Nature abhors a vacuum - that sixth-grade science idea that empty or unfilled spaces are somehow unnatural as they go against the laws of nature and physics or some such thing - seems to be playing itself out in the world of politics. Cindy Sheehan created a vacuum - she wants to know why her son had to die in Iraq a year ago. Bush's statement that these soldiers died in a "noble cause" didn't sound right, and she decided to go to Texas and ask to see the president so that he could explain to her for what "noble cause" her son died.
Is this a grandstanding PR thing - or a real question? Whichever it is there seems to be a vacuum where the "noble cause" should be. That can be lost in how complicated it has all become, with various parts of the anti-war left lining up behind the woman who lost her son - each with its own agenda - and all flavors of the pro-war right lining up against her - there too with a variety of motives. Her husband has filed for divorce, and her in-laws think she's wrong, and she wasn't always this way and all the rest - but she asked a question.
The original "noble cause" - we were preemptively protecting our country from an Iraqi attack with weapons of mass destruction when no one else would do anything - didn't work out. We said the weapons of mass destruction were there, the inspectors said it didn't seem so, we said we knew just where they were and the inspectors were fools, Saddam Hussein was slowly allowing more and more access, we said that wasn't good enough - and so on. We were wrong. The parallel try at a "noble cause" was claiming this was simply bringing to justice a man who led a regime in cahoots with the worst of the worst, al Qaeda. That initially seemed a little odd, since that Osama fellow running al Qaeda had often ragged on Saddam Hussein as a corrupt secularist who had no religious mission and was, therefore, an enemy of the movement, or whatever you wish to call it. Evidence that this was not the case and somehow Hussein was involved in all the bad stuff never panned out. We were wrong. The third try at a "noble cause" was that we would bring some sort of secular Jeffersonian democracy, and a free-market capitalist system to the Middle East, and all the nations in the regions would say, "What a good idea - let's do that too!" But on Monday, August 15, 2005 - the deadline for the draft of the new Iraqi constitution - nothing happened, and when it does we won't get a secular Jeffersonian democracy - they cannot even decide on the kind of Islamic republic they want to have. As reported in the Washington Post last Sunday -
So now the question hangs in the air - just what is the "noble cause" now?
"We set out to establish a democracy, but we're slowly realizing we will have some form of Islamic republic," said another U.S. official familiar with policymaking from the beginning, who like some others interviewed would speak candidly only on the condition of anonymity. "That process is being repeated all over."
Sheehan lost her son for that cause, and she thinks she deserves an answer. You can say "but her husband is divorcing her" or "she's a tool of Michael Moore" or "her son would not have wanted her to do this thing" - but forget her. Really. She was useful in raising the question in the most dramatic of ways - she lost her son - but the question is more important than she is.
She just started something. Digby over at Hullabaloo comments:
Political theatre works. If people could be politically persuaded by civilized debate, the Lehrer News Hour would be the highest rated news show on television. Most people need drama, excitement, pathos, catharsis - on some level their emotions have to connect with their minds in order to understand.
Up to now, the story of Iraq has been told through the prism of American might and glory. It was a stirring tale. Unfortunately, the story of Iraq isn't really a story of might and glory; it's a story of arrogance, incompetence and human suffering. That's the story that Cindy embodies as she stands out there in the hot sun, surrounded by supporters, asking the president to answer the question for which he has no answer.
The spectacles of 9/11 and Iraq are over. Even the war supporters are singing a different tune now - the swashbuckling "I-raq 'n Roll" has given way to the mournful "Arlington." Cindy Sheehan's story is the story of that shift in the zeitgeist. We do not need to be afraid of this; it's good for the country.
Should we ask why did we do this - and why do we continue?
Monday from "Our Man in Baghdad," my nephew Major Cook offered this: "If we pull out now, the almost 2000 of my brothers and sisters that have sacrificed will have done it for no reason. Relentless resolve will get us through and the results will benefit many."
But that's the whole point, and why so many are angry. The idea is someone betrayed those almost two thousand good people - and they are dead. And they are dead for no good reason. That is, in some minds, criminal - unless there is a clear explanation of why their deaths were necessary. "The results will benefit many." How? Many Americans don't get it.
The three main explanations of the "noble cause" crumbled - reality can be brutal. Is there something underlying them all that makes this all noble?
The families of those who die, or who are crippled in one way or another, may deserve an answer. The counterargument that these people do not merit or even want an answer - you trust your commander-in-chief and assume he knows more than we all do and is honorable and right - may apply to a good portion of the nation. Some have faith and proud, unquestioning allegiance. They call it patriotism. That may not be good enough for others. Some have questions - they want to know why this and why that, and see themselves as participants in our government. They ask questions, especially when they lose a family member. And they call that patriotism. It has to do with the notion we have a participatory democracy and that sort of thing.
