With just seventy days until Election Day, the race for the presidency has gone from bitter to outright poisonous: John Kerry is faulted in television ads by President Bush’s moneyed allies for winning combat medals in a war that Bush avoided, then slammed by the same hypocrites for having the courage to criticize that war after his return as a wounded vet.
Meanwhile, Bush pretends to be above the fray, all the while parading as a war commander and boasting, bizarrely, about his mythical achievements in the invasion of Iraq. That war, like Vietnam, has been a costly disaster since its inception. In an eerie echo of previous Presidents who knowingly lied us into the Vietnam horror, always affirming that victory was “just around the corner,” Bush’s latest campaign ads prematurely declare Afghanistan and Iraq as the world’s newest democracies. According to the implicit logic of one ad, the proof can be found in the fact that they both sent teams to the Olympics.
Never mind that both countries are racked by insurgencies and warlordism and dependent on US troops for what passes for security. Forget that both countries are under martial law and their leaders are unelected US appointees. Cover your eyes to the fact that both countries are squalid economic basket cases, with the vast majority of the populace unemployed–or, in the case of Afghanistan, cultivating opium poppies. Ignore the facts. They’re democracies because George W. Bush says so.
But members of the very successful Iraqi Olympic soccer team beg to differ, blasting Bush’s attempt to use their participation in the Games as justification for the US occupation of their country. “My problems are not with the American people,” Iraq’s soccer coach, Adnan Hamad Majeed, told the Associated Press. “They are with what America has done in Iraq: destroy everything. The American Army has killed so many people in Iraq.” His star midfielder, Salih Sadir, agreed: “Iraq as a team doesn’t want Mr. Bush to use us [in an ad] for the presidential campaign…. We don’t wish for the presence of the Americans in our country. We want them to go away.”
These are not anonymous bomb throwers sending notes to the media. These are Iraq’s favorite sons, stars of the national sport. Yet they all seem to be saying the same thing: America’s military is not wanted on our land. Another team member, Ahmed Manajid, demanded to know: “How will [Bush] meet his God having slaughtered so many men and women? He has committed so many crimes.” The athlete added that were he not playing for his country he would “for sure” be fighting in the Iraqi resistance. “I want to defend my home. If a stranger invades America and the people resist, does that mean they are terrorists?” Manajid asked.
That is a legitimate question that no one in the Bush Administration and few in Congress want to grapple with. And yet we wonder why, fifteen months after the United States “liberated” Iraq, are there so many people there who hate us?
The honest answer would be similar to the one once offered by Vietnam vet and now-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell to explain the failure of the US occupation of South Vietnam: “We had been sent to pursue a policy that had become bankrupt,” Powell wrote in his autobiography. “Our political leaders had led us into a war for the one-size-fits-all rationale of anti-communism, which was only a partial fit in Vietnam, where the war had its own historical roots in nationalism, anti-colonialism and civil strife beyond the East-West conflict.”
The only essential difference between Powell’s remarks and the 1971 remarks by Kerry that Bush supporters cite in their ugly smear campaign is that Powell’s dissent came twenty years too late to stop the carnage. Those who attack Kerry for speaking out in 1971 against the Vietnam War don’t understand that it was an enormous public service for returning American veterans to expose the cynicism of their leaders, as Kerry did in testifying before the US Senate.
The young Kerry was speaking truth to power, facing a reality that presidents Richard Nixon and Lyndon B. Johnson had admitted in private, as records made public later revealed. In private White House tapes, Johnson made it clear he could never justify the death of a single US soldier in Vietnam.
His successor, knowing the war was unwinnable, nevertheless carpet-bombed the region in order to fend off an inevitable defeat until after his re-election campaign.
In the end, who better than veterans to speak out when our commander in chief has betrayed the trust of US troops, sending them to kill and be killed in an unnecessary war?