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Thus Spake Zarabushtra

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Message Jayne Stahl
Wouldn't it be nice if the news came with an expiration date, especially where the president's speeches, or should I say "proclamations," are concerned? Yes, proclamations is a better word for this commander-in-chief's utterances as he is no more open to debate than Napoleon was. Moreover, he is no more willing to talk truth, or negotiate with the American people than he is with the leaders of North Korea and Iran. Indeed, Mr. Bush seems to demonstrate an amazing ability to conveniently forget that he was elected, as well as that elected officials give news conferences, and not public declarations. Moreover, his habit of warping distinctions between terms like "prisoner of war" and "enemy combatant," "strategy" and "tactic" defies not only logic, but common sense.

So, for an administration whose claim to fame was pre-emptive, or offensive foreign policy to be on the defensive, and on the front page of the news almost as much as on the front lines of combat, is clearly not what they had in mind when they cooked up, along with Tony Blair, a pretext for invading, and occupying a sovereign state. And, indeed, if Abraham Lincoln is best remembered for the Emancipation Proclamation, future generations may best remember The Downing Street Memo when they think of the 43rd President of the United States.

And, talk about defying logic, how is it that, less than 24 hours ago in a "brief interview" with the Associated Press, Mr. Bush insisted he will not change "strategy" in Iraq, and about 4 hours later at a local CVS drug store, he said he would consider "if a change in tactics is necessary to combat the escalating violence." Is this doublespeak, or if White House Press Secretary Tony Snow gives his blessing to this distinction, does it hold up?
How is it that one can change "tactics" without changing strategy?Assuming, for a moment, that this is possible, would it be asking too much of this administration to insist that it be more specific as to what it means to change tactics, as well as what its current strategy in Iraq is? On October 17th, Senator Barbara Boxer wrote a letter to James Baker, chair of the Iraq Study Group, urging that they release the study group's recommendations for a change of course in Iraq, but this president has demanded that results of this independent assessment be put on hold until after the midterm election,

Is it possible that this president just might be rethinking his Iraq policy, or is he just thinking about it? Or, can it be that the label "flip flop" which Dick Cheney slapped on candidate John Kerry, in the 2004 election, has come back to haunt Mr. Bush. Will our great-grandchildren think of him, ironically, as President Flip Flop when it comes to Iraq? We should be so lucky. For, after all, to vacillate requires critical thinking, a propensity this commander-in-chief has yet to demonstrate. Remember, nobody could ever accuse Macbeth, or George W. Bush of flip-flopping; Hamlet maybe, but not George Bush.

Yet, just this morning in a hugely publicized meeting with top generals in the White House, the president seemed to be practicing what he considered the fine art of his former opponent in 2004, John Kerry, with respect to reviewing "Iraq strategy...amid increasing election-season pressure to make dramatic changes to address deteriorating conditions" in that country. (AP) While the White House claims that today's meeting is routine, they've created enough spin to make a spider dizzy. This morning, Condoleezza Rice, the president's next door neighbor in the state of denial, has said only "I wouldn't read into this somehow that there is a full-scale push for a major re-evaluation," (AP) and right she is. The only thing this administration is engaged in is a "full-scale push" for re-evaluating whatever tactics it needs to best bring about a Republican victory at the polls in November.

Yes, as I sit here writing this, our president sits at a conference table in the Roosevelt Room to discuss a possible change in battle plan with Donald Rumsfeld, and Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine General, Peter Pace, the same Peter Pace who, less than 48 hours ago in Miami, defended Rummy's leadership by saying "He leads in a way that the good Lord tells him is best for our country." Yet, it appears from the general's statement that, while our illustrious military has yet to find any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, they've stumbled upon some primo pot. Moreover, one can only wonder how it is that the "good Lord," after visiting with Mr. Rumsfeld, hasn't paid a visit to Abu Ghraib, or the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, over the past half dozen years, and if he has why hasn't He come up with another game plan for the secretary of defense's public service?
The good news, I guess, is that at least the Joint Chiefs of Staff didn't say the president himself "leads in a way that the good Lord" tells him to; the president, mind you, clearly takes his orders from a higher sauce.

Consider the irony, too, that this wartime meeting of generals is taking place in the Roosevelt Room; FDR would, no doubt, be rolling over in his grave were he to be there, or at the CVS pharmacy yesterday where the president stopped off not to pick up his refill of Viagra, but to proclaim that "Millions of seniors are benefiting" from his Medicare plan, as well as that his "compassionate approach to health care is working for America's seniorsm" (AP) many more of whom are going to bed hungry every night to get refills of their prescriptions.

Yes, these are strange times indeed when the Joint Chiefs of Staff says our secretary of defense takes commands from the Lord while, in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, a lawyer is sentenced to jail for contempt of court when uttering the word "Lord" during a trial. What would our friend Franklin Delano Roosevelt have to say about that? Or Thomas Jefferson? Or Benjamin Franklin? Where is their much-touted separation of church and state? In the same circular file as Iran-Contra memos of Oliver North? Bush pere? Or, in the one Richard Nixon used to deposit memos about planning Watergate we have yet to see, and never will. What would all those who signed the Declaration of Independence have to say about a military on a mission not unlike that of Joan of Arc, or the Great Crusades?

Aren't we glad the president is meeting with the higher arcanum of generals, this morning, so that we can get another news release telling us that he has, yet again, decided to "stay the course," and as he proclaimed in his weekly radio address: "The last few weeks have been rough for our troops in Iraq, and for the Iraqi people...The fighting is difficult, but we have seen difficult fights before. In World War II and the Cold War, earlier generations of Americans sacrificed so that we can live in freedom." Was the Cold War fought by soldiers, and on a battlefield? If so, where?

Wasn't the Cold War a conceptual battle, a showdown between opposing ideologies like the so-called "War on Terror?" Is there a difference between flesh and blood combat, and a clash of ideology? Can we afford, as a civilization, to blur the line between the two? Can we accept leadership, whether it be for two years or two minutes, that confuses hand to hand combat with a clash of ideas?

More to the point, how dare a commander-in-chief refer to "a loss of life" (AP) as if "life" were a commodity. Somebody needs to tell this president that we have lost hundreds of thousands of human lives (plural) in this battle, and that life is not a collective noun. Do you think that Winston Churchill or Franklin Delano Roosevelt ever, even for a moment, thought about combat mortality as an abstraction? For a president to approach changing military tactics, and/or strategies, in much the same way as one would talk about changing manicurists is madder, and more precarious, than any assertion of deus ex machina, however ludicrous, his Joint Chiefs of Staff can make.

Proclamations aside, taking liberties with language aside, we must remember that election was not intended to be a quick fix, or a panacea, but a blueprint for change. We can no longer afford to ask for change; we must demand it.

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Widely published, poet, playwright, essayist, and screenwriter; member of PEN American Center, and PEN USA. Jayne Lyn Stahl is a Huffington Post blogger.
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