Weird Little Gift for America

The autumn afternoons are ripe and warm; the mornings are heavy with dew that is not yet frost, but soon. It’s the annual nostalgia for the summer passed and anxiety for the winter to be endured. I was staring through the window at the blaze orange of a sugar maple the other day, caught up in the feeling of time passing and started thinking that it’s more than the summer of ‘07 that’s slipping away.

September 11, 2001 was the late summer day when everything changed, just a little. Since then we’ve started wars against two Muslim nations and now we’re contemplating a third. Weird thing is, most of us really don’t feel it. Some extra hassle at the airport, some extra buzz at the top of the evening news, occasionally a local kid gets killed overseas. There’s wiretapping and e-mail surveillance, but we don’t really notice those, do we?

Wednesday’s New York Times carried a story about George Bush’s new sanctions against Iran. Do you feel like you’re living in a nation that’s about to open a third front in a world war? I don’t. Much has been made of the fact that in the five years since the U.S. first started bombing Afghanistan; no real sacrifice has been asked of the majority of Americans. Sure, we’ve asked much – too much – from our military and reserve personnel, but even counting military families, it’s a sacrifice borne by two or three million people from a nation of 300 million.

For the rest of us, the request has been that we keep spending money, to keep the economy afloat. Mr. Bush has set the example here. The Congressional Budget Office this week estimated that the Afghanistan and Iraq wars will cost taxpayers $2.4 trillion in the next decade. (So you can see how that looks, it’s $2,400,000,000,000.00)

Now we’re going to attack Iran. Mr. Bush and his handlers know opposition to his first two wars is high, so he’s not rolling the Iran invasion out with all the bells and whistles of the Iraq invasion. Don’t expect to see him strutting around an aircraft carrier in a flight suit this time. He’s learned that much.

Last month, the Senate passed the Kyl-Lieberman Iran Amendment by a vote of 76-22. The amendment labels Iran’s Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist organization. That’s enough of a blank check for George Bush and Dick Cheney to go to war, because in the ten months since they’ve taken control of Congress, Democrats have shown they will not stand up to Mr. Bush when he exceeds his authority.

Iran is not Iraq. The two nations fought an eight-year war in the 1980s. In that war, Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons and other high-tech gear supplied by the U.S. Iran’s weapon was the human wave. Not the one seen at college football games, but thousands of soldiers rushing at the enemies lines, some of whom didn’t even have guns. They were promised paradise and while high–tech gear versus human wave sounds like a slam dunk, the war was a draw.

The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have left the U.S. military a “broken force” in the eyes of military professionals and Mr. Bush now wants our troops to face the human wave. Not to worry, the neocons argue. We’ll bomb them a bit and the Iranian people will rise up and overthrow their government. It was the U.S.-backed overthrow of an Iranian government in the 1950s that started so much of this Middle East mess in the first place. Americans may have forgotten that, the Iranians have not.

News cameras brought the horror of the Vietnam war in to Americans’ living rooms and helped turn public opinion against that war. The lesson the Bush administration took from that is to question the patriotism of any news organization whose reports differ from the party line. The American people, sensing that they’re not getting the real story are bored rather than horrified and instead of protesting, they take Mr. Bush’s advice and shop. (The business pages report that since the housing bubble’s burst and people can no longer borrow against the inflated price of their homes, they’re borrowing from their 401k accounts. Good luck paying off $2.4 trillion in war debt while you pay for mom and dad’s retirement, kids.)

America’s summer ended six years ago. On September 12, 2001, we should have been asked to take on the sacrifices that a sane response to terrorist attacks would have required. Instead, we were told to sit back and spend, because the Bush/Cheney cynicism cuts so deep they knew that sacrifice on our part would have demanded accountability on their part. George Bush’s weird little gift to America has been to lull us to sleep when we should have been working. Get ready for the rude awakening.

© Mark Floegel 2007

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