Notes on the Big Dumb
In the fall, the war was still there, but we did not go to it anymore.
-- Ernest Hemingway, "In Another Country"
Autumn is nearly upon us now. Down here in South Florida, it's almost impossible to tell from the weather. Each day is a sweaty, messy struggle filled with the whines of blood-sucking mosquitos and the shouts of Haitian cabbies and cracked roads only slightly less traffic-filled than in season, when the Creole of the Haitians mixes with the French of the Canadian snowbirds, and none of them can quite recall what drove them to come here in the first place.
But autumn is nevertheless on its way. Football is finally back on the television, which is certainly one of the first indicators. In a few weeks, General Petraeus will come before Congress and, if early reports that the White House itself will write his words are any indication, will tell our congresspeople that the war is progressing nicely. Sure, there's problems, but they'll all be overcome with another surge or three. Nothing that anyone outside the military needs to worry about.
Of course, we all know that's not true. Very few people take the White House seriously anymore, and after going through generals as though they were Kleenex, it's pretty obvious that the man they finally ended up with was not necessarily the best man for the job, or the brightest. Just the one willing to say the right things.
What is left of the Iraq War, the historic debacle that I have come to call The Big Dumb? General Peter Pace, the chairman of the joint chiefs, intends to call for withdrawing half of our troops from Iraq. This will doubtless be greeted poorly in the West Wing, and Karl Rove is no longer around to properly spin the news.
But Pace's point is that the military simply cannot keep up with the demand, which has been apparently to all but the most obtuse observers for quite some time now. I'm actually rather amazed that none of the Democratic presidential contenders has drawn the distinction that we either need to end the war or start a draft, a notion that would likely get a few more people on the right side of history.
Because at this point, history is all it comes down to. Even Bush has nothing anymore except for bizarre, convoluted comparisons to Vietnam. At least we now know where the president stands -- he wants a war lasting more than a decade and costing at least 50,000 American lives. And even after all that, he doesn't want us to leave.
No, history will not be kind to Bush, or to The Big Dumb. Of course, our president is right to compare Iraq to Vietnam, just not in the way he did. In reality, the apt comparison is that wasting the lives of our family and friends a half a world away for reasons that are never properly explained is never a good thing. Vietnam ended before I was born, but as a student of history, even I am smart enough to take that lesson from America's adventure in Indochina.
Which makes me quite a bit smarter than our president, I suppose, but that's hardly comforting. Perhaps the lesson America will take away from these times is this -- who we elect as president should be decided on something more than whoever makes us feel good. The president should be the best among us, not someone who reminds us of Norm from Cheers, only a little meaner and stupider. Because autumn is coming, and Iraq has shown us what happens when we make the same mistake twice.