Thursday, April 3, 2008

A Shout from Copenhagen: Hillary vs. Obama. Why do we forget?

Listen: this is what I remember, the best of my recollection. My country, the United States of America, which I love, invaded Iraq in March 2003 on the basis of a congressional vote that took place in October 2002. We did so because we were hurt and angry. Our hurt and anger were understandable – a bunch of ugly-minded, twisted fanatics attacked the United States, using civilian human beings as weapons against other civilian human beings and succeeded, inter alia, in destroying the twin towers in Manhattan, killing some 3,000 Americans.

Consequently, in October 2001, we invaded Afghanistan to take out Bin Laden and smash his organization; we have now been there for 6½ years, trying to do that. Then, one year later, in October 2002, we turned our eyes on Iraq – and not long ago began muttering about Iran, too.

But in October 2002, the leaders of the United States decided that Iraq was also a threat, secretly manufacturing weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). The United Nations, about which there are understandably mixed feelings but which I believe is an essential organization, favored diplomatic measures and economic pressure to deal with this, but the US leadership, on whatever grounds and for whatever reasons, decided that this was not enough. One of our potentially great men, General Colin Powell, was sent to the UN to assure the assembly of the truth of what many many people around the world, myself included, strongly suspected to be untrue and perhaps a willful lie: that Saddam Hussein was manufacturing WMDs. Everyone agreed that Saddam Hussein was an evil despot, but there are many evil despots in this world, and being an evil despot is not synonymous with manufacturing WMDs. Furthermore, at various times, we befriend and support evil despots when it suits our purposes.

It was my distinct impression that Colin Powell was one of the few at least partially honorable persons in the US administration at that time – Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and a few others seemed to me to be cynical, rich, opportunistic, hypocritical people who had control of the most powerful country in the world, though they had achieved that control by the narrowest of electoral margins (and even that might be a hyperbole). It is my distinct impression that these three leaders either intentionally fostered an untruth about the Iraqi WMDs or were deceived themselves about this alleged weapon manufactory. What this seems to indicate to me is that either they are dupes or they are liars; whichever it is, they are not fit to govern. (Thank god, Rumsfeld no longer is governing. He is gone. But torture is still with us as is the other damage he assisted in causing.)

On behalf of these leaders, Colin Powell was sent to the UN to tell them that the Iraqi WMDs did exist and that the world was in danger. Either he was duped or pressured into doing so or he was consciously lying. Again, either way he proved himself unfit to carry what seemed to be his considerable potential as a statesman (and I say this as a Democrat about a Republican) forward on behalf of our country.

Most of the UN did not buy General Powell’s story (most notably France, against whose disagreement we expressed our rath by renaming French fries as Freedom Fries and French toast as Freedom Toast in the US congressional dining rooms) but a few did. Tony Blair (a labor PM whose election I myself had cheered not so long before) placed the UK in the coalition of nations that attacked Iraq. A few other great though small European nations joined that coalition, too – including, it breaks my heart to say, my adopted nation of Denmark. So both my home country and my adopted one (I am a citizen of the US and a resident of Denmark) attacked Iraq along with the UK and a small following of other countries to stop Iraq from producing WMDs, the existence of which many people seriously doubted and which, indeed, today, five years later, still have not been found. Safe to say they do not and never did exist? But of course we quickly forgot that we had gone into Iraq to stop the manufacture of WMDs; when we didn’t find those weapons, the focus began subtly to shift – we had ousted an evil despot. What could be wrong with that? Mission accomplished!

The attack on Iraq began in March 2003. The congressional vote that made possible that attack took place in October 2002. In the US about 77% of the Senate voted to allow the invasion (and in the House the relevant resolution, Joint Resolution 114, passed by 296 to 133). Among that 77% of Senators was Hillary Clinton; among the 23% opposed was Senator Ted Kennedy. Ted Kennedy has endorsed Obama as our next president. Though only a candidate for the US Senate at the time of the vote on Joint Resolution 114, Obama spoke out firmly against the Iraq invasion, predicting that it would result in the terrible situation in which we currently find ourselves, five years after the invasion and four years after George Bush pronounced it, “Mission accomplished!” parading as a victorious warrior in a phony flak suit on the deck of a ship in the San Diego harbor, many thousands of miles away from the action.

Numerous people at the time of the 2002 debates and since then proclaimed, in contradiction of those who warned that we were getting ourselves into another Vietnam, “This is not Vietnam!” Many who came of age in the 1960s, including myself, said, “This is exactly Vietnam. And we will get stuck right in the middle of the Big Muddy again with the damn fool saying go on!”

But the people who “understand these things” and had the power to decide emphasized that this was not Vietnam, and they prevailed.

But of course it was. We are still there and it gets worse and worse and people are still dying. And finally George Bush decided to pronounce that this was indeed Vietnam. But weirdly, he said that that was why we should not pull out and why we should send in more troops and spend more money on killing and getting killed. Which to my mind is either mad logic or overwhelming arrogance, perhaps both.

Let’s go to the economic questions, the big and the broad ones. Not long before the vote to attack Iraq, there were also murmurs that it would be good for the economy – which at that time had been left in an extremely healthy state by the previous president, Bill Clinton. We had billions of dollars in surplus – dollars which could have been used to build up the American health care system, the educational system, the welfare systems... Now, a few years later, we are billions of dollars in deficit – billions that were spent on war and destruction and on fattening the pockets of the elite rich.

Let’s go back to the vote in October 2002. Hillary – a woman for whom I previously had tremendous admiration and respect – voted yes. Maybe she wanted to prove she had the balls to do so. And she stuck to that decision, for a long time, playing tough girl. I seem to remember a journalist asking her, What if we wind up getting mired in a war in Iraq that we lose like we lost in Vietnam. She smiled condescendingly and said, “Not gonna happen.”

Obama at that time said no. And he predicted that what would happen is in fact that which did happen. Death, destruction, waste, and international shame. He saw it coming. At the time of George W’s daddy’s Gulf War, even Republicans like Cheney were predicting it would be a very bad idea to take the war further into Iraq. That first Gulf War, too, to the best of my recollection, resulted largely from American diplomatic fumbling that no one talks about anymore. A deputy ambassador indicated to the Iraqi foreign minister that the US would do nothing if Iraq invaded Kuwait. So Iraq invaded Kuwait, and George Bush’s daddy got a chance to prove he was not a wimp by kicking ass. That, too, seems to have been forgotten.

Because Obama spoke out against Iraq at a time when it was not popular to do so seems to me to indicate that he had not forgotten. And quite simply that is why I voted for him in the primary and why I am going to vote for him in the election.

We need someone who had the guts to say no at a time when people were afraid not to say yes – and who did it on the basis of a clear vision which has proven itself to have been accurate.

It has often been said that those who do not remember history are doomed to repeat it –and that even those who do remember history might be doomed to repeat it, too. Let’s hold tight to our memories of what has happened over the past few years and do what we can to reverse this terrible situation we are in now.

Let’s give Obama a chance to find a new path for us out of this mess.

Greetings from this ancient capital!
Thomas E. Kennedy

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