I have always maintained that the American public was the least culpable of the players during the run-up to Iraq. The war was sold by a brilliant and fear-fueled White House propaganda campaign designed to stampede a nation still shellshocked by 9/11. Both Congress and the press — the powerful institutions that should have provided the checks, balances and due diligence of the administration’s case — failed to do their job. Had they done so, more Americans might have raised more objections. This perfect storm of democratic failure began at the top.Actually, I wouldn't say the country really knows anything of the sort, Frank. A lot of people seem to believe you can cut taxes and raise spending as long as a Republican waves the magic wands of "efficiency" and "market forces" to make the deficit go away.
As the war has dragged on, it is hard to give Americans en masse a pass. We are too slow to notice, let alone protest, the calamities that have followed the original sin.
In April 2004, Stars and Stripes first reported that our troops were using makeshift vehicle armor fashioned out of sandbags, yet when a soldier complained to Donald Rumsfeld at a town meeting in Kuwait eight months later, he was successfully pilloried by the right. Proper armor procurement lagged for months more to come. Not until early this year, four years after the war’s first casualties, did a Washington Post investigation finally focus the country’s attention on the shoddy treatment of veterans, many of them victims of inadequate armor, at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and other military hospitals.
We first learned of the use of contractors as mercenaries when four Blackwater employees were strung up in Falluja in March 2004, just weeks before the first torture photos emerged from Abu Ghraib. We asked few questions. When reports surfaced early this summer that our contractors in Iraq (180,000, of whom some 48,000 are believed to be security personnel) now outnumber our postsurge troop strength, we yawned. Contractor casualties and contractor-inflicted casualties are kept off the books.
It was always the White House’s plan to coax us into a blissful ignorance about the war. Part of this was achieved with the usual Bush-Cheney secretiveness, from the torture memos to the prohibition of photos of military coffins. But the administration also invited our passive complicity by requiring no shared sacrifice. A country that knows there’s no such thing as a free lunch was all too easily persuaded there could be a free war.
The most arresting bit might be this:
Our moral trajectory over the Bush years could not be better dramatized than it was by a reunion of an elite group of two dozen World War II veterans in Washington this month. They were participants in a top-secret operation to interrogate some 4,000 Nazi prisoners of war. Until now, they have kept silent, but America’s recent record prompted them to talk to The Washington Post.This certainly fits a lot of what I've been given to understand about interrogation, and it's always been absolutely baffling to me that DoD and the CIA/NSA crowd seem to be more interested in copping techniques from the Vietcong instead of their own forebears. Sure, it's a different world. That the Vietnamese won that war, though, doesn't mean that you should ape their tactics.
“We got more information out of a German general with a game of chess or Ping-Pong than they do today, with their torture,” said Henry Kolm, 90, an M.I.T. physicist whose interrogation of Rudolf Hess, Hitler’s deputy, took place over a chessboard. George Frenkel, 87, recalled that he “never laid hands on anyone” in his many interrogations, adding, “I’m proud to say I never compromised my humanity.”
One other thing, Frank:
Our humanity has been compromised by those who use Gestapo tactics in our war. The longer we stand idly by while they do so, the more we resemble those “good Germans” who professed ignorance of their own Gestapo. It’s up to us to wake up our somnambulant Congress to challenge administration policy every day. Let the war’s last supporters filibuster all night if they want to. There is nothing left to lose except whatever remains of our country’s good name.Er, yeah, the country's good name is pretty much gone. About the only countries left that kind of support American foreign policy are the Australians and Canadians, and that's only because the latter need the trade and the former suffer under the unique misfortune of having John Howard as their Prime Minister.
(Ok, and maybe Poland. Can't forget about Poland.)
Congress isn't somnambulant, either. They're frightened, chiefly of a chimaerical backlash against progressive foreign policy from a public that is less interested in foreign adventure than they are. The Dems are worried about the Republicans "scoring hits on foreign policy". They never quite manage to explain how, exactly, that's going to hurt them with a public that couldn't give a rat's ass about scorekeeping and just wants this damned war over once and for all. They do it anyway.
That means they're listening too much to the white noise that passes for media and political analysis in Washington these days, and that has always been the problem, hasn't it?