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William Rivers Pitt: The Millstone

The Millstone

By William Rivers Pitt
t r u t h o u t | Perspective

Monday 09 May 2005

I have trouble imagining what it must be like to be a Republican these days. The party of Lincoln and TR, the party of fiscal responsibility and small government, has become so profoundly separated from its roots that it is barely recognizable anymore. Millions of people who proudly call themselves Republican must, I think, be dealing with a quiet yet insistent voice within. Something, whispers that voice, has gone wrong.

After September 11, everything changed. This is what a lot of Republicans tell themselves these days. It soothes the disquiet, and offers a rationalization for the gigantism that government has undergone under this so-called Republican administration. Of course we must make the government huge and intrusive, specifically in military and intelligence departments, because terrorists could smuggle biological or nuclear weapons into our country and kill tens of thousands of people.

September 11 justifies a lot of things previously considered abominable. That is what a lot of Republicans tell themselves these days. No Republican in his right mind would have supported something like the Patriot Act before the attacks. Indeed, a variety of anti-terrorism actions offered by the Clinton administration were shot to pieces by the Republicans in Congress because they were considered too invasive. Then, of course, everything changed.

Even the definition of 'invasive' has been altered. Now, it isn't invasive to sweep Iraqi civilians off the streets, subject them to torture, rape and murder, and blame some hapless dupe of an enlisted woman because she was dumb enough to be in the pictures. Surely she thought up the whole thing on her own, brought the hoods all the way from home, and even designed degradations specifically intended to offend Islam. That makes sense. It doesn't matter, anyway. Extremism in the defense of virtue is no vice, a Republican once said. Anything is permissible in the defense of the homeland.

Yet something funny happened on the way down that road. This so-called Republican administration spent a year filling our heads with nightmares. Get your plastic sheeting and duct tape ready. On January 20, 2003, George W. Bush stood before the American people and spoke ominously of mushroom clouds. He laid it out flat: 26,000 liters of anthrax, 38,000 liters of botulinum toxin, 500 tons of sarin, mustard and VX gas, 30,000 munitions to deliver the stuff, mobile biological weapons labs and uranium from Niger for a robust nuclear weapons program are gathered out there, just waiting to kill you and everyone you love.

To arms! To arms! We have to get that stuff out of … Iraq? The battle for Afghanistan was not over, and is not over even today, and yet money, men and materiel was diverted from that front to Iraq. We went in expecting hearts and flowers and managed to put on a nice little statue-toppling show before the explosions started and the body bags came out. One a day, two a day, maybe more when our helicopters got blasted from the sky - remember the outrage over 'Blackhawk Down?' - and the slow bleeding commenced. Soldiers, and then reservists, and then retired reservists forced back into the ranks, began traveling a long circle from home to Iraq, back home and then to Iraq, back home and then to Iraq again.

The weapons weren't there. Sure, they found a rusted centrifuge that dated back to the first Bush administration buried under a rosebush, and some empty artillery shells turned up here and there. A bunker full of high explosives was found, but because this so-called Republican administration wanted to go 'small' into Iraq, there weren't enough men to guard it. The explosives got stolen, and are being used right now to kill American soldiers. Seven more died this weekend, bringing the total to 1,602.

The weapons of mass destruction were sneaked into Syria, say the talking heads on radio and TV who live to do nothing besides defend this so-called Republican administration. We're fighting Iraqis over there so we don't have to fight Iraqis over here. It makes sense in a perversely American way; politics here has become more akin to football than to policy, and the point is to win arguments through volume rather than get the facts straight. It's a tribal thing now, and if you are a Republican you have to back your team. After all, you're winning … right?

The weapons of mass destruction are not in Syria. They just weren't anywhere. This so-called Republican administration knew that wanting to invade a country does not make that invasion legal; not even September 11 could change that basic law. They knew they needed a self-defense rationale to pull it off, and further knew they needed political cover.

The recently exposed secret British intelligence memo tells the story: Intelligence and facts were fixed around the policy of invasion and occupation. That's what the memo said, right there in black and white. In other words, the threat of WMD was set upon as the justification for self-defense, despite the fact - clearly stated in the memo - that Iraq was neither a threat to its neighbors nor to the United States.. The daily drumbeat of fear fed to the American people provided the political cover, and we were off to the races.

I wonder how hard it is for Republicans to still that little voice within when they are confronted with stories like this: The American military in Iraq has begun a massive military campaign against several small villages along the Euphrates River in Iraq. These villages, say military personnel, are suspected of harboring Syrian fighters crossing the border. A thousand U.S. troops, backed by helicopter and fighter support, are laying siege to these small villages. The incursion has become one large firefight.

But here's the interesting bit. When the troops first approached the villages, they did so by night. They were told to use the headlights on their trucks to spot mines, and those headlights apparently alerted one of the villages. All of a sudden, every light in the village was switched off at the same time. Apparently, this is how one village warns another village of an impending attack.

Now, unless you are able to convince yourself that there is a border-crossing Syrian fighter manning each and every light switch in that town, the conclusion is unavoidable. We are not fighting a few 'insurgents' here and there, nor are we facing foreign fighters. We are fighting the entire country, all of Iraq, one small chunk at a time. As defenders of democracy and freedom, we are probably going to wind up destroying these villages in order to save them. Where have I heard that before?

To be a Republican these days, you have to be in favor of all this. You have to support massive centralized government, nation-building, torture, rape, murder, the plundering of tax dollars by defense and oil companies, a pestilent friendship with Saudi Arabia despite the fact that a good deal of global terrorism comes straight out of that country, and the eternal occupation of a nation that does not want us there and does not believe that we are bringing anything like freedom to their doorstep. They just don't buy it. Convicted embezzler Ahmad Chalabi was just made the head of the Iraqi Oil Ministry. Would you trust a government that made decisions like this?

If I were a Republican, I'd have a hard time ignoring that little voice. I'd be up nights wondering if men like Tom DeLay and the religious extremists he empowers as a means of political self-defense are the proper banner-carriers for my party. I'd wonder how we are making our nation safer by manufacturing terrorists in Iraq while ignoring the ones in Saudi Arabia. I'd wonder where Osama bin Laden is right now. I'd wonder how a President can talk about supporting the troops while eviscerating veteran's benefits across the board. I'd wonder how a President can talk about supporting the troops while sending them into an unwinnable fight without the armor they need to survive it.

If I were a Republican, I'd be thinking about getting this millstone off my neck. I wouldn't become a Democrat, because that's just too crazy. I might seriously consider withdrawing my support from this so-called Republican administration, because with every word and deed they betray the principles I would hold dear as a member of the Grand Old Party. I'd seriously consider cleaning house, and restoring my party to something worthy of respect and loyalty.

If I didn't do these things as a Republican, then everything done in my name and by my party would be my responsibility. If I were a Republican, I don't think I could stand that burden.


William Rivers Pitt is the senior editor and lead writer for truthout. He is a New York Times and international bestselling author of two books - 'War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know' and 'The Greatest Sedition is Silence.' Join the discussions at his blog forum.

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