BY JOHN TULLY
THE LOS ANGELES SUN
JUNE 1 2004
The Today Show, America’s number one source for morning infotainment seemed almost obsessed by two stories in the Fall of Two-Thousand Two. Elizabeth Smart, a young girl from Utah had been abducted from her home by a man at gunpoint that summer and it continued to be a big story. In October, seemingly random citizens of the Washington D.C. metropolitan area were being gunned down by a mysterious shooter.
Katie and Matt stoically opened the show almost every morning with these two stories.
At the same time, a war in Iraq was looming and the shadow of a vote in Congress giving the President authorization to use military force was creeping forward. The vote was even more crucial because the midterm elections were just ahead in November and the GOP was playing the Patriot card like the pros they are.
The Bush administration had strolled into power promising anyone within earshot that they would be exactly the opposite of everything the Clinton administration was and added that the “W” missing from some computer keyboards was not funny.
They vowed to be different from President Clinton: different on the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, and a plan of disengagement was put in place as a way to “back off” and let the two sides work it out for a while.
Mr. Clinton had “coddled” North Korea they said, and now the Bush White House was going to get tough. Moscow and Beijing would know who the new boss was with the plan going forward to build a missile defense shield.
Throw out Kyoto because it’s bad for business and bad for America, and by the way, tell the domestic bad guys that John Ashcroft was putting law and order back into the Justice Department where it belonged.
Presidential transition teams notwithstanding, the grownups were now in charge, and in the first nine months of this new administration they made that fact perfectly clear.
Then the whole world watched in horror as airplanes struck New York, D.C. and Pennsylvania.
This was truly a call to leadership for Mr. Bush.
But perhaps as a sign of things to come, his initial statements thereafter and his address in the pit at Ground Zero on a bullhorn was almost universally praised by the mainstream media though neither speech had much substance or style. Various pundits declared that simply “everything had changed.”
The rest is history.
Two wars, three tax cuts, and the whole world is watching in horror. Sixty miles outside of Kabul, Afghanistan the Taliban have taken over again. Opium production has tripled by some accounts, sure to sweep obscene amounts of heroin into Europe this year. The same conditions that led the country to harbor Al-Qaeda before that war are present once again and we have too few troops there to do the job.
Iraq and Afghanistan have taken close to a thousand lives and wounded at least five-thousand troops. There have been over thirteen-thousand medi-vacs or medical evacuations-mostly American forces. The Bush administration, while publically trying to form a coalition of countries willing to put boots on the ground in Iraq for violations of the United Nations Security Council resolution 1441, had privately trashed that very same U.N. as “irrelevant” at every opportunity.
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld scoffed and sneered his way through press conferences, dismissively declaring that he knew where the Weapons of Mass Destruction were, and did we mention that the U.N. is irrelevant? And FRANCE.
The CIA, DIA, FBI, independent intelligence, Congressman Jim McDermott, The Dixie Chicks and The Pope all expressed concern about the attack on Iraq but the administration pooh-poohed all dissent. While Prime Minister Tony Blair was getting absolutely grilled by the House of Commons, the U.S. Congress was eerily silent and on the first day of the War on Iraq Kent Conrad seemed to be all alone on the Senate floor as he lamented the lack of even a basic budget for the conflict and it’s aftermath.
There was a complete breakdown of even basic diplomacy shown by President Bush, failing to privately convince skeptical nations to join him in the fight as his father had done in the first Gulf War and using words like “crusade” “bring ’em on” and “axis of evil” to further alienate the Muslim world.
The mealy-mouthed-chicken-hawk-think tankers in Northwest D.C. kept the pot stirring as well with talks of regime change, disarmament and virtual screaming about resolution 1441. Despite the evidence of dissipating mustard and sarin gas over the last ten years in Iraq, continued flyovers, sanctions and inspections, we were told there may be nuclear program-related activities; the ultimate McGuffin of the war debate. While the term imminent threat was never officially used, the talk of a nuke mushroom cloud not being our smoking gun got the point across stoutly. Throw in chatter about forty-five minute deployment and unmanned aerial vehicles and the cake was baked.
The military and diplomatic tracks never intersected. Spring came around, and the U.S. demanded that Saddam destroy his conventional Al -Samoud missiles even while almost 100,000 troops were amassed on Iraq’s border and CNN was reporting that the first attack was only days away. “Might as well go in now that we’ve gone in” was all the noise that week.
President Bush of course had the complete support of Congress to go right ahead in, and everyone north of MacArthur Boulevard knew he didn’t really have to go back for more approval. That crucial vote in Congress, that blank check, is now brought up whenever there is criticism of the war and rightly so. Because not one of these Senators or Congressmen were really pressed by the Press on this vote, they showed no guts in standing up to the march to Baghdad. Perhaps if the morning shows and popular media had pumped up the voting issue and specific plans for post-war Iraq like the Laci Peterson/MichaelJackson/Elizabeth Smart/Sniper stories with full saturation coverage a real debate would have resulted.
We’ll never know.
In the middle of a War on Terrorism The United States Of America invaded a sovereign Muslim nation of twenty-five million people. Because there were no real plans for the occupation, and no substantive debate about it, we’ve got eighteen year-olds from Cedar Rapids, Iowa negotiating foreign policy on the streets of Fallujah.
This arrogant smug administration has made our country less safe. We’ve lost credibility and our moral standing in the world. Most importantly there can be no doubt that this invasion has created more terrorists that hate America.