Thursday, March 23, 2006

Bearing The Costs Of War

There are at least a million ways in which the reality of war and the conservative fantasy of war are nothing alike. Here is one of the worst, from Time via Adventus:

But the details of what happened that morning in Haditha are more disturbing, disputed and horrific than the military initially reported. According to eyewitnesses and local officials interviewed over the past 10 weeks, the civilians who died in Haditha on Nov. 19 were killed not by a roadside bomb but by the Marines themselves, who went on a rampage in the village after the attack, killing 15 unarmed Iraqis in their homes, including seven women and three children. Human-rights activists say that if the accusations are true, the incident ranks as the worst case of deliberate killing of Iraqi civilians by U.S. service members since the war began.

Now, in fairness, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service is investigating the claims by the locals in Haditha to determine if the Marines are guilty of any wrong doing. The military, of course, makes the claim that the insurgents are responsible for the deaths, as it was they who put civilians in harms way. Fair enough; I'm not going to take a position one way or the other. I hate to think that our men and women in uniform could be guilty of something like this, but after Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, I'm not willing to take anything for granted anymore. I lay the blame squarely with George W. Bush, who launched this ill-conceived war, and Donald Rumsfeld, who has ineptly managed it.

As rmj at Adventus puts it so well: this is what life is like in a war zone. This is the high cost of war that is not being born by any but those sent to fight it and those forced to live through it. All of the inspirational stump speeches Bush can muster cannot change the reality of what's happening on the ground in Iraq. Every person dead, at our hands or at the hands of the insurgency, is one more person for whom the promise of freedom and democracy will never be fulfilled. Their blood is on all our hands.

A free, democratic society is a noble goal and one that I believe the U.S. should always support. But freedom has its costs and it wasn't Bush's place to demand the Iraqis pay it. Those 15 dead in Haditha have paid that cost, not by their own choosing, but because a political leader on the other side of the world felt they should. Those Marines involved have paid that cost as well, regardless of whether their actions were justified or not. They each have to live with their actions and continue bearing the burden of Bush's "Big Idea". If the accounts by the residents of Haditha are true, then these Marines should be brought to justice for what they've done. In any case, however, the responsibility for these deaths rests solely in the Oval Office.

War is expensive. It costs lives and bodies, blood and treasure. The invasion and occupation of Iraq has cost us our credibility in the world. It has cost us our security, as Iraq is now in truth the terrorist breeding ground Bush once warned about. It has cost us our military readiness, as our forces continue to be bogged down in yet another guerilla insurgency. But it has cost the Iraqi people so much more: their peace and prosperity, as they stare down the barrel of an expanding civil war. The cost of this war is so high, and yet so few are bearing it.

Talk, on the other hand, is cheap. And plentiful. It's all we get today from George W. Bush and Donald Rumsfeld. The same recycled empty platitudes, designed to inflame the passions of the "War is Strength" conservatives. Bush now admits that the war will go on beyond his Presidency, which we already knew but had never had confirmed. An old saying says that a political gaffe is when a politician accidentally tells the truth. Well, Bush committed a major gaffe yesterday, then. He finally admitted that his Presidency is done; he no longer has control of the Iraq situation, if he ever did. Now he looks to his successor, the next President. The one who will be forced to clean up the mess in Iraq and make the hard decisions that Bush will not.

That, ultimately, will be Bush's legacy: the All Talk President. The President who talked big and delivered little. A President who bought a big war and paid for it with the lives of other people's children. The Bush Era may have ended this week, but America and Iraq will be bearing the costs of the Bush presidency for many years to come.

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