Contents: The Sir! No Sir! blog is an information clearing house, drawing on a wide variety of sources, to track the unfolding history of the new GI Movement, and the wars that brought the movement to life.
Where applicable, parallels will be drawn between the new movement and the Vietnam era movement which was the focus of the film Sir! No Sir!
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This article, by Anand Gopal, was originally published by the Christian Science Monitor, March 2, 2009
Frustration and fear is sparking opposition to plans that would nearly double the size of US forces there.
Kabul - Parliamentarian Shukria Barakzai says she has an innovative amendment to Washington's planned injection of up to 30,000 new troops here.
"Send us 30,000 scholars instead. Or 30,000 engineers. But don't send more troops – it will just bring more violence."
Ms. Barakzai is among the growing number of Afghans – especially in the Pashtun south – who oppose a troop increase here, posing what could be the biggest challenge to the Obama administration's stabilization strategy.
"At least half the country is deeply suspicious of the new troops," says Kabul-based political analyst Waheed Muzjda. "The US will have to wage an intense hearts-and-minds campaign to turn this situation around."
The lack of public support could provide fertile recruiting ground for the Taliban and hinder US operations, Mr. Muzjda says.
After a year that saw the highest number of civilian and troop casualties since the war began in 2001, officials in Washington recently pledged to send 17,000 soldiers to stem the growing violence. The move has broad support among the American public – a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll found that 64 percent back the new deployments.
Much of the Afghan opposition comes from provinces dominated by the Pashtun ethnic group, which include areas that have seen the most fighting and where the new troops will be deployed. A group of 50 mostly Pashtun members of parliament recently formed a working group aimed at blocking the arrival of new troops and pushing for a bilateral military agreement between Kabul and Washington, which currently does not exist. Pashtun support is crucial
Although any proposed legislation or motion condemning the troop increase would be purely symbolic – the Afghan government does not have direct say over the operations of Western forces – observers say that the development is an important gauge of public opinion in Pashtun areas.
Dozens of interviews with tribal elders, parliamentarians who are not part of the working group, and locals in Pashtun areas have revealed similar sentiments.
"I can't find a single man in the entire province who is in favor of more troops," says Awal Khan, a tribal leader from Logar province, just south of Kabul. "They don't respect our tradition, culture, or religion."
"The majority of my people disagree with this increase," says Hanif Shah Hosseini, an MP from Khost province who is not part of the working group. "More troops won't bring more security, just an increase in the fighting." US supporters targeted
Many cite civilian casualties and house raids as the main reason for their opposition. Recently in Logar, armed locals blocked the highway into Kabul for hours, in protest of a night raid where US forces killed one and detained three others. According to local reports, the nearly 2,000 protestors burned tires and chanted anti-US slogans.
In Kandahar Province, villagers recently placed the bodies of two children who were killed by mines in front a government office, shouting anti-Western slogans. They alleged that unexploded Canadian ordnance killed the children.
Many locals also fear the reprisals of the Taliban in areas where troops operate. Recently in Wardak Province, locals saw two boys practicing their fledgling English with American soldiers who were passing by. The Taliban later executed the children, accusing them of being spies.
Some feel that the US should focus its efforts solely on reconstruction and the building of Afghan security forces. "The Americans spend thousands of dollars every month on a single soldier," says Khost MP Mr. Hosseini. "With this huge amount of money, they can train our soldiers more effectively."
Others say that if the troops must come, they should coordinate with the Afghan government. "Without such coordination, I don't think sending more troops will change anything," says Kandahar tribal leader Agha Lalai Dastageri.
He adds that if troops were under the control of the Afghan government, they would be deployed near the Pakistani border and away from populated areas, diminishing the chance of civilian casualties. Many Afghans believe that the source of insecurity partly lies in Pakistan, where the leadership of the insurgency allegedly takes refuge, and that policing the border will improve security throughout Afghanistan.
