Morning Report 12/8/04
The Terror of His Ways
Admittedly not much of a reader, George W. Bush flexed his lexicomical muscles yesterday by expanding the definition of "terrorist" to include anybody who fights back when his or her country is occupied by the U.S.
The new definition surfaced in the president's remarks to Marines in Camp Pendleton, where, as the Washington Post's Jim VandeHei wrote this morning, Bush "sought to boost U.S. troop morale and prepare the public for a violent run-up to next month's election in Iraq." The story quoted Bush as saying:
- When Iraqis choose their leaders in free elections, it will destroy the myth that the terrorists are fighting a foreign occupation and make clear that what the terrorists are really fighting is the will of the Iraqi people.
The Devil Dogs at Pendleton cheered. But more and more, the mainstream press's reporters are closely examining the U.S. emperor's new clothes and noting any appearance/reality alterations higher and higher in their stories. VandeHei, whose paper is leading the way among big dailies, puts Bush's remarks into perspective succinctly:
- Throughout the speech, Bush referred to the insurgents, who are largely Iraqis opposed to the U.S. occupation, as terrorists. Critics charge the U.S. war in Iraq has created a new breeding ground for terrorists, and steered military resources and attention away from hunting down Osama bin Laden and those responsible for the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. In the aftermath of the November 2 election, Democratic criticism of the war has subsided even though the situation on the ground has not changed much.
The president has steadfastly demanded that Iraq's election take place on Jan. 30, despite objections from some Iraqi leaders, and the Pentagon recently announced that U.S. forces would grow to 150,000 to safeguard the voting process and stabilize the country. To expand the force, Bush extended the stay of thousands of soldiers who had planned to be home for the holidays. Some soldiers are suing to prevent the Army from forcing them to serve longer than their enlistment contracts require.
VandeHei also notes that Pendleton, in Southern California, "is one of the most active U.S. bases: More than 21,000 soldiers from its 1st Marine Expeditionary Force alone are serving in Iraq." So Bush had a busy day. At one point, feeling hungry, the president ordered three Devil Dogs to go. So the four of them went to eat (see photo).
Bush didn't lose his appetite for recounting others' war stories. As the story by permanently embedded reporter Donna Miles of Armed Forces Press Service put it:
- "In the battle for Fallujah, the terrorists hid weapons in a cemetery, they hid ammunition in private homes, they hid bombs in mosques," the president told the cheering crowd of Marines and family members. "But they could not hide from the United States Marines."
At least not the way Bush hid from his National Guard duties. It's laughable the way Bush and his cronies, often wearing fancy little pseudo-uniforms, cozy up to the common troops, pretending to be right there in the trenches carrying out ridiculous orders—like the one that diverted our troops from Afghanistan so we could invade Iraq.
For a realistic view about what the Marines do—and what it does to them—read this very recent Voice piece, "Dead-Check in Fallujah," by Evan Wright, who was embedded with Devil Dogs there and elsewhere in Iraq and checked in with them after they returned to the U.S.
Wright's book, Generation Kill: Devil Dogs, Iceman, Captain America and the New Face of American War, gets high praise in the new issue of the New York Review of Books. Here's a passage from the book that reviewer Chris Hedges (a New York Times reporter) highlighted—and that Wright put in his Voice story in slightly different form:
- By five o'clock in the afternoon, the Iraqis who had earlier put up determined-though-inept resistance have either fled or been slaughtered. Colbert's team, along with the rest of the platoon, speeds up the road toward the outskirts of Baqubah. Headless corpses—indicating well-aimed shots from high-caliber weapons—are sprawled out in trenches by the road. Others are charred beyond recognition, still sitting at the wheels of burned, skeletized trucks. Some of the smoking wreckage emits the odor of barbecuing chicken—the smell of slow-roasting human corpses inside. An LAV rolling a few meters in front of us stops by a shot-up Toyota pickup truck. A man inside appears to be moving. A Marine jumps out of the LAV, walks over to the pickup truck, sticks his rifle through the passenger window and sprays the inside of the vehicle with machine-gun fire.
Hedges calls the book "a withering indictment of the needless brutality of the invasion." He also recognizes Wright's ability to go beyond that:
- Wright, because he reports from the perspective of the enlisted Marines, sees the bizarre subculture of the military. He watches the chaos of war, the way it never turns out as planned and how it opens up a Pandora's box that gives war a life and power beyond anyone's control. He notes the incompetence and callousness of many senior officers who send their men into mine fields at night or up against superior forces to burnish their own reputations as warriors. He understands the way killing in war, which always includes murder, slowly eats away at soldiers and Marines.
I agree with that part of Hedges' assessment because I edited Wright's story for the Voice. (Full disclosure: Wright did such a fine job that I barely had to lift my pencil to help get his kick-ass account into print.)
Bush doesn't read newspapers, so he missed Wright's Voice story. He surely doesn't read the NYRB, which is at the head of the class in coverage of the Bush Error. The only book we're certain Bush has read, because he did so on 9/11 with a bunch of Florida school kids, is The Pet Goat. For those reasons, I guess, the president seems to have missed the news that Pakistan has given up on the search for bin Laden (see Sunday's Morning Report for details and links) and that no weapons of mass destruction have been found in Iraq. Because this is what Bush told the Marines yesterday:
- We're getting after the terrorists. We're disrupting their plans. We're holding state sponsors of terror equally responsible for terrorist acts. We're working to prevent outlaw regimes from gaining weapons of mass murder and providing them to terrorists.
Maybe Bush's speechwriters gave him the wrong piece of paper. Knock, knock. Who's there? Anybody? What? Huh?
But drawing on his experience as a New England prep-school cheerleader, Bush hot-dogged his way around the Marine base and accomplished his mission. He laid it on thick—with relish.
Bush praised the Marines for their "valor and integrity" and their "courage, determination, and devotion to duty," called people in uniform "one of America's greatest blessings," sympathized that "being left behind when a loved one goes to war is one of the hardest jobs in the military, and it is especially hard during the holidays," thanked military families for "carrying out these burdens—you also serve your country," told them that "America is grateful for your service," promised "the best possible medical care for every American servicemember wounded in action," and consoled the families by saying:
- Words can go only so far in capturing the grief and sense of loss for the families of those who have died. But you can know this: They gave their lives for a cause that is just, and . . . their sacrifice will have spared millions from lives of tyranny and sorrow.
It's clear that quite a few Devil Dogs are going to be chewed up and spit out right through the rest of the Zero Decade—without a doubt. VandeHei again puts things in context, with the kind of final analytical twist that you'll be seeing a lot more of in the mainstream press's news stories:
- It is unclear when the United States will begin reducing the number of troops in Iraq. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld this week said the United States could pull out by the end of Bush's second term, in 2009. Army General John P. Abizaid, commander of U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf region, told the Washington Post that the United States could begin shifting more from combat operations to training Iraqi forces next year, which might lead to a reduction of troops. But these are more hopes than plans.