"No one can acquire honor by doing what is wrong."
- Thomas Jefferson
As the trumpets were blaring and the guns were sounding, I watched Donald Rumsfeld and President Bush on television and wondered anew, "What kind of men are these?" Surely, they must be among the first Americans to be almost devoid of conscience. Rumsfeld, his chest protruding beneath the waving American colors, appeared as oblivious as he has always been of his own failings. This was a moment of pride for both the president and the former defense secretary; the deceptive Mr. Bush was preening and parading with the incompetent Mr. Rumsfeld.
Did either of them entertain a solitary thought of the lost boys and girls of America whose devotion and service was wasted on lies and political utility? Did they ponder for a moment the billions of dollars they have expended to destroy another country when it could have been used to provide health care to the American poor or fight AIDS or cancer? President Bush said a few days later that "he sleeps a lot better than you might suppose." That he can sleep at all must be a kind of phenomenon prompted by a total absence of cognitive thought.
Can he not hear the ghosts of those who have fallen needlessly or the sounds of democracy's scholars and historians crying over the body of our Constitution? I suppose he sees only glory, hears the martial beat of the drums, and feels the thunder and power of the gun ships and the rockets that he has never had to fear. I wonder how Bush and Rumsfeld look into the mirror in the morning and so I am astonished that they can walk before our men and women in uniform and claim an honor they have not earned.
"What kind of men are these?"
Rumsfeld got it all wrong and still thinks that's all right. He went to war with the army he had and then did not take responsibility for the horror they got. He was a partner in corporate America's giant profits off of the war and it did not bother him as small towns had to take up donations to buy bulletproof vests for their children at war. Rumsfeld sent in his army "light and fast" against an enemy even novices knew was going to be slow and asymmetrical. American troops were scavenging in junk yards for scrap metal to armor-up their Humvees while Rumsfeld assured the president freedom was on the march. Instead, it was stumbling into a hopeless abyss.
We now need peacemakers; not more warriors. Yet John McCain comes to us and says the answer is more soldiers, which only means more death. General William Westmoreland consistently was able to convince Lyndon Johnson more troops were the answer to an asymmetrical enemy in Vietnam. But they never were. They were only more kids that did not need to die. Iraq is Vietnam without the trees.
McCain served our country with honor but he is slowly sacrificing it for his craven political ambitions. In South Carolina in 2000, from backstage I watched him stand and confront George W. Bush about the nasty attacks on McCain's mental health, his time in the service, and his personal life. Bush explained it all away with the flip, "It's just politics, John." Eventually, McCain was out on the trail with the man who had lied about his character and his honorable service to America; a man who had found a way to avoid the danger of the combat that had turned McCain into a prisoner of war. How could McCain support such a man?
McCain was being expedient; he needed the party infrastructure if he was to run for president and succeed Bush and he could not get its support if he were honest and criticized Bush. And now as McCain chases down the radical right ideologues who elected Bush and that most of America just spurned in the mid-term elections, he is also calling for more war and saying it will eventually lead to less dying. Nothing is as sad as a man who once had honor and principle and has given them up in order to fulfill his ambitions.
Colin Powell, though, is the most tragic of all figures in the Bush death opera. Powell had mostly covered himself in glory with his service to his country and spoke the truth as though it were always more important than his own self-interest. Then he went before the United Nations and lent his credibility to the smoke machine being powered by the Bush administration. Powell pushed back some because he knew what he was being asked to tell the world was tenuous information, far from fact. He was as aware as anyone in the military and intelligence community that there were probably no mobile biological labs and that those aluminum tubes were just rocket bodies headed for a warehouse in Tikrit where the fins and motors and nose cones were waiting.
Had he not served his country so long and so well, Powell would be worthy of our scorn. Perhaps, he still is. Sure, he was just being a good soldier. But maybe he was being too good. He is, at last, trying to salvage his honor and do some good by finally being honest about the war that cannot be won. But he is too late. He had a chance to be a man of great principle and defy his president and resign in protest and the war would have been harder to wage without Powell's endorsement of its fundamental lies.
His commander, of course, was the worse. Whenever George W. Bush has had a chance to act on principle and honorably, he has chosen the politically expedient course. While his then congressman father promoted the War in Vietnam for the sons of others, his own son was finding a safe spot in an Air Guard unit in Houston. Dealing with Saddam Hussein, our president had a chance to do what is right and honest but he changed the truth and blamed others so that he might have an excuse to work out his psychological yearnings over his own father and their innate competitiveness. Daddy had an oil company; W. drilled dry holes. Daddy played varsity baseball at Yale; W. became a general manager of a baseball team. Daddy ran for congress, W. ran for governor. Daddy got elected president; W. got reelected president. Daddy chased Saddam out of Kuwait; W. ran him down in Baghdad and today shows the former dictator's pistol to close friends visiting the Oval Office. We are all victims of the Bush family's tortured psychology and the people like Rumsfeld, Powell, and McCain who have been drawn into their dark inner circle.
"What kind of men are these?"