On one side? Unquestioning loyalty. On the other? Questions and ideas and a need for understanding the whys and all that.
Each side believes the other is dead wrong, and unpatriotic.
What follows is for the questioners.
Mid-week this was going around - "Why We Didn't Remove Saddam" George Bush [Sr.] and Brent Scowcroft, Time (2 March 1998). Why did the current president's father say in 1988?
One of those commenting on it was Digby over at Hullabaloo with Shoulda Listened To His Daddy:
While we hoped that popular revolt or coup would topple Saddam, neither the U.S. nor the countries of the region wished to see the breakup of the Iraqi state. We were concerned about the long-term balance of power at the head of the Gulf. Trying to eliminate Saddam, extending the ground war into an occupation of Iraq, would have violated our guideline about not changing objectives in midstream, engaging in "mission creep," and would have incurred incalculable human and political costs. Apprehending him was probably impossible. We had been unable to find Noriega in Panama, which we knew intimately. We would have been forced to occupy Baghdad and, in effect, rule Iraq. The coalition would instantly have collapsed, the Arabs deserting it in anger and other allies pulling out as well.
Under those circumstances, furthermore, we had been self-consciously trying to set a pattern for handling aggression in the post-cold war world. Going in and occupying Iraq, thus unilaterally exceeding the U.N.'s mandate, would have destroyed the precedent of international response to aggression we hoped to establish. Had we gone the invasion route, the U.S. could conceivably still be an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land. It would have been a dramatically different - and perhaps barren - outcome.
One suspect no one will ask the question. And is the stuff of Shakespeare? Is the reason for the dead so personal?
That's a snarky title, but it's quite true anyway. There are going to be many different ways to evaluate this period in our history, but the prism of the father-son relationship is perhaps the most compelling - and maybe the most important. That combination of the second rate son with the manipulating neocon advisors is the stuff of Shakespeare.
Look at what Scowcroft and Bush Sr were saying and look at the state of Iraq today. It is breathtaking, isn't it? It can really only be explained by magical thinking on the part of the neocons and the long frustrated desire on their part to conquer something. And Georgie just wanted to do what his father didn't do - take out Saddam and win a second term. By that standard he's been a rousing success. One wonders if he feels satisfied. He doesn't look it.
In our endless search for explanations as to why they really did this inexplicable thing, Junior's relationship with his father and the neocon psyche are probably the places where the answers truly lie.
I wonder what would happen if a reporter were to ask Junior how he felt about the fact that his father's predictions of failure in Iraq had all come true? I'd really like to see that.
Wednesday in the New York Times Maureen Dowd carries that forward:
Like father, like son - very Shakespearean.
How could President Bush be cavorting around on a long vacation with American troops struggling with a spiraling crisis in Iraq?
Wasn't he worried that his vacation activities might send a frivolous signal at a time when he had put so many young Americans in harm's way?
"I'm determined that life goes on," Mr. Bush said stubbornly.
That wasn't the son, believe it or not. It was the father - 15 years ago. I was in Kennebunkport then to cover the first President Bush's frenetic attempts to relax while reporters were pressing him about how he could be taking a month to play around when he had started sending American troops to the Persian Gulf only three days before.
On Saturday, the current President Bush was pressed about how he could be taking five weeks to ride bikes and nap and fish and clear brush even though his occupation of Iraq had become a fiasco. "I think it's also important for me to go on with my life," W. said, "to keep a balanced life."
Pressed about how he could ride his bike while refusing to see a grieving mom of a dead soldier who's camped outside his ranch, he added: "So I'm mindful of what goes on around me. On the other hand, I'm also mindful that I've got a life to live and will do so."
And this sort of thing indicates it's not getting better here on the home front:
As W.'s neighbors get in scraps with the antiwar forces coalescing around the ranch; as the Pentagon tries to rustle up updated armor for our soldiers, who are still sitting ducks in the third year of the war; as the Iraqi police we train keep getting blown up by terrorists, who come right back every time U.S. troops beat them up; as Shiites working on the Iraqi constitution conspire with Iran about turning Iraq into an Islamic state that represses women; and as Iraq hurtles toward a possible civil war, W. seems far more oblivious than his father was with his Persian Gulf crisis.
