Thursday, January 11, 2007

Overloading the Memory Hole

Sara Robinson

As Harper's predicted in an excellent article way back last summer, the conservative "stab in the back" crowd is rushing forward to paint Democratic opposition to the "surge" as the One And Only Reason We Lost The War.

They're reaching for this, of course, because it worked so well for them after Vietnam. (Damn dirty peacenik hippies -- and my plan would've worked, if it hadn't been for you meddling kids!) And they got away with it then because Vietnam was, in large measure, a war that could be credibly hung around the neck of the Democratic party. It was started by JFK, escalated by LBJ, ratified by a decade of Democratic Congresses, and finally ended by a Republican president. For the 30 years since, the conservative story, repeated endlessly, is that the Democrats don't have the guts or the brains for war -- and Exhibit A is the fiasco of Vietnam.

(World War II, a Democratic triumph well-remembered by most of the people who started this storyline, evidently didn't count any more. Which is interesting, considering that the Harper's article also notes the Nazi origins of this rhetorical tactic. It appears to be a fascist favorite.)

Remembering these warnings, it was sickening to listen to the pundits -- as I did last night on MSNBC -- holding forth on how the Dems in Congress are now terrified of being put in the same position again; and how the Republicans have them tied in a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't position when it comes to standing up for de-escalation and phased withdrawal. It'll be Vietnam all over again, the talking heads insisted. There's no step the Democrats can take on Iraq that won't leave this one tied around their necks for the next three decades, too. If they force Bush to leave now, Republicans will accuse them of undermining The Plan. (There was a plan? Do tell.) If they don't, a Democratic president will be stuck cleaning up the mess in 2009. (Guess what: cleaning up GOP messes is nothing new for Democratic administrations.)

If our new Congressional Dems really are falling for this piece of GOP bullshit, we need to rush to our phones and keyboards and set them straight, today. Iraq may be terrifyingly like Vietnam in some very critical ways -- but this is one place the analogy does not hold. And the only way the GOP is going to sell that back-stabbing myth again this time is if they manage -- if we allow them -- to stuff some very big facts down the memory hole.

The fact is that this war, from its ill-conceived beginning to its ignominious end, is a 100% pure GOP production. From the mad utopians at PNAC to the planners at the Bush Administration (who were largely the same people); from the House to the Senate; from 2000 to 2006; you're looking at wall-to-wall Republicans. There were more than a few Republicans in the mix during Vietnam; but virtually no Democrats (with the sorry exception of Joe Lieberman) have been involved in creating this noxious disaster.

The fact is that they lost the war the day the White House stopped listening to the intelligence agencies, and started listening to the echo chamber in their own empty heads.

They lost the war the day Colin Powell stood up and lied to the world about Saddam's threat.

They lost the war, even before it started, every time an administration official got on TV and told the American people vast whoppers about the plans and purposes of the war -- lies that were being told on pretty much a weekly basis throughout 2002 and into 2003, as this Mother Jones website clearly shows.

They lost the war the day they sent Eric Shinseki and his requested 400,000 troops packing, and tore up longstanding Pentagon plans for how to invade, occupy, and rebuild a country.

They lost the war the day they secured the Oil Ministry instead of the streets, public buildings, and national monuments -- and the weapons depots from which the materials for IEDs are still coming.

They lost the war the day Donald Rumsfeld said "Free people are free to commit crimes and make mistakes and do bad things" -- essentially giving carte blanche to a regime of anarchy.

They lost the war, big time, the day they disbanded the Iraqi Army; and the day (right about that same week) that they decreed that the rebuilding jobs would go to overpaid Americans instead of the millions of desperate Iraqis who needed good jobs and intact cities to maintain the cultural, economic, and physical infrastructure of civilization.

They lost the war when they failed to give American troops effective cultural training, including basic language training and sufficient translator support. This resulted in countless Iraqi deaths based on nothing more than miscommunication; and ensured that American soldiers and Iraqis would come to despise each other. It did not have to be this way.

They lost the war when the Republican Congress swallowed its own doubts -- and even the growing fears about its own incumbency -- to continue to ratify this war.

They have lost the war a hundred other ways in the four years since -- because, as I am by no means the first to point out, this was intended from the start to be a generation-long war, which would rage from India to Israel, from Turkey to Tehran. There was never a plan for victory. There was only the plan to create as much chaos as it would take, for as long as it would take, to ensure that in the end the US energy companies would control the taps on the Middle East's oil supply, and thus ensure American control over a rising China for several decades to come.

The only way the "stabbed in the back" myth is going to work this time is if the GOP manages to make everybody forget every little bit of the above history. And Lord knows they’re working overtime to make that happen: it's why they sneer at "blaming Democrats," and insist that we only talk about what's happening now, instead of how we got here. What's done is done. We must look ahead.

We know the Memory Hole is pretty damned big -- but this needs to be the flush that finally breaks the pipes. When Democratic leaders buy into this alleged need to forget, and promote deliberate amnesia as the route to bipartisan harmony, they're setting the stage that will, very soon, enable the GOP to make the old story stick. They must not do this. EVER. Every Democrat from Nancy Pelosi on down needs to remind America and the GOP, day in and day out, that this is their war, a war held at a time and place of their choosing, a war that their Decider decided on, a war that they supported for four miserable years, a war that they mismanaged into disaster with absolutely no help from anyone -- mainly because there was no one they were willing to listen to anyway.

Of course they'd like to stick us with the blame. While Dad was sleeping, the six-year-olds have had the full run of the house. Now Mom's back -- and is being forced to deal with the stopped-up potties and the empty fridge and the fire in the garage and the holes in the sheetrock. Yes, she's angry. Yes, she's demanding accountability (blaming), and doling out consequences (accountability). Yes, she is a mean mommy. And no, you do not get to blame her for behaving like a responsible adult, cleaning up the mess and calling the plumber and paying the bills and patching things up with the neighbors after you've gone and destroyed the entire house.

Any woman with a mother-of-five voice should instantly recognize -- and instinctively know how to deal with -- a pack of whining, petulant, irresponsible children who attempt to duck the blame for a fantasy game of army men gone horribly out of control. And the last thing she should accept from them is, "And it's all YOUR fault." A Real Mom would simply roll her eyes derisively, laugh out loud at the sheer audacity of the claim -- and tack another decade onto the time they're set to be grounded for even trying such a ridiculous dodge.

You can bet she's not going to forget this one for a long, long time. And she'll make damn sure you can't help but remember it, too.

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