From the April 26, 2004 issue: A message for our times.
Apr 26, 2004, Vol. 9, No. 31 • By LARRY MILLER
"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 about Iraq 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 mumble so?
Seeing a headline about another two, or five--or twelve--American soldiers killed.
Hearing the top folks say, "Nope, don't need any more troops. Got plenty now."
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.
Anyone who reads past page two has known since the president landed on that aircraft carrier that Falluja 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 might as well be named Tortureville, or Saddamfield, or Baathburg. 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 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 aircraft carrier for a reason, something else I've held in for a year. I hated it. I support what we've done in the war on terror the whole way; President Bush was put in this job for a reason. 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.
It made me wince like a big sip of sour milk, but at the time I didn't know why. I do now. It was an end-zone dance, and I hate end-zone dances. They're unseemly, and they always happen when the game isn't over. And this one 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 Storm Rising. I have no war fantasies, I have no uniformed service outside of the cub scouts, and I'm not an armchair general, although I'm a big supporter of both generals and armchairs.
I would never, ever 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 THEN CAME THE PRESS CONFERENCE. April 13, 2004, a date which will live in...limpness? Bad counseling? Not letting your power come through?
Where's the guy I fell in love with? Where's the president who went to the World Trade Center, when those magnificent people were still digging, and someone called out, "I can't hear you," and he immediately shot back--immediately--"I can hear you. The rest of the world hears you. And the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon." Where's that guy? The soul, the mind, the right leader at the right time, who so instinctively expressed the perfect thought?
But at that press conference, I watched with my mouth open, till I had to stand up, walk around, and shake my head. Who's coaching this guy, Warren Christopher? And please don't tell me his job is not to communicate potently, because, yes, it is. No one's asking him to be Cedric The Entertainer, but he has far more ability than his corner-man is telling him to use in the ring, and he needs to speak to the people who put him there, who want him there, and who need him to go, go, go, go, go.
By the way, will someone please tell me why every president thinks he has to call reporters by their first names? "Oh, hi, Dave. Good question, Liz. Yeah, John, what's up? Let me think about that, Julie. Good to see you, Tom." What is this, a board meeting at the Little League? Or is it a power thing? "I get to call you by your first name, but you can't call me by mine. And by the way, would you guys consider backing out of the room? Hey, just asking."
Being on a first name basis is never going to help him with the reporters in that room who are out for his scalp.
"Hi Don, I haven't called on you, have I?"
"Thank you, Mr. President. So: Do you feel you're a failure, because of failing, and when you fail, does it make you feel like you failed, or fail like you feeled, and is the mistake a mistake, or did you see a mistake, and with all the mistakes that you knew were mistaken, would you mistakenly make the same mistakes, or does the apology come first, to apologize to the families, will you make an apology, or should Richard Clarke just apologize again, because his apology was such a nice, big hug?"
MESSAGE TO THE ADMINISTRATION: Win. Get your people out there, and tell them that the answer to every question is, "We're fighting a war, and we'll let historians worry about everything else afterwards. You don't blame the fire department for the arsonist. Unless you're stupid."
No one in Europe or on the left is ever going to change their minds from seeing a photograph of a Marine handing a bag of groceries to a woman in a burkha. Jacques Chirac is never going to say, "Well, they have built a lot of community centers. Maybe Bush was right."
Win. Stop building schools. Win. There's plenty of time and need for hospitals, but first . . . win. Yes, Iraqi girls can be very empowered by seeing a female major running an outreach program, and we'll all chip in for the posters that say, "Take Your Daughters To Mosque Day," but in the meantime, would you please win.
If I have to listen to one more spokesperson say, "The overwhelming majority of Iraqis is with us, it's just a small percentage of malcontents causing all the trouble," I'll be tempted to say something I swore I'd never say in life: "Du-uuh."
A small percentage, huh? About the same size as the few thousand Bolsheviks who took over the 100 million Russians in 1917? More? Less?
Naturally, I want to help out beyond just being a sarcastic crank (although that certainly has its place). In service of this goal, I'd like to offer a new slogan. It's based on the old antiwar chant from the sixties, "Peace Now!" You must've heard that one. Demonstrators have been shouting "peace now" for the last 40 years. Hell, I probably shouted it, myself, somewhere around '73. (This would have been shortly before the drinking age in Massachusetts went down to 18, after which my friends and I took to shouting far more sensible things, like, "You can't cut us off, it's only 11:00. Hey, let go of me.")
Here's the new one: Win now.
Okay, hold it. Sorry again. Maybe I'm wrong. Yeah, I'm sure everything's okay. Doesn't seem so rosy to me, but, after all, what do I know? Nothing. What do they know? Everything. Yeah, no problem.
Hold on. It's working again. I feel better already.
Larry Miller, a columnist for The Daily Standard, is a writer, actor, and comedian living in Los Angeles.