess in Iraq more and more often (sometimes out loud … and occasionally when others are present, which I don’t recommend). And I can’t help but wonder why the daily papers seem intent on telling me that it’s me who doesn’t see this muddled war clearly, when by any reasonable measure it’s their viewpoint that is so bizarrely skewed, not mine.
The front-page lead headline in the Albuquerque Journal one morning two weeks ago, for instance, crowed (in what had to have been a 40-point, double-bold font): “How We Got Zarqawi!”
We? Please. When did newspapers get so blasted proprietary about this war? And, by all means, don’t include me in that imperial “we.” I didn’t get Zarqawi. As far as I know, neither did anyone on the Journal staff; so who exactly was intended for inclusion in “we”?
Part of the answer came a couple of days later when Heather Wilson chortled to a reporter that reading about the killing of Zarqawi got her day started on a high note. So was “we” a surrogate term for Congress? Republicans? Veterans? Women? Exactly who else?
I thought of all the foreign friends to whom I’ve meticulously explained that in the U.S. the people can’t always be blamed for what the government does. “We aren’t George W. Bush, after all.” But the headline said “we,” did it not?
That headline blared from the front page. It meant the story met someone’s idea of an important item. But why was Zarqawi important?
A year ago, none of us had ever heard of him. A year from now we won’t be able to remember his name. The insurrection hasn’t slowed at all with his death and it had been flaming brightly long before his name ever hit print here in the U.S. So if “we” killed him, what made that worthy of mention? Why did it make Heather Wilson’s day?
The whole episode reeks of trumped-up, phony victory creation. We were once again being jerked by puppet strings in one direction or another; a carefully orchestrated manipulation intended to boost the president’s poll numbers, however briefly. And it worked for a day or two.
Unfortunately, extricating ourselves from the mire of Iraq will have to take place in the real world, not the make-believe world of the mainstream press, the land I recently read described in Harper’s as “Happyland.” You know Happyland: the world as envisioned by the president and his handlers.
In Happyland, Zarqawi’s death is a crucial victory on the front page. But the following week’s return to the carnage business-as-usual gets shunted back to page 16 with small font headlines: “Four soldiers and a marine killed in Iraqi violence;” “Five more coalition troops die in Afghanistan.” The toll of civilians mounts, too, in both countries. But don’t forget, “we” got Zarqawi … as if it made any difference.
I don’t know why the newspapers oppose pulling out of Iraq. The American people favor it, even if Congress still hasn’t gotten the message. A CBS poll two weeks ago showed 62 percent of Americans say what has gone on in Iraq is “not worth the loss of American life and other costs.”
An NBC/Wall Street Journal survey taken right after the CBS poll shows 57 percent of the respondents in favor of reducing troop levels immediately; just 35 percent support the job the president is doing in Iraq.
But when Congress debated the issue, it voted to stay the course. Only a handful of senators and a minority of representatives backed the setting of a timeframe for withdrawal … even though the polls show that’s what the voters would have liked them to do.
Part of the problem is that the Republicans have framed the withdrawal issue as “cutting and running.” Now they’re trapped by their own language. We can’t withdraw because that gets labeled “cutting and running,” and we’ve artificially made that the sole measure of our commitment.
In the meantime, the situation in Iraq is deteriorating rapidly. If success there is reducing the number of terrorists, we’re going backwards. Zarqawi is gone but there are 10 more insurgent leaders ready to take his place; so we are spinning our wheels futilely, sinking deeper and deeper.
If the Congresspeople in Happyland aren’t listening, maybe we have to get their attention. It may be time to resort to pajamas and psychedelic poster paint. Whatever it takes, the message has to get through: This war should never have begun in the first place. Now we mustn’t convert it into some weird test of our national manhood.
Get out of the box, Mr. President. You will never end terror by spreading it.