Tuesday, March 18, 2008

War: What is it Good For?

As we approach the 5th Anniversary of the Iraq War, Dick Polman of the Inquirer reminds us of the ignoble day, Jaded by lies, public suffers war fatigue:

Hey, remember Iraq? Little dustup in the Middle East, launched by President Bush based on false premises, that's now costing this country $3 billion a week? A conflict now on the cusp of its fifth anniversary, which makes it the third-longest in our history, after Vietnam and the Revolutionary War?

We have reached the point where Iraq seems both omnipotent and under the radar. It has wreaked all kinds of havoc on our economy, roiled our relations with allies, and profoundly deepened the ideological divide in our politics - yet polls indicate that most Americans view Iraq as a second-tier issue in the '08 presidential campaign. This would appear to be a contradiction, but I think it is easily explainable.

There is a great temptation to simply tune out the war. That's what happens when people are jaded, exhausted and confused.

Polman pinpoints the issues, such as the fact that the mendacities supporting the start of the War -- and continue today -- have made us jaded, the breadth of the effort has exhausted us and the way out has confused us. Nor is this limited to the current occupant of the White House, as he notes:

Nor are the presidential candidates promising light at the end of the tunnel. McCain basically talks about "victory" and a long, indeterminate occupation, yet, in the tradition of the current president, he is vague about what constitutes victory. Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton basically talk about withdrawal (Obama has a 16-month pullout timetable; Clinton vows to start pullouts within 60 days), yet both suggest that unforeseen events on the ground could seriously slow our exit. Indeed, Samantha Power, Obama's now-departed foreign-policy adviser, got in trouble for telling the BBC last week that the candidate's antiwar stump rhetoric might be trumped by events in 2009 - further proof that the biggest sin in politics is the uttering of an unscripted truth.

With no answers -- or end -- in sight, we would rather not hear about it. And we haven't had to, as Polman says:

No wonder so many Americans have been tempted to tune out. It's easy to do. Relatively few of us have been directly touched by tragedy, thanks to the absence of a military draft. Nobody has been called on to directly finance the war, because, in a radical departure from tradition, taxes have not been raised for that purpose. Nobody need worry about seeing the coffins of slain soldiers on TV, because the White House barred camera coverage long ago. Few bother to see the movies that Hollywood has made about Iraq - four tanked at the box office last autumn - because downers don't sell tickets.

* * * *

It has been said that, in war, truth is often the first casualty. But, with respect to this war without end, it is worse than that. After five years of wasteful bloodshed and diminishing options, we can no longer distinguish the false from the true.

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