Thursday, September 23, 2004

Joining the Campaign Trail

In what could easily be mistaken for a campaigning running mate, Ayad Allawi the "independent" acting prime minister of Iraq blew into town.  Listening to his carefully nuanced pronouncements, one could not help being stuck by their verbal consistency with the Bush campaign rhetoric.  This was especially evident in an interview given to PBS's Jim Lehrer last evening.  Echoing language used by Bush, Allawi kept on referring to those opposing our occupation, and consequentially his rule, as terrorists.  When asked how many Iraqi's had been killed along with more the now 1037 US service women and men, he responded that about 3,700 civilians had been killed by the terrorists.  Of course that number does not include civilian losses during the heavy bombing of the days prior to "mission accomplished."  But Allawi went further in claiming that rather than a fight against insurgency, this was a battle against terrorism on behalf of the entire world.  After all, Saddam, he suggested as if it were an absolute fact, worked hand in glove with the terrorists who perpetrated 9/11.  I guess the 9/11 Commission which came to just the opposite conclusion should have interviewed him more carefully.  I wish Jim Lehrer had challenged on those self serving, but hardly self evident, allegations, but that's another subject.

There is no doubt that brutal acts of terrorism are being carried out in Iraq and, of course other places.  There is equally no question that all, and perhaps most, of the hostilities should not be described as such.  When people resisting occupation blow up tanks and Humvees these may be lethal acts of rebellion, but it's not the same as a suicide bombing or kidnapping of innocent civilians.  Donald Rumsfeld likes to remind us that war is messy and it sure is.  Part of the way we get clarity is to distinguish between horrible hostile acts, a painful but important process.  Picking and choosing descriptors is complicated.  Are individuals lining up to join the army or police force potential combatants or civilians?  Perhaps both, but trying to thwart the buildup of opposing forces, no matter how we may feel about their potential mission or how awful it is, can't simply be labeled another act of terrorism.  For a segment of the Iraqi community the mission accomplished is simply not acceptable and that includes people who were not the Saddam regime.

There is another dimension to this renewed emphasis on terrorism as the central player in Iraq, one that goes beyond the renewed implied connection with 9/11.  This one has a moral component and a very disturbing one.  It appears that the Administration is now acknowledging that terrorists, not previously there, were drawn to Iraq in the Post-Saddam era.  This is now being portrayed as a good thing because, it's better to have them there than elsewhere, specifically on American soil.  No one wants another terrorist act in this country, but the implications of that thinking are in themselves abhorrent.  Taking Mr. Bush's logic when he makes such assertions, one has to conclude that it is, if not alright, then better for Iraqi civilians to die than Americans.  I find such thinking by a man who likes to talk of his doing God's work to be morally reprehensible.  Sadly, it represents the continuing isolationist strain that has always been embedded in the American psyche.  Better over there than here at home.

We always talk about how a President's hardest decision is to put American military personnel in harm's way.  We rarely mention that, in doing so, he is also putting a much larger group of human beings, mostly non-combatants, in mortal danger as well.  The right-to-lifers who are so bent on protecting the unborn, might give a little more thought to how many viable lives we have cut short in our excursions around the globe, some legitimate but some, like the invasion of Iraq, out of transparent self interest, often economic self interest.  The terrorist card continues to play in this election season and it continues to be its most misleading and disturbing component.

Monday, September 13, 2004

Time for Kerry to Speak

I think there are a lot of people out there ready to jump the Bush ship, but they simply haven't been given the reason to make the move.  They're not happy with W and his policies, but wonder what will really change with a Kerry administration.  It's all well and good to complain that the public and consequently the campaign has been distracted by vicious attacks filled with half truths or even outright lies, but that's no excuse for not getting straight and clear talk from the candidate.  Let's face it, our world is in a real mess and John Kerry has to tell us exactly - specifics not platitudes - what he will do about it. 

Without question the economic issues are real as are the anxieties about healthcare in general and Medicare in particular.  An under funded "No Child Left Behind" can't go on if we are to remain competitive with an increasingly well educated developing world.  That great "sucking noise" of jobs exiting the country predicted by Ross Perot is a top priority in the industrial states and no less so in the corridors of Tech Valley.  A woman's right to choose and the future direction of the Supreme Court can't be overlooked.  On all of these Kerry has spoken out, but in the final analysis I don't think any of them turn the election even though they probably have the most immediate impact upon our daily lives.

