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War Lust
Bush’s Second Veto

Around 6 o’clock Tuesday evening, President Bush vetoed legislation for only the second time in six and a half years. The first time, remember, was on September 25, 2005, to veto a bill that would have lifted restrictions on federal spending on stem-cell research. Monday’s vote was almost as regressive, if more immediately so. Americans want troops to come home by majorities in the 60 percent range. More to the point, Iraqis want Americans out of their country by margins closer to the 80 percent range—higher, if you count out the Kurds, who have established a de-facto country of their own in the north, and who know that without Americans in Iraq, they’d be open to attack not only from Iraqis, but from Turks to the west and Iranians to the east. The bill Congress sent the president requires him to specify by July 1 to what extent Iraqis have made progress toward assuming their own security. Failing that, the bill requires withdrawal to begin October 1, and take no longer than six months after that date. But the bill makes broad exceptions: The military can stay as long as it’s “Engaging in targeted special actions limited in duration and scope to killing or capturing members of al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations with global reach.” And it can stay indefinitely as long as it’s “Training and equipping members of the Iraqi Security Forces” (see the bill’s sec. 1904e).

So it’s not quite that Bush lied, in his veto message, when he said that “All the terrorists would have to do is mark their calendars and gather their strength -- and begin plotting how to overthrow the government and take control of the country of Iraq.” He just mischaracterized a reality he’s never been honest about: all the “terrorists” have done is ratchet up the violence the longer Americans have stayed, while making Iraqis pay the price. All that Americans have done, by staying indefinitely, against American and Iraqi will, is make Iraqis and American soldiers the sacrificial lambs to a perception of prestige hanging by its fingernails. It’s not the deadline that “would demoralize the Iraqi people [or] would encourage killers across the broader Middle East,” as Bush said. It’s a lack of deadline that would intensify those realities. “Setting a deadline for withdrawal is setting a date for failure—and that would be irresponsible,” Bush said. In other words, delay the admission of failure with another.

The cynicism was yet to come:

The need to act is urgent. Without a war funding bill, the military has to take money from some other account or training program so the troops in combat have what they need. Without a war funding bill, the Armed Forces will have to consider cutting back on buying new equipment or repairing existing equipment. Without a war funding bill, we add to the uncertainty felt by our military families. Our troops and their families deserve better—and their elected leaders can do better.

How is extending tours not adding to troops’ uncertainty? How is a back-door draft that has conscripted tens of thousands of troops beyond their normal sign-up contracts not piling on the uncertainty “felt by our military families”? Most of all, since when is “supporting our troops” the end-all of national security and policy, as Bush is making it out to be? This isn’t abo9ut supporting troops (although bringing them home would be a pretty convincing gesture of support). It’s not about allaying uncertainty for their families. To the contrary. It’s using troops while abusing the notion of “supporting the troops” in the name of an unwinnable gambit that was a failure from the day it began. “Surely,” he concluded Monday evening, we can agree that our troops are worthy of this funding -- and that we have a responsibility to get it to them without further delay.” In that case, why is he vetoing the bill?

When Bush vetoed the stem-cell bill, he ensured that American research in the field would be largely delayed for years (a decade, by the time Bush is done blocking funding). If stem-cell research proves successful in arresting debilitating diseases decades from now, Bush’s delay would have translated to a needless suffering for millions whose illnesses will be prolonged or left untreated until the next, luckier, post-regression generation. When Bush vetoed the Iraq war funding bill on Monday (a monstrous bill any way you look at it) he ensured a similar prolongation of suffering. The needless premature deaths won’t be in the millions. But the futility of it all will be the same, since it could have been prevented. The blood on Bush’s hands is barely a metaphor anymore.

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