I woke up this morning thinking of an old friend, John, who is no longer a friend. The parting of our ways was acrimonious, with his last message including a warning that should I ever come to his door, I would be met with a gun in my face. Today, I see a commentary by Bob Ray Sanders. Towards the end, he writes,
I’ve been saying this for months, although I’ve held little hope that things would change for the better.
The echoes and visions of the past simply will not go away.
Unmasked and undaunted, it seems the disgruntled masses will not relent as they encourage each other to remain not just angry, but bitter.
Sanders is writing about the Tea Party and how the strife today resembles that of the Civil Rights era. John and I parted over the invasion of Iraq. I was convinced that it would be a disaster, that we would kill lots of people for no good reason. Indeed, thinking of this reminds me that even then it was apparent that the Bush administration rationale was, at best, weak. And indeed it has turned out poorly. Tom Engelhardt writes,
Like Afghanistan before it, Iraq is now largely the “forgotten” war, and if this is “victory,” then here’s a little of what’s been forgotten in the process, of what Friedman suggests he’d prefer to leave future historians to sort out: that the American invasion led to possibly hundreds of thousands of Iraqi deaths; that literally millions of Iraqis had to flee into exile abroad and millions more were turned into internal refugees in their own country; that the national capital, Baghdad, was significantly ethnically cleansed in a brutal Shiite-Sunni civil conflict; that the country was littered with new “killing fields”; that a devastating insurgency roiled the land and still brings enough death and terror to Baghdad to make it one of the more dangerous places on the planet; that a soaring unemployment rate and the lack of delivery of the most basic services, including reliable electricity and potable water, created nightmarish conditions for a vast class of impoverished Iraqis; that the U.S., for all its nation-building boasts, proved remarkably incapable of “reconstructing” the country or its oil industry, even though American private contractors profited enormously from work on both; that a full-scale foreign military occupation left Americans on almost 300 bases nationwide and in the largest embassy on the planet; that American advisors remain attached to, and deeply embedded in, an Iraqi military that still lacks a credible air force and is unlikely to be able to operate and resupply itself on its own for years to come.
In fact, well over a million Iraqis are dead. And in a moment of apparent fury at post-election maneuvering there, Juan Cole wrote,
But if he who lives by the sword, dies by the sword, it can be no surprise that violence has come home, not merely in broken warriors but in the appalling scenes that Sanders describes. (UPDATE: According to the Veterans for Common Sense, based on a Freedom of Information Act response, over 442,000 disability claims have been filed by Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans, over 240,000 such veterans have been treated for mental health issues, and over 140,000 have been treated for post-traumatic stress disorder.)
Way to go, John, my old ex-friend. Not only did you advocate destroying a country and killing so many on dubious grounds, but in your zeal to affirm the United States’ position on top of the dung heap (your language was a little more colorful), you have instead exposed its weakness. A court in Britain has ruled that evidence of official complicity in torture–which the U.S. wanted kept secret–must now be revealed. The Netherlands has rebuffed a U.S. appeal even to keep its present troops in Afghanistan. Iran dismisses U.S. threats over its nuclear program. (UPDATE: Cole writes of potential sanctions against Iran, “Iran sanctions are in any case merely symbolic. The regime cannot be forced to change course in this way. Indeed, this regime likes being isolated.”) And the crusade in Afghanistan and Iraq only gets wider, involving ever more countries. These are not the signs of a dominant power, but of a country whose imperial ambitions have exceeded its reach–what scholars in the field refer to as overstretch.
At home, the economy is so broken that the government relies on temporary and part-time Census Bureau jobs to minimize unemployment numbers while the Bureau itself is hiring from the vast pool of overqualified and unemployed. The anti-government Tea Party that Sanders deplores draws its strength from the unemployed working class–and no wonder, for all the good that the government does them. For all the shenanigans, Gallup still shows an underemployment rate at 20.4 percent. (UPDATE: ADP reports that private sector employers shed 23,000 jobs in March.
John, the United States now rests not at the top of the dung heap, but at the bottom of an overflowing latrine pit. I hope you’re satisfied.