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Moving the Comma

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Message Lynne Glasner
Newly released statistical analysis of the number of Iraqi civilians who have died because of the US invasion will be harder to dismiss this time around. The numbers are frightening: over 650,000. These are ordinary citizens - families, children, people who just wanted to live their lives in peace.

When the same organization released the data two years ago, the Bush Administration brushed it off as bogus and continued to attribute any negative news to the province of a few left-wing fanatics. Much of the media went along, as they did with most real news at the time. Even Slate's Fred Kaplan said of the 2004 report that appeared in Lancet: "This isn't an estimate. It's a dart board."

Now the tables seem to be slowly turning; Bush's credibility is at an all-time low and the media seem to have caught on to the public's disenchantment with the Bush regime. The media will run with it as long as it brings in the ratings. How much time/print space will be spent on this issue and other negative Bush stories will depend ultimately on what sells. The unrelenting pictures of violence in Iraq lend credence to the updated numbers as well as the original report, making it hard to reconcile with the Bush theme of Iraq is "getting better." Yet, the President tells us it's the report that isn't "credible," not his own doublespeak.

We shouldn't need to be reminded of how little thought the whole Administration gave not just to the post-invasion military plans but also to the Iraqis who we were supposed to be saving from their "evil" government. Any hints that there could be significant civilian casualties were disdainfully dismissed. Gen. Tommy Franks said before the invasion, "We don't do body counts." Knowing the power of suggestion, the White House used an effective and tightly run political campaign to keep a lid on any analogies to Vietnam from surfacing. Six months into the invasion that was not yet a war, Rumsfeld testily replied to a question about casualties, "We don't do body counts on other people." But the question continued to persist. Not often, and quietly, but it did get mentioned from time to time. This is the first war in which no one seemed to be bothering with tracking the dead; in fact, public access to our own fallen soldiers was limited. In January 2005, the Pentagon told us, "The only thing we keep track of is casualties for US troops and civilians." The Iraqis were never part of the equation.

Maybe Bush's Iraq will be defined by a comma after all. When asked about the number of Iraqi civilian deaths in December of 2005, Bush casually replied, "I would say 30,000, more or less, have died as a result of the initial incursion and the ongoing violence against Iraqis." Yes, there's a comma that separates 30,000 from 650,000, along with the exponential deceit that waged a war that has surpassed the number of Japanese civilians killed in World War II. Just another displaced comma, much like the displaced and grieving families whose numbers haven't been tallied by anyone, all victims of the Bush plan to save them from themselves.

The tragedy that is Iraq feels almost Shakespearian in its dimensions. As the public opposition gets legs, it's hard not to be reminded of Brutus, who had finally had enough and explained his actions to his fellow Roman citizens:
"If there be any in this assembly, any dear friend of Caesar's, to him I say, that Brutus' love to Caesar was no less than his. If then that friend demand why Brutus rose against Caesar, this is my answer: Not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved Rome more."

There appear to be soft voices of dissent from among his inner circle, which is what Bush fears most and what reportedly has him upset and furious. Brutus feared that Caesar would become a tyrant; those who voice such concerns about Bush are no longer unilaterally considered wing-nuts. The other history we need to remember is Watergate, for it was insiders who precipitated that regime change. Is there a Republican senator today who would dare to lead the opposition? Et tu, Brute?
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Lynne Glasner is a freelance writer/editor based in New York City. She has edited numerous books, fiction and nonfiction, many on political subjects. Her essays have appeared in Commondreams,, and Huffington Post as well as OpEd (more...)
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