This president is in a truly scary place in Iraq. Americans can't get out, or they risk turning the country into a terrorist haven that will make the old Afghanistan look like Cipriani's. Yet his war, which has not accomplished any of its purposes, swallows ever more American lives and inflames ever more Muslim hearts as W. reads a book about the history of salt and looks forward to his biking date with Lance Armstrong on Saturday.
The son wanted to go into Iraq to best his daddy in the history books, by finishing what Bush senior started. He swept aside the warnings of Brent Scowcroft and Colin Powell and didn't bother to ask his father's advice. Now he is caught in the very trap his father said he feared: that America would get bogged down as "an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land," facing a possibly "barren" outcome.
It seems Sheehan is not the only one who wants answers.
The day after burying their son, parents of a fallen Marine urged President Bush to either send more reinforcements to Iraq or withdraw U.S. troops altogether.
"We feel you either have to fight this war right or get out," Rosemary Palmer, mother of Lance Cpl. Edward Schroeder II, said Tuesday.
Schroeder, 23, died two weeks ago in a roadside explosion, one of 16 Ohio-based Marines killed recently in Iraq.
The soldier's father said his son and other Marines were being misused as a stabilizing force in Iraq.
"Our comments are not just those of grieving parents," Paul Schroeder said in front of the couple's home. "They are based on anger, Mr. President, not grief. Anger is an honest emotion when someone's family has been violated."
Palmer accused the president of refusing to make changes in a war gone bad. "Whether he leads them out by putting more troops on the ground or pulling them out ? he can't just let it continue," she said.
... The Ohio couple have long opposed the war and tried to dissuade their son from joining the Marines, but have made their views public only since his death. On Tuesday they urged Americans to voice their opposition to the war.
"We want to point out that 30 people have died since our son. Are people listening?" Palmer asked.
And this won't do (from Cox News, what Dowd was talking about):
To the loyalists, that is strength. To the questioners? Choose your adjective.
President Bush, noting that lots of people want to talk to the president and "it's also important for me to go on with my life," on Saturday defended his decision not to meet with the grieving mom of a soldier killed in Iraq.
Bush said he is aware of the anti-war sentiments of Cindy Sheehan and others who have joined her protest near the Bush ranch.
"But whether it be here or in Washington or anywhere else, there's somebody who has got something to say to the president, that's part of the job," Bush said on the ranch. "And I think it's important for me to be thoughtful and sensitive to those who have got something to say. But, I think it's also important for me to go on with my life, to keep a balanced life."
The comments came prior to a bike ride on the ranch with journalists and aides. It also came as the crowd of protesters grew in support of Sheehan, the mother who came here Aug. 6 demanding to talk to Bush about the death of her son.
There is an alternative theory to the father-son Shakespearean model, something else to fill the "noble cause" vacuum - the madness theory.
From the quite unreliable Capitol Hill Blue we get Is Bush Out of Control? - from Doug Thompson.
That's followed by a recap of what's in Justin Frank's book, Bush on the Couch: Inside the Mind of the President. See our friend Douglas Yates on that in these pages last summer.
Buy beleaguered, overworked White House aides enough drinks and they tell a sordid tale of an administration under siege, beset by bitter staff infighting and led by a man whose mood swings suggest paranoia bordering on schizophrenia.
They describe a President whose public persona masks an angry, obscenity-spouting man who berates staff, unleashes tirades against those who disagree with him and ends meetings in the Oval Office with "get out of here!"
In fact, George W. Bush's mood swings have become so drastic that White House emails often contain "weather reports" to warn of the President's demeanor. "Calm seas" means Bush is calm while "tornado alert" is a warning that he is pissed at the world.
Decreasing job approval ratings and increased criticism within his own party drives the President's paranoia even higher. Bush, in a meeting with senior advisors, called Senator Majority Leader Bill Frist a "god-damned traitor" for opposing him on stem-cell research.
"There's real concern in the West Wing that the President is losing it," a high-level aide told me recently.
A year ago, this web site discovered the White House physician prescribed anti-depressants for Bush. The news came after revelations that the President's wide mood swings led some administration staffers to doubt his sanity.
Doug Thompson now? "The President of the United States is out of control. How long can the ship of state continue to sail with a madman at the helm?"
It's a theory to fill the vacuum.
Whatever theory you like, there's the political problem.
James Wolcott calls up Immanuel Wallerstein - Senior Research Scholar at Yale, former President of the International Sociological Association, and the author of, among other works, the three-volume The Modern World-System - with this:
As for the loyalists?
... for the Bush regime, the worst picture of all is on the home front. Approval rating of Bush for the conduct of the Iraqi war has gone down to 36 percent. The figures have been going steadily down for some time and should continue to do so. For poor George Bush is now faced with the vigil of Cindy Sheehan.
