Something Wicked This Way Came
by Mary Lyon
I'm sitting here trying to work up a second-day lead on the David Petraeus report, and instead, I'm drowning in media replays of the World Trade Center attacks of six years ago. How metaphorically ironic: the anniversary coverage of the worst disaster in modern American times is a distraction. It was quite a distraction originally, too, as we now see in hindsight.
Six years later, how far have we come, really? Or perhaps the question should be - how far back have we fallen? It's hard to watch. And it's not just the memory of a world-class kick in the teeth. What hurts the worst is where I know this tragedy led.
For one brief, smoldering moment we were allegedly united as a country. United behind "a Uniter, not a Divider" (who eventually morphed into the Decider - from Hell). It was a mirage, but at that moment, with nothing but wreckage, dust, death, and horror shoved in our faces, it was a mirage worth clinging to. Pretty sad, though, when you stop and give yourself a reality check: here we are, clinging to a puff of smoke.
For me, the distrust ramped up substantially that day. My first feelings, since I was already unfavorably predisposed toward George W. Bush, was to doubt whether someone with his background, his overriding agenda, and his penchant for gaming the system, would meet this challenge by putting narrowly scheming politics aside, and calling us together as a nation to rise above this like a bright, valiant phoenix reborn from its own ashes for the longterm benefit of all. Another one for the "yeah, SURE" file. I didn't trust Bush then. I'd felt strongly that his presence in the Oval Office was an ill-gotten gain because he'd stolen the 2000 election. From even back that far, I'd feared he was up to no good, and that no good would come from his arrival at the White House.
Never in my wildest nightmares...
Six years later, the tragedy of September 11th has been used and abused for political scheming and ruthlessly aggressive international imperialism. It became the excuse to launch a viciously calculated horror in Iraq, and another equally dreadful climate of domestic terrorism here at home. We changed as a nation into one that's now spied on, wholesale and unchecked, by our own government - a government that now says torture's okay, the Geneva Conventions are irrelevant and "quaint," and that it must be okay with you that your own rights are dismantled in exchange for a false sense of security - otherwise you're nothing more than an enemy sympathizer.
Six years later, we sit with deep skepticism as a four-star general and his ambassador colleague offer a "report" about "progress" in Iraq. Time was, this long after the wounds of Vietnam and the distrust of the military had begun to heal, we would not have considered regarding a general named Petraeus as an unwitting collaborator renamed Betray-us. We would have received his opinions with respect for his service and his perspective from the war-front without concern for manipulations of facts, cooking of books, and ulterior motives. After all, David Petraeus is certainly no chickenhawk armchair warrior whose closest brush with combat is the war videogame he bought for the kids last Christmas. And yet, because he comes to Capitol Hill as a salesman for George Bush's ill-advised misadventure in Iraq (a direct result from the tragedy of September 11th), my instinct is to accept his words with a grain of salt the size of the moon.
Six years later, after having identified Osama bin Laden as Boogeyman Number One and vowing to smoke him out dead or alive, we were steered deliberately toward the distraction of Boogeyman Number Two, Saddam Hussein, who had nothing to do with the attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. And Boogeyman Number One still lives (we think) to taunt us at this late date with new video nose-thumbings.
Six years later, we DO doubt whatever generals remain on the payroll. And we have good reason for that doubt, because the only generals whose word is reliable are those like Shinseki and Admiral Zinni, who've been dismissed by the White House for not toeing the company line. The others, like the hapless General Petraeus, are now little more than agents of suspicion representing scheming political overlords whose motivations are deeply and manifestly questionable. We're even led to look with disdain on those civilians decorated with the once-revered Presidential Medal of Freedom. That honor has been rendered pathetic and meaningless, given to such cads as George Tenet and Paul Bremer whose "service to their country" was at best incompetent and at worst willfully reckless, irresponsible, partisan, and calculatedly expedient. Even the Purple Heart's luster has been tarnished by partisan hacks and yahoos. In the name of hobbling their "hero's" opponent, they've spat on the sacrifice of every American soldier who shed blood so the likes of them could sit back and relax and throw backbench bombs at people who dared to disagree.
Six years later, most of us know better than to accept White House dictates or glowing claims of surge successes at face value. Most of us are a lot less naive, except for that stubborn subsection of gullilble Pox Noise viewers and PNAC believers that grimly gropes for slivers of evidence to prove that their misconceptions are facts, and that they haven't been played for chumps. Those who tried to tell the truth, to warn the rest of us, to offer another view than
the party bosses and military-industrial brigands would have us embrace, have been villified as traitors, while the real traitors dance away with the profits of their piracy, immune from prosecution and the force of justice by the stonewalls and national security canards they hide behind.
Six years later, we're no closer to achieving justice for the sins - either external OR internal - of September 11th. Instead of being able to take legitimate comfort that we rose to the collective challenge, we're a nation of damaged goods. Our moral authority has been irreparably compromised. Our reputation is destroyed. Our military is broken. Our treasury is looted. Our national sense of self esteem is, itself, little more than a smoldering pile of
dust and debris. And under the leadership of the "Uniter, not a Divider," we're at each other's throats perhaps more now than even during our darkest days in the depths of the Civil War. Sadly, the testimony offered by General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker only serve to throw gasoline on that brushfire, rather than illuminating incontrovertible progress toward a successful conclusion in Iraq. All we've got is evidence of an ongoing shell game. There IS no successful conclusion to be had in Iraq. And no embroidery or extreme cosmetic makeover the general and the ambassador can present can disguise that.
And six years later, our national vision remains so clouded by fear and irrationality that too many of us can't, or won't, see anhy of the above for what it is.
I don't wish, here, to dishonor the dead from September 11th or the dead from the misbegotten war that resulted from September 11th by labeling that dreadful day as a distraction. But sadly, that's the final insult with which this administration has hit us. George Bush and company have turned the tears shed over September 11th into drops of sulfuric acid that burn and scar everything they touch. They've led us not toward a historic verdict that will sing our praises to the ages, but rather down a path straight into Hell. It could have been our finest hour. Instead, it's become our grossest disgrace. George Bush and friends have done more to dishonor the dead from September 11th AND Iraq through their lies, distortions, deliberate missteps, recklessness, arrogance, and greed. They've certainly hung another unfortunate water-carrying general out to dry.
Watching the juxtaposition of the 9/11 anniversary coverage and the Petraeus hearings on Capitol Hill is surreal and very sad. We've come six years and almost four thousand American troop deaths (that we know about) from that day, and yet we haven't come very far at all. The calendar says we've advanced by six years, but the reality says we've fallen back toward the Dark Ages. Something very wicked this way came, on that cool September morning. And even those of us who dreaded what might follow had no idea how devastating it would turn out to be.
Then go DO something about it.