Saturday, September 15, 2007


And yes, it is I. Here I was, five miles from Washington, D.C., on a Saturday when tens of thousands were expected to march down Pennsylvania Avenue and protest the Iraq War. My daughters were going. The weather was perfect. I didn’t have any pressing obligations. And yet, I stayed home.

Believe me, folks, I’m not bragging about my decision. I had made the last four or five marches that I knew about and vowed to continue to march as long as this God-forsaken war continues. But something was different this time. And no, I’m not referring to the testimony of General Petraeus.

I could certainly make excuses. My second novel was accepted for publication a week ago, and I’ve been happily spending my free time giving the manuscript one more read. So, when I could have been marching, I was removing commas and catching awkward word choices. Then again, I’m sure the other apathetic people who missed today’s march had things to do as well. Maybe it was watching their kid’s soccer game. Or going to Skyline Drive and communing with nature. Maybe it was paying bills, or finishing up that last-minute legal brief. Surely, there are always things to do. More pressing things, more enjoyable things … But are there more important things? That’s the question I asked myself. In the past, the answer was always “no.” Now, I’m not so sure.

The real difference between this march and the earlier ones was in my level of cynicism -- cynicism about the American people, and cynicism about our leaders. In the past, I’ve always felt that if our nation blundered seriously enough, the people would rise up in protest, and our statesmen would ultimately listen to the protest and fix the mess. That seemed to be one of the lessons of Vietnam: in a functioning democracy, major government screw-ups result in louder and louder protests until finally, the protesters’ prayers are answered. We did, ultimately, leave Vietnam. And surely, we will, ultimately, leave Iraq. But will I ever be alive to see that happen?

OK. So that’s hyperbole. I plan to be around until at least 2040, and this war had better be long gone by then. Increasingly, though, I’m having difficulty imagining how that will happen. No matter how many awful things happen “on the ground” in Iraq, the discomfort on Elm Street U.S.A. seems to be relatively muted. We’ve reached the point where there’s pretty much nothing that anyone can do in Washington to shake people up in Peoria. Sure, thousands of Americans are dying. Sure, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis are dying. Sure, we’re going to be spending more than a trillion dollars building up the infrastructure of a country halfway across the world, only to see that infrastructure torn apart by the legions of insurgents who don’t believe we have a right to be there in the first place. And sure, few of us – certainly not I – have any clue why we ever threw the first punch.

But for whatever reason, people don’t seem to care. At least that was the lesson that I took from the several peace marches I attended since the war began. For every war opponent who took to the streets, there were numerous others who were watching their kid’s soccer game, going to Skyline drive, paying bills, or whatever else they thought was in their own very narrowly defined self interest.

So yes, I had come to grips with societal apathy and the realization that the Vietnam War era was long, long gone. Yet I still protested. Until today. That’s because my newest batch of cynicism was directed not to the protesters but to the very idea that any of our politicians give a damn about what the protesters, even if there were any, have to say.

The latest circus, Cirque de Petraeus, would almost be funny if it weren’t so tragic. Just as Colin Powell was once brought on to sell the war itself to a clueless nation, now we bring on this other General to sell the surge. The pitch is amazing for its chutzpah. No, we’re not achieving all sorts of benchmarks that we set for ourselves, Petraeus admits, but that shouldn’t stop us from surging today, surging tomorrow, and surging for another nine or ten months. Then, next summer, a few months before the next election, we can stop the surge and go back to the blissful place we were at before the surge began – our equilibrium state -- when a mere 140,000 or so American troops will be patrolling our adopted nation of Iraq. Heck, those of you Pollyannas out there who want some really good news should take heart at the Secretary of Defense’s statement that, hopefully, we can cut troops to a mere 100,000 by the end of 2008. At that point, most likely, it will be some Democrat’s problem to reduce the number closer to zero. But does anyone really have confidence that this will happen? Will Hillary make it happen? Will she be willing to suffer the consequences to her reputation of all the awful reports that will come from the Middle East when America ultimately admits defeat and goes home?

When the Democrats won the election of 2006 based in large part on an anti-war platform, I truly believed that they would take some dramatic steps in favor of peace. Talk about being a Pollyanna. I should have remembered that the majority of Democrats in the Senate authorized our President to fight this war, and literally every member of that Senate who is now running for President – Dodd, Biden, Clinton and Edwards (not to mention the Democrats’ last nightmare, John “Swift Boat Me, See if I Care” Kerry) – hadn’t the guts to just say no to insanity. If they hadn’t the guts in 2002, why should we think they’ll have any guts today? I guess we shouldn’t.

Hillary loves to pass the buck to George Bush, as if he alone is responsible for this war. But believe me, she is also responsible – for not reading the intelligence reports before she voted to authorize the war, for being an outspoken cheerleader of the war at the time our mission was being “accomplished,” and later for funding the war even after it turned into an unmitigated disaster. Hillary, though, has been hardly alone in supporting this battle royale. Now that the Democrats are in the majority, they could stop it if they wanted to; they simply don’t want to. Nobody wants to be blamed for losing.

Think about it: Americans cheat, Americans steal, Americans kill, Americans colonize, Americans enslave … You name it; we do it – except for lose. We are, after all, God’s chosen people.

Before today, I could get on my high horse and blame everyone else for this war. But now I, too, am responsible. I apparently had “better things to do” than join with others and cry for an end to the madness. But at least I can assure you that I won’t blame all my cynicism and apathy on George Bush or Hillary Clinton. The fault is primarily my own. Especially during the High Holidays, there’s no excuse for cynicism or apathy.

For the last several months, a conservative friend of mine at work has been voicing a new mantra: “Give war a chance.” He still thinks the surge is working and that the war is winnable, if only our nation keeps its resolve. He intends to vote Republican in 2008 so that we can have a President who will stay the course and finish what President Bush has started. I’m not likely to follow suit, but I have to say – if the Democrats are going to keep funding this wild and crazy adventure, then why not vote for the GOP? After all, if we must have war, we might as well, as Hillary would say, be “in it to win it.”

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