One of the truisms about war is that it's the innocent bystanders, the civilians, the children and the noncombatants who absorb most of the damage that takes place. We are now beginning to see just how extensive the "collateral damage" from Mr. Bush's grand invasion of Iraq will eventually prove to be.
I recently heard about funding for the New Mexico Teen Pregnancy Coalition's Young Fathers program being reduced. The Federal Block Grant which provided funding for the past several years is no longer able to include funding for this wonderful program so it is being cut back.
And WIC, the nutrition program for young children and their mothers which has helped many families avoid the worst consequences of poverty, is being trimmed back as well this coming year, another victim of federal belt-tightening, as is child care assistance, financial help for college and Medicaid.
The Bush budget now being scrutinized by Congress contains dozens of similar cuts to other social, educational and health programs. In every instance it is the poorest families, the neediest kids, the least powerful voices that will take the hit.
We've got our priorities, after all, don't we? No one ever said fighting terrorism was going to be cheap.
Of course, some are asked to pay for more of the costs than others—like the poor. It's their kids who get shipped overseas to fight, not the scions of America's rule-making families. It's their Section 8 housing vouchers that face cutbacks—not the subsidies to America's petroleum entrepreneurs.
The poor are the only group in this country for whom our $2 per gallon gasoline prices and our $4 per gallon milk prices mean a change in lifestyle. The rest of us just pay the extra cost. We might not like it, but we don't stop driving our SUVs or filling our kids' glasses to the brim just because the price jumped.
But for America's poor, there might not be a choice. Their cars sit parked on the street; their kids skip milk with their snacks. Minor casualties, perhaps, but part of the way we've chosen to trickle down the consequences of war.
It won't ease the poor's pain to realize that the increased price of gasoline at the pumps, whatever the rationale offered, has filled the treasuries of America's giant gasoline corporations to practically overflowing.
Chevron apparently socked away an extra $2 billion in profit during just the first quarter of this year all by itself. And what are loosely termed its "competitors"—Shell, Conoco and all the rest of the gang—are racking up similarly obscene mountains of booty on their own. (War profiteering is such an ugly term—it shouldn't be used loosely. In this case, however, I don't know what else to call skimming profits from motorists during a time of war-related shortages caused by disruptions in the supply lines. In the old days that type of opportunism got tarred and feathered. Today it's a reason for yet another private photo session at the White House.)
If we don't run the rascals out of office this November, the road map for prolonging the occupation will be fully in place. Allow the price of oil to soar. Block all efforts at conservation. Pretend we own the rights to as much oil as we can seize. Finance the seizure by floating enormous deficits. Pay off the interest on the deficits by cutting services to the poor.
And keep cutting, slice by slice, until there is nothing left. No safety net, no Medicare, no jobs programs, no housing, nothing. Except long lines at the pump.
It is going to be a long, heated presidential election, with much misdirection, slight of hand, innuendo and flat out lying going on, the kind where it is imperative that we keep our eyes on the bull's eye and block out all distractions. This war has to be ended as fast as possible. Our poor simply can't afford many more casualties.
Moreover, we as a people can't endure any longer the disgrace, the disfigurement, of being an occupation force in a nation whose people no longer (if they ever did) want us there. Support our troops, indeed. Yes, support them by bringing them home immediately. That's what this election should be about: which candidate will end this tortured misadventure the quickest.
John Kerry, if he deserves to be elected, should say it simply and unequivocally: We don't want Iraqi oil. We don't want to wage a crusade against Islam. We don't want to control Iraq's destiny. We don't want to maintain a permanent presence in Iraq. We are leaving Iraq 10 days after my swearing-in. We'll help find other Arab nations to lend a hand in maintaining civil order. Good luck and goodbye.
If George W. Bush wins, the fighting will continue. He will never renounce the chance to grab the oil. He will never quit the crusade. He will never admit he was wrong. But it will not be George W. Bush who pays the price of intransigence; it will be several million of the poorest, youngest Americans. They are this war's final complement of casualties.