The Blog

It's the War, Stupid

Europeans and the left aren't going to give George Bush credit for building schools and hospitals in Iraq.

12:00 AM, Apr 12, 2004 • By LARRY MILLER
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"OKAY. It doesn't seem all right to me, but what do I know? Nothing. What do they know? Everything. So I guess everything's okay."

That's, more or less, what I've been saying to myself for the last year. Not quite out loud, just muttered most of the time, when I'm alone, or when the kids are watching TV, which is much the same thing. What makes me mutter so?

Seeing a headline about another 2, or 5--or 12--American soldiers killed.

Hearing the top folks say, "No, we don't need more troops. Got plenty now."

Having a hard date of June 30 announced and underlined again and again, instead of, "We'll do it as soon as we're ready, not a day before, and it'll be this year, or next year, or whenever, and, no, you don't get to know when. Next question."

And especially watching well-known nests of domestic and imported bad guys being allowed to grow and grow and grow and grow, and get stronger, and make their plans. And watch. And wait. And attack.

I mean, please, anyone who ever reads past page two has known since President Bush landed on that aircraft carrier that Fallujah was the headquarters, the homeland, the core of everyone who ever worked and killed for Saddam Hussein. It's not just a place, a city, a neighborhood, with terrific down-home folks going to choir practice and trying to get by in tough times. It's the place--the bull's eye, it's got them all, and it might as well be called Tortureville, or Saddamfield, or Baathburg, and the best of them could most charitably be called "loyalists." What in the world did anyone imagine was going to sprout up there in the last 12 months? A chamber of commerce? A garden club? A band shell for Sunday programs of Sousa?

All right, wait. Sorry. Let me repeat my mantra; that always helps. Breath in, breath out . . . "What do I know? Nothing. What do they know? Everything. It's all fine, just fine."

Hey, it didn't help much that time. What's wrong? It's like what they say about heroin, the effect is less and less, until you finally have to take it just not to feel horrible.

I MENTIONED the president and the aircraft carrier for a reason, something else I've held in for a year.

I hated it. I support what we've done the whole way; I think we've started to crack the hardest granite in history; I think we're in World War Three, Four, Five, and Six-through-Ten combined--and I think we should be--but I hated that landing so much.

It made me wince like a big sip of sour milk, and I never said it then, because I didn't know why, and it didn't seem helpful, and it's surely not helpful now. But I'm saying it anyway, because I just realized what bugged me so much.

It was an end zone dance, and I hate end zone dances. And because the game isn't over by a long shot.

Now, the sum total of my military knowledge and experience has been watching the Ken Burns Civil War thing, and reading Red Dawn Rising. I have no war fantasies, I have no service record, fantastical or otherwise, and I'm not an armchair general. I would never be flippant about the risk and loss of the lives of our soldiers (or our police and firemen, for that matter), or of any of those who put themselves in harm's way to protect and serve.

But when I saw that banner saying "Mission Accomplished," I thought, no, no, it isn't accomplished at all, it's barely begun, and if we're going to do this thing, accept this challenge, fully absorb the import of this moment, it's going to wind up making the Hundred Years War look like a performance of Nicholas Nickleby.

And please don't hand me that "Well, he just meant the major operations, and the rest of the message was more nuanced, and if you read the text . . ."

Baloney. I support the president in all of this, but what he should have done then, in my opinion, is what he can still do now. What I've been waiting for. What the whole country needs, for, against, and in between.

A speech. A big one. A grave one. Say that the world is a very bad place and has been for a long time, and that we're going to stop it in its tracks and make it better because we have to, and because, as Tony Blair said when he spoke to Congress, "It's your destiny."

Stand next to a map of Iraq, and another one of the world, and point out what's good and what's bad, what's been done and what's left. Say, "You may disagree, but here's where we are, and here's where we're going."

Most important, say, "It may happen before, during, or after the election, but I don't care, I'm doing it because it's right, and if I'm president again next year, I'm going to keep doing it."

And then win. Win in Iraq, and then look around for other threats like a silverback gorilla after slapping the head off of an upstart.