You do remember Dick Cheney shot a dude in the face, right?
—Someone, this weekend
I SWORE I WOULDN’T write about Iraq again. Not local enough. Not enough Savannah in it.
But then again... Iraq and what’s going on there now is in many ways a very local story, given the number of local servicemen and women who were shipped over there, how many local families were impacted forever by the war, and now the possibility that it all could be starting over again.
Strangely enough, until someone reminded me, I’d completely forgotten about the bizarre episode in which the former vice president—now all over the airwaves, again—shot his friend in the face on a hunting trip, after which the friend apologized to him for getting shot.
But Dick Cheney’s lapse in firearm safety is a perfect microcosm of how the Bush administration’s arrogance and recklessness affected so many lives, and how the rest of the world is expected to be humbly grateful for the experience, even today.
In its oddity, the shotgun incident was also of a piece with the frankly hallucinatory statements by the Bush/Cheney administration about Iraq:
“There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction.”
“We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.”
“We will, in fact, be greeted as liberators.”
“We also know there are known unknowns.”
“We’re gonna smoke ‘em out.”
“Bring ‘em on.”
And the one statement that made sense, by Colin Powell: “You break it, you own it.”
Looking back, the mass delusion is painfully obvious, as if you’re listening to people under the influence of hardcore drugs.
But at the time, Bush, Cheney, Condoleeza Rice, Don Rumsfeld, Powell, et al, were considered the most serious and reflective people in America. In the world, even.
Can you imagine? That’s how sick it all was.
And that’s how sick it makes me feel today, seeing the catastrophic mess now blowing up in Iraq, an unholy conflagration that only every single opponent of the war warned in graphic detail was almost certain to happen if the U.S. invaded.
9/11 was obviously a severely traumatic event, but also had the effect of uniting Americans in tragedy and in resilience. Iraq, by contrast, wasn’t about America vs. the enemy, but American vs. American.
In late 2002-early 2003, the question wasn’t so much “do you support America?” as “do you support the president?”
It seems so strange now, in the waning days of Barack Obama’s second term, but in 2003, if you were against George W. Bush you were said to be against America itself.
At no other point, not even with Obamacare, can I remember such a far-reaching American policy decision being based explicitly on your degree of loyalty not to the nation, but to a particular person.
I don’t claim to have suffered even a hundredth of one percent as much as those who made actual, real sacrifices to serve this country’s misguided invasion of Iraq. But the run-up to the war was a trying time to be in the truth-telling business.
Journalists rarely suffer even a thousandth as much as those actually fighting, but there were casualties, both professional and literal. They’re all case studies:
Peter Arnett, fired for daring to say Iraqi resistance was “effective”;
Phil Donahue, his show cancelled because he had the temerity to book effective and articulate anti-war guests while the administration was pushing the case for war;
Ashleigh Banfield, blackballed from her career because she questioned the official policy of “embedding” reporters;
And of course, journalists like David Bloom and Mazen Dana, who gave their lives covering the carnage (the latter shot dead by a U.S. soldier who mistook his camera for a rocket-propelled grenade launcher).
I say this not to make you feel sorry for journalists, but to point out the repressive climate of censorship that existed not only because of the war, but which also enabled the war to happen.
It’s a lesson to remember for the future.
As is usually the case, no good deed goes unpunished, and being right will have to be its own reward. Being 100 percent correct about Iraq in 2003 along with three bucks will get you a tasty iced cold-brew coffee at Foxy Loxy.
In the news business, what’s important is right now. And right now, seeing Dick Cheney’s smug mug on TV, still sure he was right all along, still implying that his critics support terrorism, still blaming the inheritor of his mess, Obama, for said mess, is nothing short of enraging.
Seeing Cheney and his vampirish coterie of true believers saturating the media landscape, as they did in 2003, brings back the dread I felt a decade ago as their vision inexorably became reality, step by step, from conservative think-tank to the floor of the UN to the wrecked neighborhoods of Baghdad to the despairing hallways of U.S. military hospitals and VA clinics.
It brings back the sense of horror and yes, shame, the night of March 19, 2003, when CNN’s “embedded” reporters breathlessly hyped the phenomenon of “Shock and Awe.”
America’s opening attack was, we were assured, spearheaded by “smart bombs,” which in their laser-guided wisdom knew the difference between an Iraqi soldier and a four-year-old child.
Having studied a bit of military history, I knew well what was really meant by Shock and Awe. In previous wars it was more accurately called “carpet bombing.”
Shock and Awe was just another euphemism for killing civilians, for blowing up entire city blocks full of sleeping men, women and children. Same as it ever was.
Seeing Cheney on the news shows brought back other memories, of later in the war, of waking up to the news of yet more U.S. soldiers killed or injured by an “IED,” Improvised Explosive Device.
Another euphemism, that one for a bomb that blows your legs off and burns away all your skin. Same as it ever was.
But as disturbing as it is to see him haunt us again, by reappearing Dick Cheney is probably doing us all a favor.
He’s reminding us that... well, let’s just say, reminding us that he once shot his friend in the face.