It is one of the great, dark, evil lessons, of history.
A country — a government — a military machine — can screw up a war seven ways to Sunday. It can get thousands of its people killed. It can risk the safety of its citizens. It can destroy the fabric of its nation.
But as long as it can identify a scapegoat, it can regain or even gain power.
The Bush administration has opened this Pandora’s Box about Iraq. It has found its scapegoats: Hillary Clinton and us.
The lies and terror tactics with which it deluded this country into war — they had nothing to do with the abomination that Iraq has become. It isn’t Mr. Bush’s fault.
The selection of the wrong war, in the wrong time, in the wrong place — the most disastrous geopolitical tactic since Austria-Hungary attacked Serbia in 1914 and destroyed itself in the process — that had nothing to do with the overwhelming crisis Iraq has become. It isn’t Mr. Bush’s fault.
The criminal lack of planning for the war — the total “jump-off-a-bridge-and-hope-you-can-fly” tone to the failure to anticipate what would follow the deposing of Saddam Hussein — that had nothing to do with the chaos in which Iraq has been enveloped. It isn’t Mr. Bush’s fault.
The utter, blinkered idiocy of “staying the course,” of sending Americans to Iraq and sending them a second time, and a third and a fourth, until they get killed or maimed — the utter de-prioritization of human life, simply so a politician can avoid having to admit a mistake — that had nothing to do with the tens of thousand individual tragedies darkening the lives of American families, forever. It isn’t Mr. Bush’s fault.
The continuing, relentless, remorseless, corrupt and cynical insistence that this conflict somehow is defeating or containing or just engaging the people who attacked us on 9/11, the total “Alice Through the Looking Glass” quality that ignores that in Iraq, we have made the world safer for al-Qaida — it isn’t Mr. Bush’s fault!
The fault, brought down, as if a sermon from this mount of hypocrisy and slaughter by a nearly anonymous undersecretary of defense, has tonight been laid on the doorstep of... Sen. Hillary Clinton and, by extension, at the doorstep of every American — the now-vast majority of us — who have dared to criticize this war or protest it or merely ask questions about it or simply, plaintively, innocently, honestly, plead, “Don’t take my son; don’t take my daughter.”
Sen. Clinton has been sent — and someone has leaked to The Associated Press — a letter, sent in reply to hers asking if there exists an actual plan for evacuating U.S. troops from Iraq.
This extraordinary document was written by an undersecretary of defense named Eric Edelman.
“Premature and public discussion of the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq,” Edelman writes, “reinforces enemy propaganda that the United States will abandon its allies in Iraq, much as we are perceived to have done in Vietnam, Lebanon and Somalia.”
Edelman adds: “Such talk understandably unnerves the very same Iraqi allies we are asking to assume enormous personal risks.”
A spokesman for the senator says Mr. Edelman’s remarks are “at once both outrageous and dangerous.” Those terms are entirely appropriate and may, in fact, understate the risk the Edelman letter poses to our way of life and all that our fighting men and women are risking, have risked, and have lost, in Iraq.
After the South was defeated in our Civil War, the scapegoat was Confederate President Jefferson Davis, and the ideas of the “Lost Cause” and “Jim Crow” were born.
After the French were beaten by the Prussians in 1870 and 1871, it was the imaginary “Jewish influence” in the French Army general staff, and there was born 30 years of self-destructive anti-Semitism, culminating in the horrific Dreyfus case.
After the Germans lost the First World War, it was the “back-stabbers and profiteers” at home, on whose lives the National Socialists rose to prominence in the succeeding decades and whose accused membership eventually wound up in torture chambers and death camps.
And after the generation before ours, and leaders of both political parties, escalated and re-escalated and carpet-bombed and re-carpet-bombed Vietnam, it was the protest movement
and Jane Fonda and — as late as just three years ago — Sen. John Kerry who were assigned the kind of blame with which no rational human being could concur, and yet which still, across vast sections of our political landscape, resonates unchallenged and accepted.
And now Mr. Bush, you have picked out your own Jefferson Davis, your own Dreyfus, your own “profiteer” — your own scapegoat.
Not for the sake of this country.
Not for the sake of Iraq.
Not even for the sake of your own political party.
But for the sake of your own personal place in history.
But in reaching for that place, you have guaranteed yourself tonight not honor, but infamy.
In fact, you have condemned yourself to a place among that remarkably small group of Americans whom Americans cannot forgive: those who have sold this country out and who have willingly declared their enmity to the people at whose pleasure they supposedly serve.
A scapegoat, sir, might be forgivable, if you hadn’t just happened to choose a prospective presidential nominee of the opposition party.
And the accusation of spreading “enemy propaganda that the United States will abandon its allies in Iraq, much as we are perceived to have done in Vietnam, Lebanon and Somalia” might be some day atoned for, if we all didn’t know — you included, and your generals and the Iraqis — that we are leaving Iraq, and sooner rather than later, and we are doing it even if to do so requires, first, that you must be impeached and removed as president of the United States, sooner rather than later.
You have set this government at war against its own people and then blamed those very people when they say, “Enough.”
And thus it crystallizes, Mr. Bush.
When Civil War Gen. Ambrose Burnside ordered a disastrous attack on Fredericksburg in which 12,000 of his men were killed, he had to be physically restrained from leading the next charge himself.
After the First Lord of the British Admiralty, Winston Churchill, authored and enabled the disastrous Gallipoli campaign that saw a quarter-million Allied soldiers cut down in the First World War, Churchill resigned his office and took a commission as a front-line officer in the trenches of France.
Those are your new role models, Mr. Bush.
Let your minions try to spread the blame to the real patriots here, who have sought only to undo the horrors you have wrought since 2002.
Let them try it, until the end of time.
Though the words might be erased from a million books and a billion memories, though the world be covered knee-deep in your lies, the truth shall prevail.
This, sir, is your war.
Sen. Clinton has reinforced enemy propaganda? Made it impossible for you to get your ego-driven, blood-steeped win in Iraq?
Then take it into your own hands, Mr. Bush.
Go to Baghdad now and fulfill, finally, your military service obligations.
Go there and fight, your war. Yourself.
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