American military officials say that although the goal is to eventually transfer all security responsibilities to Afghans, troops are still needed now for development and security. "Our intent is to use the troops to secure rural areas," says Capt. Elizabeth Mathias, spokeswoman for US forces in Afghanistan. "The Afghans are showing great promise, but they need us here for now." Snowmelt ups urgency
The injection of forces still enjoys support outside the Pashtun belt. Other ethnic groups, such as the Tajiks and the Hezaras, who predominantly hail from the country's relatively peaceful north and west, back the notion. "We need these troops to strengthen security in the unstable provinces," says Mirwais Yassini, chair of the Afghan Parliament and a Tajik. "We also need them [to provide security] for the upcoming presidential elections."
Support for more troops is higher in the non-Pashtun areas because residents there have experienced less violence, and because they may view US forces as a buffer between them and the Taliban, analysts say. The memory of the Taliban's harsh rule is still fresh in many non-Pashtun communities, who suffered greatly during that time.
But winning support in the rural Pashtun villages, where the war is being fought, is crucial for the plan, analysts say. Development will be a key component to this war. Military planners intend to continue focusing on projects meant to boost economic activity, which they say will show locals the benefits of US presence in the region.
"A couple of months ago Arghasan district in Kandahar was controlled by insurgents," says Kandahar provincial council member Hajji Qasim. "But ever since USAID started a road project there, the economic situation improved and the insurgency lost influence."
Military officials say that such development projects can only succeed if they are accompanied by a corresponding troop increase, since insurgents often attack reconstruction teams.
Officials in Washington and Pashtun villagers agree on one thing: They expect the violence to increase this summer as the new forces attempt to root out insurgent strongholds.
"I know once the snows melt, things will start to get much worse," Logar resident Nasar Ahmad says. "The fighting will be intense, and a lot of us villagers are talking about fleeing to Kabul."
"We are worried our families will be caught in the middle," he adds.
This article, by Ewen MacAskill and Saeed Shah, was published in The Guardian, January 25, 2009
The Obama administration warned the US public yesterday to brace itself for an increase in American casualties as it prepares to step up the fight against al-Qaida and the Taliban in Afghanistan and the border regions of Pakistan.
Against a background of widespread protests in Pakistan and Afghanistan over US operations since Obama became president, the vice-president, Joe Biden, said yesterday that US forces would be engaged in many more operations as it takes the fight to its enemies in the region.
The Obama administration is to double the number of US troops in Afghanistan to 60,000 and when asked in a television interview if the US public should expect more American casualties, Biden said: "I hate to say it, but yes, I think there will be. There will be an uptick."
Greater US involvement in Afghanistan is a political risk for Obama, with the danger that mounting American casualties could make the war as unpopular as Iraq. Obama, in his first military action as president, sanctioned two missile attacks inside Pakistan on Friday, killing 22 people, reportedly women and children among them. The attacks drew criticism from Pakistani officials at the weekend.
Pakistani president, Asif Zardari, told the US ambassador to Islamabad, Anne Patterson, that the strikes "do not help the war on terror". According to reports, he also warned her that "these attacks can affect Pakistan's cooperation in the war on terror".
A foreign ministry spokesman, Mohammad Sadiq, said: "With the advent of the new US administration, it is Pakistan's sincere hope that the United States will review its policy and adopt a more holistic and integrated approach towards dealing with the issue of terrorism and extremism. We maintain that these [missile] attacks are counter-productive and should be discontinued."
Biden, in an interview with CBS news, defended the strikes, saying that Obama had repeatedly said on the campaign trail he would not hesitate to strike against any high-level al-Qaida targets. He suggested cooperation between the US and Pakistani counter-terrorist agencies would increase, with more US training for their Pakistani counterparts.
Over the last year, there have been at least 30 US missile attacks on Pakistan's wild tribal area, which is used as a haven for insurgents fighting international troops in neighbouring Afghanistan.
On Sunday, the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, condemned a separate US operation within Afghanistan that he said killed 16 Afghan civilians, prompting hundreds of villagers to demonstrate against the American military.
The US said the raid, on Saturday in Laghman province, killed 15 armed militants, including a woman with an RPG. But Afghan officials said they killed civilians, including two women and three children. In Laghman's capital, hundreds of protesters demanded an end to overnight raids.
