From Katrina to Walter Reed, Cont’d
Guess Who’s Spitting at Veterans Now
Pierre Tristam/Candide’s Notebooks, March 7, 2007
|American-style waste: Between Iraq and a Walter Reed kind of place
President Bush was at the Renaissance Hotel Tuesday morning, speaking to the American Legion in one of a series of rhetorical cover-ups for the Katrina of the Iraq War—the criminal, don’t-give-a-shit care inflicted on returning wounded veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan at Walter Reed, the Army hospital and, as we’ll soon find out, across the spectrum of veteran hospitals: The system, after almost seven years of nickel-and-diming, cronyism and sheer indifference, is not what it was in the 1990s. To Bush, it might as well be like this: you do health care with the system you’ve got. He wasn’t as foolish as Don Rumsfeld to say those words; but the effect was just as scornful. He claimed that the problem at Walter Reed is “unacceptable to me, it is unacceptable to you, it’s unacceptable to our country—and it’s not going to continue.” You wish he was saying that about the Iraq war, which ought to be unacceptable condition No. 1. But no. What will not continue is only the public revelation of shoddiness. The hospital will carry on, because the war will carry on. There is immense irony in this: The president is projecting compassion and concern for the returning veterans, for the revolting conditions they’ve had to endure at the hospital, for the insult that their return to American society has amounted to—not from hippie protesters spitting at them and calling them baby-killers as in the Vietnam years, but from their own government, from the very administration that sent them to Iraq to be sacrificed, wasted, shredded and returned for more abuse. He is projecting compassion for what he himself did to those veterans. Or is he, suddenly, not the commander-in-chief in this particular story?
And there’s immense irony in the fact that the president and apparently the applauding veterans he was speaking to on Tuesday sees not the slightest misdemeanor in perpetuating the founding injury to American soldiers and society, and to Iraq as well, obviously: The hospitals will get their coat of whitewashing paint; the war will continue, because that’s what we’re all about: “The most solemn duty of this government is to protect the American people from further harm,” he said. And the best way to do that, naturally, is to put Americans and others in harm’s way, and fuel harm’s instigators as best we can. In that regard, we’re still Number 1.
What better way to apply the whitewash than by splattering a few meaningless statistics? And so he did. “The 2008 budget proposal will increase the VA health care budget by 83 percent since I took office. The Department of Defense's health care budget has grown from $19 billion to $38 billion. And that's an important commitment.” Well, yes: war does that to war departments’ health budgets. It’s always been a misnomer to split the VA from the war department, just as it’s been a misnomer, since 1949, to call the National Military Establishment the “Department of Defense.” It’s never been anything other than a war department, devouring young men and now young women at the front end, vomiting them at the back-end, when men and women are lucky enough to be vomited back, missing only some of their parts as opposed to having been robbed of life altogether.
Died protecting our nation? Not since World War II, not in any war—Korea, Vietnam, Lebanon, Haiti, Somalia Gulf I, Iraq, not even Afghanistan—can that claim be made with a straight face. Their deaths have all been, as John McCain correctly, briefly put it on Letterman a few days ago, wasted (True to his duplicity, McCain apologized within hours). In Iraq especially. “The extremists,” Bush told the veterans on Tuesday, “are fighting to take control of Iraq so they can establish it as a base from which to overthrow moderate governments in the region, and plan new attacks on the American people.” Moderate governments in the region? Which governments does Bush mean, exactly? Jordan, where prisons are as luridly torture-giddy as Syria’s and where despotism with a human face means the Palestinian majority gets to live with only half a shackle on each leg while other Jordanians live with a third of a shackle? Egypt, where a blogger was just imprisoned for writing religiously objectionable posts and where torture is the norm of police stations and prisons? Saudi Arabia, a regime that hides its Taliban tendencies with its wealth and bribes, and the fact that it sits on the western world’s energy-heroin supply? Libya? Yemen? The United Arab Emirates? Morocco and Tunisia? If that’s what George Bush considers “moderate,” no wonder he thinks John Roberts and Sam Alito are “moderate” conservatives.
“If we fail in Iraq,” he continued, “the enemy will follow us home. (Applause.) Their success in Iraq would bring danger to America, and that is why America must prevail in Iraq. (Applause.)” And that is why Iraqis hate America’s guts: They don’t appreciate being treated like guinea pigs or buffers to American security, especially when the buffer is a fake one, when the security in question isn’t being improved, but endangered, along with that of every Iraqi. But the affront of the speech was yet to come: “Iraqi and U.S. forces are making gradual but important progress almost every day, and we will remain steadfast until our objectives are achieved.” Bush began speaking at 10:15 Tuesday morning, 5:15 in the afternoon Baghdad time. By then the Iraqi sky was thick with smoke from a couple of suicide bombers’ attacks on Shiite pilgrims heading south of Baghdad to Karbala. The death toll is over 100. The War Department reported the death of nine American soldiers, too; “gradual but important progress almost every day.” I suppose today was not one of those days.