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William Rivers Pitt: The Loser

The Loser

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

Wednesday 11 October 2006

Kill the headlights and put it in neutral,
Stock car flamin' with a loser and the cruise control ...

- Beck, "Loser"

There are some kinds of history presidents just don't want to make. Nixon sure didn't want to be the first president to resign the office in disgrace. Johnson didn't enjoy being forced to fold his hand. Hoover couldn't understand why so many laid the depth of the Depression at his feet. The list goes on.

George W. Bush is making some history of his own these days. When all is said and done, he will go into the books as the first American president to lose two wars at the same time.

Can't be that bad, you say? Chew on this: Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist pretty much unilaterally surrendered to the Taliban last week after a quick tour of Afghanistan. Granted, Mr. Frist is not a noted military tactician by any measure, but the writing is on the wall over there for just about anyone to read. Frist read it, and ran up the white flag.

"U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said Monday that the Afghan war against Taliban guerrillas can never be won militarily," reported the Associated Press after Frist's visit, "and called for efforts to bring the Islamic militia and its supporters into the Afghan government. The Tennessee Republican said he learned from briefings that Taliban fighters were too numerous and had too much popular support to be defeated on the battlefield."


Once upon a time, the war was being fought to get the Taliban out of the Afghan government. Somewhere along the line, however, Saddam became the single greatest threat in the history of the world, and the military resources being used in Afghanistan were funneled into Iraq. Not long afterwards, the Taliban surged back into prominence. The Afghan heroin crop is so huge this year that all the world's addicts are going to have to be permanently stoned around the clock to avoid having leftovers. I'm sure they won't complain.

How is that Iraq thing going? Swimmingly. 2,748 American soldiers are dead, with 34 killed in the first ten days of October. Somewhere around 20,000 more are grievously wounded or permanently maimed. Every day, bombs go off and bodies drop. Piles of tortured and bullet-riddled corpses turn up all over Baghdad; 60 more were found on Tuesday, with their hands and feet bound and their bodies beaten to jelly.

The Bush administration would have us believe there is no civil war in Iraq, and that we're still dealing with "insurgents," but few people are buying that line anymore. After three and a half years of this, we have bought ourselves front-row seats to a blood feud that we cannot even begin to calm down or control. The price tag for those seats, by the way, stands in the hundreds and hundreds of billions of dollars.

But we're safer, right?


"The U.S. Army is showing growing signs of strain as it tries to sustain troop levels in Iraq and Afghanistan," reported Reuters several days ago, "including stress on soldiers, lower unit readiness, equipment shortfalls and money worries. Many soldiers are facing second and third deployments. U.S. military leaders had expected lower U.S. troop levels in Iraq by now, but have been scrambling to sustain higher totals because of sectarian violence that has raised fears of a civil war. No significant cuts are expected until at least the middle of next year."

"The real question is: Can the Army do its job?" asked Reagan-era Assistant Secretary of Defense for manpower issues Lawrence Korb in the same Reuters article. "The Army is not going to be what it should be. There are going to be more deaths and longer wars because you're not at your peak readiness."

So, to recap: the United States military is on the verge of becoming dangerously ineffective thanks to protracted and wasteful engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan, both of which promise to continue unabated because "victory" in any real sense has moved beyond reach, but no one in government dares to say this out loud.

And now North Korea is popping off nuclear weapons.

"Nearly five years after President Bush introduced the concept of an 'axis of evil' comprising Iraq, Iran and North Korea," reported the Washington Post on Tuesday, "the administration has reached a crisis point with each nation: North Korea has claimed it conducted its first nuclear test, Iran refuses to halt its uranium-enrichment program, and Iraq appears to be tipping into a civil war 3 1/2 years after the U.S.-led invasion. Each problem appears to feed on the others, making the stakes higher and requiring Bush and his advisers to make difficult calculations, analysts and U.S. officials said."

Difficult calculations. Right. The administration will spend the next few days bouncing off the walls while secretly being pleased that North Korea's frightening debut on the nuclear stage got everyone's eyes off the Mark Foley page scandal. George W. Bush will be on television for interminable minutes mangling the pronunciation of the word "nuclear" while trying to sound like he has any idea what is going on. The rest of us will be hiding under our beds.

The first president to lose two wars at the same time is on the job, folks. I feel safer just thinking about it.


William Rivers Pitt is a New York Times and internationally bestselling author of two books: War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know and The Greatest Sedition Is Silence. His newest book, House of Ill Repute: Reflections on War, Lies, and America's Ravaged Reputation, will be available this winter from PoliPointPress.

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