Karzai warned the killing of innocent Afghans during US military operations "is strengthening the terrorists". He also announced that his government had sent Washington a draft agreement that seeks to give Afghanistan more oversight over US military operations. The document has also been sent to Nato headquarters.
The death toll on both the Pakistan borders and within Afghanistan has caused widespread public anger, with resentment directed at the US, as well as the Afghanistan and Pakistan governments.
"It undermines the position of the government, its ability to negotiate [a peace deal] with the militants when the Taliban can say: 'You're not even master in your own house,'" said Ayaz Amir, a newspaper columnist and an opposition member of Pakistan's parliament. "It undercuts the credibility of a government, whose credibility is already low."
Some of the strikes in Pakistan have killed senior al-Qaida militants but they tend to live with local families in the tribal area, making civilian casualties inevitable - which are then used by the Taliban as a recruitment tool.
Rustam Shah Mohmand, an analyst who was formerly Pakistan's ambassador to Afghanistan, said that Pakistan had leverage it could use, by stopping supplies to Nato troops in Afghanistan to pass through its territory or threatening to withdraw the Pakistani forces deployed along the Afghan border."
"If anything, the policy [of missile strikes] is going to be more focused, more aggressive, under Obama. There is going to be a 'surge' in Afghanistan," said Mohmand. "The Americans can't wage this war without Pakistan's assistance."
This reoport was originally broadcast by Deutsche Welle Worlde, January 21, 2009
In a paper on transatlantic cooperation published to coincide with the inauguration of Barack Obama as US president, Chancellor Merkel's conservatives call for a new political strategy to end the conflict in Afghanistan.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative bloc in parliament this week proposed setting up a "contact group" of nations to forge a new political strategy to stablilize Afghanistan.
The group, the document says, should not only include the five permanent UN Security Council members -- the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia -- but also the European Union, Iran and Pakistan.
The policy paper does not specifically mention Iran but German media quoted Andreas Schockenhoff, vice chairman of Merkel's Christian Democratic Party (CDU ) saying the conservatives would welcome Iran's participation.
Germany hopes to include Iran
"Such an initiative, that would include Iran, would benefit if it came to direct talks between Washington and Tehran," Schockenhoff said in comments released by his office.
"The group should aim to reach an international consensus...that the stability of Afghanistan should be an objective of the utmost importance," the paper said, adding that weakening al Qaeda is "a common interest".
"Given the lack of an international consultation forum (on Afghanistan), an international contact group that is legitimized by the UN Security Council, should carry out such an initiative," the paper reads.
A similar idea for a "contact group" to coordinate international strategy in Afghanistan was proposed by former French President Jacques Chirac in 2006, but was not supported by Washington.
Presented on the day of President Barack Obama's inauguration and under the title "For a Closer Transatlantic Partnership", foreign policy experts from the Christian Democrats called on the new US president to look for alternatives to an increase in troops, which Obama has advocated.
Germany bracing for troops request
Germany is among European nations bracing for demands from the new US administration that they do more in Afghanistan, but the Germans are reluctant to send more troops and believe talks on a new strategy for stabilizing the country are the main priority.
Chancellor Merkel has said that she would not accede to any request from the new US administration to send troops to southern Afghanistan, the scene of much of the heavy fighting against Taliban insurgents. "Wherever Germany commits itself, a wholeness of military and civilian assistance should be visible," she said.
German forces, the third-biggest component in the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), are based in safer northern Afghanistan. Other armies have borne the brunt of the fighting in the south.
Merkel skeptical of Obama's Iran policy
Merkel indicated on Tuesday that Obama would draw a blank in Berlin if he pressed Germany to send more troops to Afghanistan, and also expressed doubts on whether Obama's stated wish to talk to Iran would bear fruit. In contrast to President George W. Bush, Obama has said he is open to talks with Iran, a step Germany has welcomed.
