Friday, March 24, 2006

The War Marches On

From the San Francisco Chronicle /

Time keeps ticking as war marches on

Mark Morford

Friday, March 24, 2006

You've endured three more birthdays. There have been three Academy Awards ceremonies, three new Super Bowl champions, three full winters and three summers, three complete cycles of jeans styles and hemlines and pleats in the fashion world, and there has been the rise and very quick fall of roughly 146 horrible TV shows you never even saw.

Your skin has changed. Your teeth have worn down. Your bones have shifted in their sockets. Your fingernails grew 4 inches and you consumed roughly 5,850 pounds of food and 600 pounds of meat and your hair grew about a foot and a half.

There have been killer hurricanes and earthquakes and devastating tsunamis, heat waves and cold fronts and dramatic shifts in the general temperament of the Earth. Ice caps are melting more rapidly. Young wine has aged nicely. Babies born three years ago are now walking and eating with utensils and uploading digital photos to their MySpace pages via their cute little Nokia cell phones. Times, of course, have changed.

But through it all, through your life like an undercurrent of cold black blood, like an unshakable stench deep in your nostrils, like a disturbing stain you simply cannot get off your shirt, our country has been at war. Endless, raw, insidious, interminable.

Body bags filling up every day. Death tolls rising. Hundreds of billions of your tax dollars hurled into a gaping sewer of death and destruction. Thousands of dead American kids, many more on the way. Corruption and scandal and gross war profiteering, Halliburton and the Carlyle Group and Lockheed Martin and the insidious dumbing down of military recruitment standards (because we're running out of disposable soldiers) to go along with Donald Rumsfeld's black-eyed sneer. Endless.

Do you remember the sweet little halcyon moment way back when, when America was slightly more globally respected and Iraq seemed like a bad but temporary dream and even the most hawkish Bush-gropin' war proponents were saying, "Hey, America, don't you worry your confused, fear-addled little head. We'll be in Iraq for absolutely, positively, mark-my-words no more than three months, maximum -- OK, maybe six." Remember when they said that there was simply no way this war could run us more than about $10 bil and maybe cost, at the very most, a couple of dozen U.S. casualties? Wasn't that cute?

Do you remember the time of pretty brainwashed thoughts and insidiously patriotic dreams? Before the darkness and the disgust, before 20,000 killed or wounded American soldiers, before we illegally detained thousands and brutally tortured hundreds of Iraqis, before the wiretapping and the Patriot Act and the disgusting lack of accountability and before America's reputation in the Muslim world was turned to rancid hummus?

And now, here we are. Monday marked the three-year anniversary of the start of our quick-'n'-cheap Iraq occupation/invasion. It is a moment to reflect on what we have accomplished. We have accomplished this: global contempt, colossal debt and a culture of death and intolerance. How very proud we are. Thank you, George.

The threat of terrorism is higher than ever. Iraq's vicious fundamentalist factions are on the verge of civil war. The Middle East is more volatile because of our president's warmongering than Saddam or Osama could have ever dreamed. There is a song by Bright Eyes called "We Are Nowhere and It's Now." Dead-on.

Have you heard all this before? Of course you have. It has become our national refrain. It is the subtext to all we do. It is printed on our nation's bloodstained business card.

And now, a sort of bleak but bitterly livable numbness has settled in. We are like a person with a ghastly fatal disease, limping around with a hacking cough, blood in our eyeballs and an awkward forced smile, pretending all's well and we'll make it through A-OK when deep down we know something has been permanently shredded and incapacitated, and there is no medicine for it except maybe wholesale sociopolitical revolution.

Ah, but there is little value in hammering Bush for his gross incompetence anymore. He now has the third-lowest approval ratings of any president in American history. The vast majority of Americans, from liberals to heartland GOPers, are disgusted and fed up. From the grossly miscalculated war to the grossly incompetent Katrina response to enough scandals and misprisions to make Nixon look like Jimmy Carter, Bush's mark in our history books is guaranteed to be nothing but a vulgar child's scrawl. With a cross.

But it doesn't really matter. Bush is still immune, blind and dumb and still refusing to admit a single mistake, and yet he cannot be punished or impeached, if for no other reason than those who would do the impeaching are of his own party and they are simply loath to admit how very severely wrong they were about just about everything. Hey, that sort of thing is what costs you elections.

The bad news is, even the most liberal estimate says we are locked in. We cannot leave Iraq, not now, not in a few months, perhaps not for years and years, not if we don't want the region to instantly devolve into a worse hell pit than it already is. The quagmire is too deep, the mess too wide, our supposed allegiances too shaky and the region sliding so quickly to the precipice of civil war that to exit now would be disastrous beyond even what Saddam could've accomplished on his worst day.

All we are left with is the larger question: Can we possibly learn anything from this? Is it possible to mature and progress as a nation, as a humanitarian force, as a result of our horrible mistakes, of our ability to be so easily misled and beaten down by a cabal of sneering neocon leaders who would just as soon shoot you as give you a handshake and a cigar?

After all, Vietnam taught the Powers That Be, well, nothing at all, except how to better crack down on dissent and manipulate the media and inject huge gobs of unwarranted fear into the bloodstream of the populace so they may launch their vicious and inhumane wars without so much damn hassle.

America has a notoriously short memory. What happened to all that hair you cut? What about all that food you ate? Where are all the bodies we've burned and blown up from Afghanistan to Baghdad? What sort of legacy is this? Will you simply be reading this column again in exactly one year, at the four-year marker of our ongoing happyfun death march, wondering where the time went?

These might sound like rhetorical questions. Maybe that, after all, is the problem.

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