Saturday, September 15, 2007

Smoke and Mirrors

Have you ever wondered why Nancy Pelosi, when she began her new job as Speaker of the House, declared categorically and right off the bat, "Impeachment is off the table?" No explanation was offered, just a fiat. Well, I think I inadvertently stumbled on the peculiar conjunction that may just provide a reason for her reluctance to start any proceedings against Bush. Family connections! It was her daughter, Alexandra Pelosi, who made that documentary back in 2002, "Journeys with Bush," in which she traveled around on Air Force One and filmed multiple impromptu interviews and conversations with him. I haven't seen the movie, but I have ordered it from Netflix, if anyone is interested.

Meanwhile, the Prez, against all odds, has successfully done his smoke and mirrors act again. Pretend everything is going as planned. Admit nothing. As long as you say we're finally winning, you can begin to draw down troops; as long as you understand we're not leaving, you can bring (some) troops home. The real and tragically sad role of the military now in Iraq was concisely stated in one sentence by columnist Ellen Goodman in our local paper, the Roanoke Times, this week: the role of the military now in Iraq is to try and keep a lid on the terrible violence unleashed by our own invasion.

That the President continues to reject all calls to end the war is not surprising. He once told a group of Republican lawmakers (in late 2005) that he would not withdraw from Iraq even if his wife, Laura, and his dog, Barney, were the only ones still supporting him. So much for staying power, or for the power of staying. Even more disconcerting is the blue glow of confidence with which he states that our troops will be there long after he leaves office, and will extend way beyond his term. How does the oracle recommend that we respond to that?

Here is how George Packer responds, in his most recent essay on the war, entitled "Planning for Defeat," in this week's New Yorker (September 15th):

Packer claims that President Bush will have his victory at any cost, with one eye on his next Churchillian speech (promising freedom and delivering rubble) and the other on his place in history. The opposition meanwhile is eager to hang a defeat around his neck and move on. But here's the rub for the rest of us. Packer states that the problems created by the war are so enormous that their solutions cannot be undertaken by a single political party or president. Here are his cold particulars: the rise of Iranian power, the emergence of Al Qaeda in Iraq, the radicalization of populations, the huge refugee crisis, the damage to a new generation of Iraqis who are growing up amid the unimaginable. Packer concludes that, whatever we might like to do, there will be no turning our back on all of this in any foreseeable future.

Iraq has become a lightning rod from which no good can come. I am reminded of a famous comment made by Foreign Secretary Lord Grey in England, during World War I: "The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime." Meanwhile, my friend in Blacksburg, Bob Walker, wrote me this in an email:

"The slow erosion of morale at home, and certainly among the troops, will have consequences that few now foresee. We will wear ourselves out psychologically, at perhaps a faster rate than we are wearing down our military capability to wage anything but a war of utter destruction, as seems to be in the offing for Iran. In WWII, Japanese forces were committed to fight until victory or death. No rotations home for R&R. They fought for the duration, or until they died. We've slightly revised that policy now, allowing the troops a brief and tantalizing respite of "normal" life at home, before sending them back into the endless slog. Even if we were to declare victory and leave, the damage has been done at home as well as overseas. In the US, it will take generations to erase the physical trauma and the consequences of arrogance and deadly lies." I totally agree.

Virgil, my impenitently stylish alligator-muse, suggests that in times like these, we should anticipate the zoom and festoon the moment by lying on a bed of marigolds. Virgil, I should add, received two unexpected gifts this week. A male putto statue from his friend Kathy Pinkerton, who is holding an alligator in his arms and nuzzling it. And then he also got some note cards, with an image of a babushka'd girl driving an old-fashioned convertible motor car, with a back-seat passenger that appears to be a big bear looking out, ears akimbo in the wind. It took a few seconds before I noticed Virgil tangentially perched on the front hood, carrying a yellow parasol with red polka dots, held in the crook of his tail.

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