"On the European Union side we have held talks with Iran on multiple occasions, but unfortunately very unsuccessfully over a long period of time," Merkel said. "I think it will remain clear that so long as Iran keeps its nuclear program so opaque, and as long as it wants to destroy Israel, there will of course be points when we will say that on this basis we cannot come together."
But she added: "I believe in any case that we should try it."
It may finally be 2009, but in some ways, given these last years, it might as well be 800 BCE.
From the ninth to the seventh centuries BCE, the palace walls of the kings who ruledthe Assyrian Empire were decorated with vast stone friezes, filled with enough deadbodies to sate any video-game maker and often depicting –in almost comic strip-style– various bloody royal victories and conquests. At least one of them shows Assyriansoldiers lopping off the heads of defeatedenemies and piling them into pyramids foran early version of what, in theVCE (Vietnam Common Era) of the 1960s,Americans came to know as the "body count."
So I learned recently by wandering through a traveling exhibit of ancient Assyrian art from the British Museum. On the audio tour accompanying the show, one expert pointed out that Assyrian scribes, part of an impressive imperial bureaucracy, carefully counted those heads and recordedthe numbers for the greater glory of the king (as, in earlier centuries, Egyptian scribes had recorded countsof severed hands for victorious pharaohs).
Hand it to art museums. Is there anything stranger than wandering through one and locking eyes with a Vermeer lady, a Van Eyck portrait, or one of Rembrandt's burghers staring out at you across the centuries? What a reminder of the common humanity we share with the distant past. In a darker sense, it's no less a reminder of our kinship across time to spot a little pyramid of heads on a frieze, imagine an Assyrian scribe making his count, and – eerily enough – feel at home. What a measure of just how few miles "the march of civilization" (as my parents' generation once called it) has actually covered.
Prejudiced Toward War
If you need an epitaph for the Bush administration, here's one to test out: They tried. They really tried. But they couldn't help it. They just had to count.
In a sense, George W. Bush did the Assyrians proud. With his secret prisons, his outsourced torture chambers, his officially approved kidnappings, the murders committed by his interrogators, the massacres committed by his troops and mercenaries and the shock-and-awe slaughter he ordered from the air, it's easy enough to imagine what those Assyrian scribes would have counted, had they somehow been teleported into his world. True, his White House didn't have friezes of his victories (one problem being that there were none to glorify); all it had was Saddam Hussein's captured pistol proudly stored in a small study off the Oval Office. Almost 3,000 years later, however, Bush's "scribes," still traveling with the imperial forces, continued to count the bodies as they piled ever higher in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Pakistani
borderlands, and elsewhere.
Many of those body counts were duly made public. This record of American "success" was visible to anyone who visited the Pentagon's website and viewed
its upbeat news articles complete with enumerations of "Taliban fighters" or, in Iraq,
"terrorists," the Air Force's news feed listing the number of bombs dropped on "anti-Afghan forces," or the U.S. Central Command's
stories of killing "Taliban
On the other hand, history, as we know, doesn't repeat itself and – unlike the Assyrians – the Bush administration would have preferred not tocount, or at least not to make its body counts public. One of its small but tellingly unsuccessful struggles, a sign of the depth of its failure on its own terms, was to avoid the release of those counts.
Its aversion to the body count made some sense. After all, since the 1950s,body-counting for the U.S. military has invariably signaled not impending victory, but disaster, and even defeat. In fact, one of the strangest things about the American empire has been this: Between 1945 and George W. Bush's second term,the U.S. economy, American corporations, and the dollar have held remarkablesway over much of the rest of the world. New York City has been the planet's financial capital and Washington its war capital. (Moscow, even at the height of the Cold War, always came in a provincial second.)
In the same period, the U.S. military effectively garrisoned much of the globe from the Horn of Africa to Greenland, from South Korea to Qatar, while its Navy controlled the seven seas, its Air Forcedominated the global skies, its nuclear command stood ready to unleash the powers of planetary death, and its space command watched the heavens. In the wake of the Cold War, its various military commands (including Northcom, set up by the Bush administration in 2002, and Africom, set up in 2007) divided the greater part of the planet into what were essentially military satrapies. And yet, the U.S. military, post-1945, simply could not win the wars that mattered.
