Other People's Blood
By BOB HERBERT
-- - For the smug, comfortable,
well-off Americans, it doesn't seem to matter how long the war
in Iraq goes on - as long as the agony is endured by others. If
the network coverage gets too grim, viewers can always switch to
the E! channel (one hand on the remote, the other burrowing into
a bag of chips) to follow the hilarious antics of Paris,
Britney, Brangelina et al.
The war is depressing and denial is the antidote. Why should
ordinary citizens (good people, religious people, patriots)
consider their role in - and responsibility for - the
thunderous, unending carnage? Enough with this introspection.
Let's go to the ballpark, get drunk and boo Barry Bonds. The
nation is in deep denial about Iraq. For years the president and
his supporting cast of arrogant, bullying characters have tried
to put the best face on this war. They had no idea what they
were doing when they ordered the invasion of Iraq, and they
still don't. Many of the troops who were assured that the Iraqis
would welcome them with open arms are now dead. And there's
still no plan.
Paul Wolfowitz, who fashioned the phony intellectual
underpinnings of this catastrophe, told us that Iraqi oil
revenues would cover the cost of reconstruction. He was as wrong
about that as the president was about the weapons of mass
destruction. (And as wrong as Dick Cheney was last June when he
said the insurgency was in its last throes.)
Here are the facts: The war so recklessly launched by the
amateurs in the Bush White House has already taken scores of
thousands of lives, and will ultimately cost the United States
$1 trillion to $2 trillion.
No one has been held accountable for this. While Mr. Bush's
approval ratings are low, the public has been largely
indifferent to the profound suffering in Iraq. This is primarily
for two reasons: Because most Americans have no immediate
personal stake in the war, and because the administration and
the news media keep the worst of the suffering at a safe
distance from the U.S. population.
The killing of American troops is usually kissed off with a
paragraph or two in the major papers, and a sentence or two, at
best, on national newscasts.
(Imagine if someone in your office, sitting at a desk across
from you, were suddenly blown to bits, splattering you with his
or her blood. You wouldn't get over it for the rest of your
life. This is what happens daily in Iraq.)
The many thousands of Iraqis who are killed - including babies
and children who are shot to death, blown up, or incinerated -
remain completely unknown to the American public. So not only is
there very little empathy for the suffering of Iraqis, there is
virtually no sense among ordinary Americans of a shared
responsibility for that suffering.
Despite the frequently expressed fantasies expressed by
President Bush and some of the leading politicians of both
parties, the idea of a U.S. victory in Iraq is an illusion. The
nightmarish violence is rising, not receding. Iraq is not being
pacified. A suicide bomber blew himself up in a bustling market
in Basra over the weekend, killing 27 and wounding scores. On
20 people were stopped and pulled from their vehicles on a
highway near Baquba and shot to death.
John Burns, writing in yesterday's New York Times, told us: "The
death toll in one of the most grisly recent attacks, in the
village of Hadid, near the Diyala provincial capital of Baquba,
rose to 17 on Tuesday when the police delivered nine severed
heads to the Baquba morgue in the fruit boxes in which they were
found in the village."
Eight other heads had previously been found.
Instead of beginning to pull our troops out of Iraq, we are
sending more in. The permanent Iraqi government, which was
supposed to be the answer to everybody's prayers, is a study in
haplessness. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Al Qaeda's man in Iraq,
remains at large. (As does Osama bin Laden, somewhere in
As was the case with Vietnam, the war in Iraq is a fool's
errand. There is no clear mission for American troops in Iraq.
No one can really say what the dead have died for. And yet the
When it all finally comes to an end (according to President
Bush, on somebody else's watch) we'll look around at the hideous
costs in human treasure and cold hard cash and ask ourselves:
What in the world were we thinking?
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