Flashback: I Hear America Sinking

Remembering a nation on the brink of the Iraq war

Editor's note:

What to make of the current turmoil in the American psyche over the Iraq war--witness the twin devil questions of how did we get in and how do we get out---and whether the U.S. tortures or does not torture in its war on terror, and whether the Bush administration is in fact able to lead, regardless of whether one likes its policies?

Reports the Boston Globe:

[T]he war of words is likely to continue across the nation during Thanksgiving week, as Americans sit down to holiday meals and debate the future of the war -- which has grown more and more unpopular as US deaths have mounted and Iraq remains unstable. The White House and members of Congress, meanwhile, are using the holiday week to make their cases to an increasingly skeptical electorate.
The Republican National Committee is running television ads this week saying that Democrats who contend that the White House misused intelligence to justify the war had publicly endorsed those same conclusions before the invasion. Meanwhile, the liberal activist group MoveOn.org is running an emotionally charged ad starting on Thanksgiving Day showing a family gathered around a holiday table; an empty chair suggests that a loved one, a soldier sent to Iraq, is missing.
''Some folks won't be home this holiday season," an announcer intones, as a crying woman is comforted by her family. ''Their president misled America to send them in and has no plan to get them out."

It's worth remembering how America ended up on this path. In 2002, as Bush inched us closer to a war against Iraq, James Ridgeway filed the following piece on the state of the nation.


I Hear America Sinking
Bush Pulls a Grieving Nation Into War
By James Ridgeway
September 11, 2002

Behind the memorial candles and commercial remembrances lies one of the most astute marketing campaigns in American political history. This week, as the nation marks the first anniversary of the 9-11 attacks, the Bush administration will twist voters' outpouring of raw emotion and patriotic fervor into a launching pad for the inevitable invasion of Iraq.

In a September 12 speech to the United Nations, President Bush will further showcase his arguments for knocking off Saddam Hussein. Behind the scenes, his advisers have been torquing the arms of European leaders, who rightly have withheld approval. The White House is making a very bold gamble, one that has most of the world scared to death.

Last week the U.S. stepped up its air attacks, sending 100 warplanes to bomb Iraq, which has been under intermittent siege since the end of Desert Storm in 1991. The Pentagon has continued to move ships, planes, and troops into the region. As for any congressional debate, it's as much for display as the deliberations of the UN, orchestrated to end in a non-binding resolution backing Bush.

Bush can hope war will benefit the economy. But it could also hurt. News early this week that Saudi Arabia would deny U.S. companies access to its prized natural gas fields is only the first sign of what could well turn into an economic energy boycott against the U.S., driving up prices and torpedoing our markets.

Time was, America appeared strong enough to command more respect. After World War II, the guiding myths of America had more resonance, the empire more pure clout. Now, suddenly, the whole thing seems to be coming apart, with the facts of our weakness outweighing any attempts at spin. No frenzy of patriotism can hide the cracks in the pillars of our society, at least not for long. Consider some of them:

Military: September 11 represents a huge military and intelligence failure, symbolized by news that air traffic controllers knew a second plane had been hijacked and was potentially heading for the World Trade Center well before it crashed into the south tower. But our air defenses were nowhere. The BBC just last week aired an interview with the Northeast Defense Sector air commander saying that there were only four armed fighters patrolling the Atlantic coast of the U.S. that day.

To bolster these fighters, the air force diverted other unarmed planes from training missions. Two of them tried to respond, but just couldn't get there in time. This from a Pentagon that has been insisting since the start of the Cold War it could respond to a Soviet attack within minutes. This from a military that won World War II. This from a military whose budget this fiscal year will be around $396.1 billion, a military that claims it can fight at least a two-front war.

Our retaliatory assault in Afghanistan was no more successful. In attacking the Taliban, our target was Osama bin Laden and Supreme Leader Mullah Muhammad Omar. Bush said he wanted the Al Qaeda boss "dead or alive." Neither man has been captured, although the military continues to push speculation that bin Laden died in its bombing of Tora Bora. And as Debka.com, the site with the inside scoop on Israeli intelligence, reported, the Taliban not only managed an orderly retreat but re-infiltrated Afghanistan to continue a guerrilla war. Last week, they nearly killed the American-sponsored president, Hamid Karzai.

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