Because the neocons of the Bush administration brushed aside this counterintuitive fact, they believed themselves faced in 2000 with an unparalleled opportunity (whose frenetic exploitation would be triggered by the attacks of 9/11, "thePearl Harbor" of the new century). With the highest-tech military on theplanet, funded at levels no other set of nations could cumulatively match, the United States, they were convinced, was uniquely situated to give the phrase "sole superpower" historically unprecedented meaning. Even the Assyrians at their height, the Romans in their Pax Romana centuries, the British in the endless decades when the sun could never set on its empire, would prove pikers by comparison.
In this sense, President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and the various neocons in the administration were fundamentalist idolaters – and what theyworshipped was the staggering power of the U.S. military. They were believers in a church whose first tenet was the efficacy of force above all else. Though few of them had the slightestmilitary experience, they gave real meaning to the word bellicose. Theywere prejudiced toward war.
With awesome military power at their command, they were also convinced that they could go it alone as the dominating force on the planet. As with true believers everywhere, they had only contempt for those they couldn't convert to their worldview. That contempt made "unilateralism" their strategy of choice, and a global Pax Americana their goal (along with, of course, a Pax Republicana at home).
If All Else Fails, Count the Bodies
It was in this context that they were not about to count the enemy dead. In their wars, as these fervent, inside-the-Beltwayutopians saw it, there would be no need to do so. With the "shock and awe" forces at their command, they would refocus American attention on the real metric of victory, the taking of territory and of enemy capitals. At the same time, they were preparing to disarm the only enemy that truly scared them, the American people, by making none of the mistakes of the Vietnam era, including – as the president later admitted – counting bodies.
Of course, both the Pax Americana and the Pax Republicana would prove will-o'-the-wisps. As it turned out, the Bush administration, blind to the actual world it faced, disastrously miscalculated the nature of American power – especially military power – and what it was capable of doing. And yet,had they taken a clear-eyed look at what American military power had actuallyachieved in action since 1945, they might have been sobered. In the major wars (and even some minor actions) the U.S. military fought in those decades, it had been massively destructive but never victorious, nor even particularlysuccessful. In many ways, in the classic phrase of Chinese Communist leader Mao Zedong, it had been a "paper tiger."
Yes, it had "won" largely meaningless victories – in Operation Urgent Fury, the invasion of the tiny Caribbean island of Grenada in 1983; against the toothless Panamanian regime of Manuel Noriega in Operation Just Cause in 1989; in Operation Desert Storm, largely an air campaign against Saddam Hussein's helpless military in 1990 (in a war that settled nothing); in NATO's Operation Deliberate Force, an air war against the essentially defenseless Serbian military in 1995 (while meeting disaster in operations in Iran in 1980 and Somalia in 1993). On the other hand, in Korea in the early 1950s and in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia from the 1960s into the early 1970s, it had committed its forces all but atomically, and yet had met nothing but stalemate, disaster, and defeat against enemies who, on paper at least, should not have been able to stand up to American power.
It was in the context of defeat and then frustration in Korea that the counting of enemy bodies began. Once Chinese communist armies had entered that war in massive numbers in late 1950 and inflicted a terrible series of defeats on American forces but could not sweep them off the peninsula, that conflict settled into a "meatgrinder" of a stalemate in which the hope of taking significant territory faded; yet some measure of success was needed as public frustration mounted in the United States: thus began the infamous body count of enemy dead.
The body count reappeared quite early in the Vietnam War, again as a shorthand way of measuring success in a conflict in which the taking of territory was almost meaningless, the countryside a hostile place, the enemy hard to distinguish from the general population, and our own in-country allies weak and largely unable to strengthen themselves. Those tallies of dead bodies, announced daily by military spokesmen to increasingly dubious reporters in Saigon, were the public face of American "success" in the Vietnam era. Each body was to be further evidence of what Gen. William Westmoreland called "the light at the end of the tunnel." When those dead bodies and any sense of success began to part ways, however, when, in the terminology of the times, a "credibility gap" opened between the metrics of victory and reality, the body count morphed into a symbol of barbarism as well as of defeat. It helped stoke an antiwar movement.