... Of course, George W. Bush hasn't had the courage to see her. He sent out emissaries. She said this wasn't enough, that she wanted to see Bush personally. She has now said that she will maintain a vigil outside Bush's home until either he sees her or she is arrested.
Bush won't see her because he knows there is nothing that he can say to her. Seeing her is a losing proposition. But so is not seeing her. The pressure to withdraw from Iraq is now becoming mainstream. It is not because the U.S. public shares the view that the U.S. is an imperialist power in Iraq. It is because there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel... They want out. Bush is caught in an insoluble dilemma. The war is lost.
Anti-war protestors supporting Cindy Sheehan erected white crosses bearing the names of fallen soldiers at her Crawford campsite. An anti-Sheehan protestor drove his pickup truck through the crosses (here) - at about the time a prayer service was to begin at Sheehan's camp Monday, a sheep farmer fired a shotgun into the air. "This is still redneck country," he said (here - and they pile on. As Media Matters reports.
Frank J. Gaffney Jr., Washington Times columnist - Sheehan's statements "emboldened" America's enemies. He also called her "the poster child for surrender." As mentioned previously, Bill O'Reilly called her treasonous. Jimmy W. Hall in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "Cindy Sheehan evidently thinks little of her deceased son, his sacrifice or of those left to do the noble work in his absence." And this: "The lady is on the wrong team. She's disgraceful." And this: "Is the proper answer to her bitterness really to belittle and undermine public support for the efforts of those still serving?" And this: "My suggestion to her ... is that she think about the lives of those still in Iraq. Undermining public support for our efforts in Iraq helps the enemy, her son's murderers. They love people like her, but hate those like her heroic son."
The best is David Horowitz here:
That's what happens when you ask questions. One thinks of the bumper sticker you see here and there - "Get In, Sit Down, Shut Up, And Hold On."
Cindy Sheehan is the most prominent symbol and chief mouthpiece of a psychological warfare campaign against her own country in time of war that can only benefit its enemies on the field of battle. It is one thing to criticize a war policy. It is quite another to accuse your own country of creating the monster it went to war to remove and fabricating intelligence information to send American youth into battle to die for a lie - which is what she has done. She has made herself a willing tool of anti-American forces in this country that want America to lose the war in Iraq and the war on terror generally. She is promoting a cause - immediate withdrawal from Iraq - that would lead to a bloodbath in the region and in the United States. She has joined forces with an Unholy Alliance on the other side in the epic battle for freedom in the Middle East and has shown that she will do and say anything to discredit the United States and its commander-chief -- acts which serve the enemy and endanger American lives. She is a disgrace to her brave son who gave his life for the freedom of ordinary Iraqis and the security of his countrymen. She has betrayed his sacrifice and embraced his enemies.
Some folks resent that. And they wonder about things like these items at the news aggregator Cursor. From Wednesday, August 17, 2005:And that's just the start of the page.
What are we doing and why? Some sense a vacuum here. The first two of the three main rationales for all this turned to dust. The third - to bring some sort of secular Jeffersonian democracy, and a free-market capitalist system, to the Middle East - doesn't look likely now. Why are we doing all this? Should we ask ? or "Get In, Sit Down, Shut Up, And Hold On?" Or should we trust there a fine reason, and although we won't be told it, it's noble and has nothing to do with intensely personal and unresolved father-son issues, nor with any form of madness.
I can hear my conservative friends saying to me - "Don't ask all these questions. Trust the guy. It's none of your business."
Yes it is. That's my nephew over there, someone I admire and trust and love.
Enough on the war. It doesn't matter, given this:
Flu pandemic could trigger second Great Depression, brokerage warns clients
Helen Branswell, CBC News, Wednesday, August 17, 2005, 06:36 PM EDT
TORONTO (CP) - A major Canadian brokerage firm has added its voice to those warning of the potential global impact of an influenza pandemic, suggesting it could trigger a crisis similar to that of the Great Depression.
Real estate values would be slashed, bankruptcies would soar and the insurance industry would be decimated, a newly released investor guide on avian influenza warns clients of BMO Nesbitt Burns.
"It's quite analogous to the Great Depression in many ways, although obviously caused by very different reasons," co-author Sherry Cooper, chief economist of the firm and executive vice-president of the BMO Financial Group, said in an interview Tuesday.
"We won't have 30-per-cent unemployment because frankly, many people will die. And there will be excess demand for labour and yet, at the same time, it will absolutely crunch the economy worldwide." ...