The key question for those who might opt out of the Republican column this year, and for most of us as well, is what will John Kerry do about the two burning international issues that have dominated our attention in the past three years: terrorism and Iraq?  How does Kerry view these two life-threatening problems and what specifically is he going to do about them? 

It is now a cliché to say that the so-called war on terrorism will be with us indefinitely.  I accept that.  But what is this war, who are we really fighting and, beyond the preventative measures and reflexive "hit backs," what are we going to do to reduce the underlying causes of terrorism?  What steps will we take to mitigate the desperation felt by young people in the many oppressed lands around the globe?  How will a Kerry administration work toward making the powerless feel empowered, focused on building their own lives not destroying ours?  What will it do to finally bring peace to Palestinians and Israelis, bring it not pay mere lip service to it?

Many of us vigorously opposed the war in Iraq, but here we are mired in its aftermath.  So what now and what exactly are our objectives in Iraq?  What is the exit strategy and how specifically will we engage the world community in helping fix the mess we have made?  What about the current Administration's inotion that democracy cures all, the modern day reverse domino theory?  Does John Kerry buy it?  Who will he put in charge of righting this disaster and why do they have the smarts and credentials to accomplish success where others have so miserably failed?  How will he personally engage in this process and who among other world leaders does he think are essential partners to accomplish his goals?

There are many questions and a desperate need for answers if we – the decided and the undecided – are to have the confidence that voting for John Kerry is not simply voting change for its own sake.  It's time to stop wearing defeat George Bush buttons and start wearing ones that say vote for John Kerry, but that won't just happen.  We need some answers.  John Kerry, you have the floor.  It's time to use it.

Tuesday, September 7, 2004

Shock and Awe

Bill Clinton is recovering from his quadruple bypass surgery, and while everyone's experience differs to some degree, I personally can imagine what he's going through.  At this point, he's probably in the step-down unit, a room with few beds and lot's of incredible nurses.  He is feeling a little weak and perhaps experiencing some pain, easily managed, but relieved, even exhilarated, to be alive.  In a few days he'll be walking through his front door in Chappaqua astonished at the speed of his recovery, or at least its first phase.  Bill Clinton has just experienced Shock and Awe.

I was also seemingly in great health when suddenly confronted with unfamiliar discomfort (in my upper back) and shortness of breath.  I too sensed something seriously amiss and after an angiogram revealed considerable blockage was operated two days later – a quadruple bypass also in my 58th year and in the month of September; my Shock and Awe.  I've always admired Bill Clinton, happily voted form him, but now we really have something in common.

I know we're not alone in experiencing the Shock of unexpected life-threatening illness.  If you haven't been there and someone tells you it's not that big a deal, don't believe them.  It is.  We all know that life is finite and that people die, often "before their time".  But most of us function under the "it can't happen to me" assumption.  You can say that it's living in a dream world, but in fact it is much more out of necessity.  Were we to live under other assumptions we might not function as well or, for some people, at all.  If someone tells you that having experienced Shock, life simply goes on as usual, don't believe that either.  With it and the Awe that follows comes a new awareness of life's values and, much as we may be prone to discount it, a reevaluation of how we do things, how we use our time.  Even Bill Clinton, who has accomplished so much, is likely to go through that process.  Certainly he's likely to change his diet – radically I hope.

The difference between Shock and Awe is that the latter is much more long lasting.  It's been years since my surgery and I have never felt better.  The truth is that clogged arteries don't come over night and, while you don't realize the subtle but increasing impact they are having, chances are you haven't felt well for quite a long time.  I'm doing physical things today that I never though possible when I was forty.  There is also the Awe of how far modern medicine has come.  I had an uncle who died early from heart disease whom I am sure would have had a long life had bypass surgery been around in his day.  We know a lot more about the impact of diet and exercise and how to keep those arteries clear – to prevent future Shock.  My bypass was a wake-up call for me as was Bill Clinton's for him.  Speaking with some confidence for us both, there has to be a better way to wake up.

That said, I consider what happened to me among the best of life's experiences.  While certainly never one who took life for granted or avoided deeper thoughts about its meaning, it provided a sharper focus.  Adversary, which I never would recommend as preventative medicine, is nonetheless a powerful propellant for human growth and change.  In these times of stress, of national adversity, much of the discourse focuses on the negative, is mired in the Shock.  We would do well to take counsel from the survivors many of whom have moved on to embrace the wonder of the Awe; focused less on what was and more of what can, and must, be.  Recover well, Bill Clinton, we need to see what you'll do with the Awe.