This was why, in choosing to take on Saddam Hussein's hapless military in 2003 – the administration was looking for a "cakewalk" campaign that would "shock and awe" enemies throughout the Middle East – they officially chose not to release any counts of enemy dead. Gen. Tommy Franks, commander of the administration's Afghan operation in 2001 and the invasion of Iraq thereafter, put the party line succinctly, "We don't do body counts."
As the president finally admitted in some frustration to a group of conservative columnists in October 2006, his administration had "made a conscious effort not to be a body-count team." Not intending to repeat the 1960s experience, he and his advisers had planned out an opposites war on the home front – anything done in Vietnam would not be done this time around – and that meant not offering official counts of the dead which might stoke an antiwar movement… until, as in Korea and Vietnam, frustration truly set in.
When the taking of Baghdad in April 2003 proved no more of a capstone on American victory than the taking of Kabul in November 2001, when everything began to go disastrously wrong and the carefully enumerated count of the American dead in Iraq rose precipitously, when "victory" (a word the president still invoked 15 times in a single speech in November 2005) adamantly refused to make an appearance, the moment for the body count had arrived. Despite all the planning, they just couldn't stop themselves. A frustrated president expressed it this way: "We don't get to say that – a thousand of the enemy killed, or whatever the number was. It's happening. You just don't know it."
Soon enough the Pentagon was regularly releasing such figures in reports on its operations and, in December 2006, the president, too, first slipped such a tally into a press briefing. ("Our commanders report that the enemy has also suffered. Offensive operations by Iraqi and coalition forces against terrorists and insurgents and death squad leaders have yielded positive results. In the months of October, November, and the first week of December, we have killed or captured nearly 5,900 of the enemy.")
It wasn't, of course, that no one had been counting. The president, as we know from Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward, had long been keeping "'his own personal scorecard for the [global] war [on terror]' in the form of photographs with brief biographies and personality sketches of those judged to be the world's most dangerous terrorists – each ready to be crossed out by the president as his forces took hem down." And the military had been counting bodies as well, but as the possibility of victory disappeared into the charnel houses of Iraq and Afghanistan, the Pentagon and the president finally gave in. While this did not stoke an antiwar movement, it represented a tacit admission of policy collapse, a kind of surrender. It was as close as an administrationthat never owned up to error could come to admitting that two more disastrous wars had been added to a string of military failures in the truncated American Century.
That implicit admission, however, took years to arrive, and in the meantime, Iraqis and Afghans – civilians, insurgents, terrorists, police, and military men – were dying in prodigious numbers.
The Global War on Terror as a Ponzi Scheme
As it happened, others were also counting. Among the earliest of them, a Web site, Iraq Body Count, carefully toted up Iraqi civilian deaths as documented in reputable media outlets. Their estimate has, by now, almost reached 100,000 – and, circumscribed by those words "documented" and "civilian," doesn't begin to get at the full scope of Iraqi deaths.
Various groups of scholars and pollsters also took up the task, using sophisticated sampling techniques (including door-to-door interviews under exceedingly dangerous conditions) arrive at reasonable approximations of the Iraqi dead. They have come up with figures ranging from the hundreds of thousands to a million or more in a country with a prewar population of perhaps 26 million. United Nations representatives have similarly attempted, under difficult circumstances, to keep a count of Iraqis fleeing into exile – exile being, after a fashion, a form of living death – and have estimated that more than 2 million Iraqis fled their country, while another 2.7 million, having fled their homes, remained "internally displaced."
Similar attempts have been made for Afghanistan. Human Rights Watch has, for instance, done its best to tally civilian deaths from air strikes in that country (while even TomDispatch has attempted to keep a modest count of wedding parties obliterated by U.S. air attacks in Afghanistan and Iraq). But, of course, the real body count in either country will never be known.
