Editorial note: This piece was first published on January 29, 2003, a few months before the US invaded Iraq. The original title was “Beware the Ides of March: Ignore the First Chickenhawk’s ‘State of the Union’ – listen, instead, to General Schwarzkopf.” It is the best tribute we could pay Gen. Schwarzkopf: that he openly opposed the greatest strategic disaster in American military history.
If you think I’m going to miss EastEnders in order to hear the “State of the Union” address you are wrong, wrong, wrong. Why bother, when I know the state of the union sucks?
No sooner did Hans Blix open his mouth then the Dow started tanking; our war birds had hardly begun their latest chorus of banshee-like screeching when speculation began as to how Saddam would strike back. So we’re going to hear about how some until now totally unknown Al Qaeda “affiliate,” Ansar al-Islam, is supposedly backed by the Iraqis – in the U.S.-protected quasi-independent statelet of Kurdistan. I might as well go to Debka.com and get the latest Israeli propaganda straight from the horse’s mouth.
I’m sorry, but I just can’t get up even a modicum of enthusiasm for the incoherent squawking of our marionette-in-chief. I hate it when he scrunches up his forehead and squints out at us with that simian belligerence, like General Ursus in “Planet of the Apes.” Helen Thomas is right: he is the worst President we’ve ever had, in every respect. His presidency will go down in history as the last gasp of the old Republic, right before it degenerated into an empire more vulgar than Rome, and more short-lived than Alexander’s.
Who wants to see the nation’s number one chickenhawk “rally the nation” to war, as one breathless news report put it? No thanks, I’ll pass. I choose to ignore the baboonish Bush, and instead urge you to heed the words of Stormin’ Norman Schwarzkopf, the commander of our 1991 drive-by shooting in the Gulf.
In an extraordinary interview in the Washington Post, Schwarzkopf continues the Pentagon’s offensive against this war, much more effectively than all the peace demonstrations from here ’til kingdom come. Skeptical of the administration’s rationale for war, the General is said to be
“Worried about the cockiness of the U.S. war plan, and even more by the potential human and financial costs of occupying Iraq. And don’t get him started on Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.”
Schwarzkopf’s resentment of Rumsfeld, who seems to enjoy his reputation as a blowhard – albeit an entertaining one – is palpable. The General complains that the objections among senior military personnel were simply brushed aside in the rush to war. That heedless arrogance was entirely absent when Dick Cheney was in charge, but
“Rumsfeld, by contrast, worries him. ‘It’s scary, okay?’ he says. ‘Let’s face it: There are guys at the Pentagon who have been involved in operational planning for their entire lives, okay? . . . And for this wisdom, acquired during many operations, wars, schools, for that just to be ignored, and in its place have somebody who doesn’t have any of that training, is of concern.'”
This is not just a fight over turf, however, but over two polar opposite conceptions of military and foreign policy. Schwarzkopf shares the opposition of many officers to the post-9/11 military strategy of this administration, which is to pit the U.S., Israel, and possibly Turkey against the entire Arab world:
“It’s obviously not a black-and-white situation over there” in the Mideast, he says. ‘I would just think that whatever path we take, we have to take it with a bit of prudence.'”
The General also isn’t buying the idea that we can turn Iraq into a Jeffersonian democracy any time soon:
“I would hope that we have in place the adequate resources to become an army of occupation, because you’re going to walk into chaos.”
Never to walk out of it.
Schwarzkopf’s critique is fixed, not on the short-term prospect of an American “victory,” but on the inevitability of defeat in the long run. It is a fundamental difference between the old-line pre-imperial era senior officers, who see their task as defending America, and the civilian leadership imbued with a vision of conquest. The Vietnam syndrome is supposed to be dead and buried, but it lives on in the military, which knows, from bitter experience, that the politicians will take credit for the victories, however Pyrrhic, while the grunts take the heat in defeat.
As Georgie Chickenhawk rallies the nation behind yet another American incursion onto the Asian landmass, the horrified and increasingly vocal reaction of Schwarzkopf and his allies in the top ranks of the military is not hard to fathom. They have opposed this war from the beginning, and it is not too late for the President to heed their wisdom. He may be the slave of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, he may be Ariel Sharon’s gofer, but even a sub-literate reformed drunk, whose brains have been sautéed in alcohol, knows he can’t win a war without the top brass.
We keep hearing that war is “inevitable,” but you’ll notice how they keep pushing back the date. First it was going to happen right around Christmas, and then at the end of January, and now they’re saying the Ides of March. If so, then perhaps one of the President’s more historically-inclined advisors will tell Caesar to beware.
To the soldiers out there, consider General Schwarzkopf’s warning next to the ignorant ravings of our bellowing Boy Emperor, who slithered out of the draft and is now striking a Napoleonic pose. Which one do you trust to make the decision to go to war?
Listen up, soldier. You have the power to stop this war before it starts. Imagine the panic that would set in if the ranks started echoing and acting on the warnings of their senior commanders. The President may be a slave to the War Party, but you sure as hell aren’t: you’re an American citizen who has the right to speak out. Isn’t that what they’re supposedly sending you overseas to fight and die for?
Or is it?
To all who agree with General Schwarzkopf, and side with prudence over Rumsfeldian recklessness, here is how you can spread the word. Just download the speeches and statements of the generals who have spoken out against this war, and share them with your friends. The speeches of former Secretary of the Navy James Webb, General Anthony Zinni, and retired Marine colonel Larry Williams can’t get you in any trouble: if they start treating Colonel David Hackworth like some kind of subversive, then we know we’re in big trouble.
The most “subversive” activity you can engage in, however, is to keep yourself informed. Having arrived at this site, you’re already on the right track….
Okay, so I did watch the speech, and taped EastEnders, and wasn’t I right? The phony connection made between Iraq and Al Qaeda, even murkier than I imagined: the braying bellicosity, the furrowed brow, the mean squint. I must say, however, that I was taken aback when the President opined:
“Throughout the 20th century, small groups of men seized control of great nations … built armies and arsenals … and set out to dominate the weak and intimidate the world. In each case, their ambitions of cruelty and murder had no limit.”
A Freudian slip? An antiwar mole among the speechwriters? Or a single moment of honesty amid a fusillade of lies? What Bush is describing is his own rotten regime, up to and including the neoconservative cabal that has seized the reins of power in Washington, and set us rushing off to war. The whole point of the President’s demagogic tirade was to intimidate the world, and most of all the American people. Conjuring up the self-fulfilling prophecy of an Iraqi attack on the U.S., the Bushies expect us to quake in fear – and surrender ourselves helplessly to their war plans.
After this display of demagogy, Helen Thomas must be feeling vindicated. Yes, he’s “the worst President in all of American history,” as the state of the union, 2003, demonstrates beyond any doubt.