One thing is certain, however: it is an obscenity of the present moment that Iraq, still a charnel
house, still in a state of near total disrepair, still on the edge of a whole host of potential conflicts, should increasingly be
portrayed here as a limited Bush administration "surge" success. Only a country – or a punditry or a military – incapable of facing the depths of destruction
that the Bush administration let loose could reach such a conclusion.
If all roads once led to Rome, all acts of the Bush administration have led to destruction, and remarkably regularly to piles of dead or tortured bodies, counted or not. In fact, it's reasonable to say that every Bush administration foreign policy dream, including its first term fantasy about a pacified "Greater Middle East" and its late second term vision of a facilitated "peace process" between the Israelis and Palestinians, has ended in piles of bodies and in failure. Consider this a count all its own.
Looked at another way, the Bush administration's Global War on Terror and its subsidiary wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have, in effect, been a giant Ponzi scheme. At a cost of nearly one trillion taxpayer dollars to date (but sure to be in the multi-trillions when all is said and done), Bush's mad "global war" simply sucked needed money out of our world at levels that made Bernie Madoff seem like a small fry.
Madoff, by his own accounting, squandered perhaps $50 billion of other people's money. The Bush administration took a trillion dollars of ours and handed it out to its crony corporate buddies and to the Pentagon as down payments on disaster – and that's without even figuring into the mix the staggering sums still needed to care for American soldiers maimed, impaired, or nearly destroyed by Bush's wars.
With Bush's "commander-in-chief" presidency only days from its end, the price tag on his "war" continues to soar as dollars grow scarce, new investors refuse to pay in, and the scheme crumbles. Unfortunately, the American people, typical suckers in such a con game, will be left with a mile-high stack of IOUs. In any Ponzi scheme comparison with Madoff, however, one difference (other than size) stands out. Sooner or later, Madoff, like Charles Ponzi himself, will end up behind bars, while George, Dick, & Co. will be writing their memoirs and living off the fat of the land.
Eight years of bodies, dead, broken, mutilated, abused; eight years of ruined lives down countless drains; eight years of massive destruction to places from Baghdad to New Orleans where nothing of significance was ever rebuilt: all this was brought to us by a president, now leaving office without apology, who said the following in his first inaugural address: "I will live and lead by these principles: to advance my convictions with civility… to call for responsibility and try to live it as well."
He lived, however, by quite a different code. Destruction without responsibility, that's Bush's legacy, but who's counting now that the destruction mounts and the bodies begin to pile up here in the "homeland," in our own body-count nation? The laid off, the pensionless, the homeless, the suicides – imagine what that trillion dollars might have meant to them.
It's clear enough in these last days of the Bush administration that its model was Iraq, dismantled and devastated. The world, had he succeeded, might have become George W. Bush's Iraq.
Yes, he came up short, but, given the global economic situation, how much short we don't yet know. Perhaps, in the future, historians will call him a
Caesar – of destruction. Veni, vidi, vastavi… [I came, I saw, I devastated…]
[Note: I rely on many wonderful sources and Web sites in putting together TomDispatch.com, but as 2009 starts, I would feel remiss if I didn't credit three in particular: Antiwar.com, Juan Cole's Informed Comment, and Paul Woodward's The War in Context. Each is invaluable in its own way; each made my task of trying to make some sense of George W. Bush's world so much easier. A deep bow of thanks to all three. Finally, I can't help wondering about one missing Iraqi who remains on my mind: a young Sunni woman living in Baghdad in 2003, who adopted the pseudonym Riverbend. She began her "girlblog from Iraq," Baghdad Burning, with this epigraph: "…I'll meet you 'round the bend my friend, where hearts can heal and souls can mend…" For several years, she provided a vivid citizen's reportage on Bush's disaster that should have put most journalists to shame. As I wrote in 2006, hers was "an unparalleled record of the American war on, and occupation of, Iraq (and Riverbend writes like an angel). [It represents] simply the best contemporary account we are likely to have any time soon of the hell into which we've plunged that country." Her last report from Syria
– she had just arrived as a refugee – was posted on Oct. 22, 2007. Since then, as far as I know, she has not been heard from.]