Looking Back

The latest polls are in, and Mr. Bush can’t be pleased. A quick run-down:

  • Bush’s overall approval rating has dropped to 59%, well below Bush 41’s numbers at this point twelve years ago.
  • 52% of those polled believe there has been an “unacceptable” level of U.S. casualties in Iraq.
  • 57% still consider the war with Iraq to have been worth the sacrifice, down from 70% ten weeks ago.
  • 50% said Bush intentionally exaggerated evidence suggesting Iraq had WMD.
  • 80% fear the United States will become bogged down in a long and costly peacekeeping mission in Iraq, up eight points in less than three weeks.

The good news, as far as I’m concerned, is that, with the American population growing increasingly concerned over our military occupation, Bush will be less likely to instigate that conflict with Iran or Syria that I have been predicting would come some time in the weeks leading up to primary season. Also, with Dean’s campaign in much better shape than was Clinton’s in ’91, and with Congressional Democrats finally finding some backbone, things are looking better for 2004.

What I find more interesting, though, are the comments from the “man on the street” that always accompany the findings of polls like this. In the linked article, Betty Stillwell, 71, says, “We were supposed to be in there and out. By now I thought they would have set up a government, and they haven’t done that yet. . . . I think the whole thing was poorly planned, no thought to the aftermath.” Similar sentiments were expressed by interviewees on the Friday edition of ABC Nightly News. One woman, the mother of a 20-year-old serviceman, said that she had stood confidently behind President Bush in February and March (as was her patriotic duty), but that she was surprised and saddened to discover, four months later, that her son was still in the desert, still at risk.


I totally sympathize with this woman’s frustration (believe me), but to act as though the “untidiness” of post-war Iraq is a big surprise only proves your ignorance. Today I discovered one of the perks of writing a blog. Blogging acts as a record of sorts — a map of texts and happenings through which I can now plot the course of my changing passions and opinions. Or, in other, more self-congratulatory words, it’s like a big We Told You So. (I never said I wouldn’t be petty if it served my needs.) So for those two well-intentioned women (and others like them) who are surprised by how messy things have become, here’s a quick look back through Long Pauses:

On a Saturday morning in February, millions of people stood up against this war. And just a few days earlier, I warned about what would happen if we made foreign policy decisions based on irrational fear rather than on historical analysis. That post echoes the comments I made on January 30 when, in response to the now much-discussed State of the Union, I wrote: “The histories of nations that have exercised imperial force under the guise of Providence should be telling to all but the most blindly ill-informed and arrogant.”

On January 2nd there was Robert Scheer in The Nation, writing:

we are mobilizing our massive forces against a weakened secular dictator 6,000 miles away who doesn’t seem to have had anything to do with a series of devastating terrorist attacks. What is happening here? Certainly not the construction of a coherent foreign policy aimed at increasing the security of the United States or our allies. This is an Administration that in two years has so mucked up our approach to the world that merely applying the demands of logic is made to appear unpatriotic.

And speaking of those links between Iraq and Al-Quaeda. . . . I was writing about Bush’s rhetorical strategies nine months ago, two weeks into the life of this blog. Responding to his September 12 speech, I wrote:

After being pressed for several weeks to provide evidence that links Iraq to Al-Quaeda, and after failing repeatedly to do so, the President has instead linked them rhetorically, which, to be honest, is all that he really needs to do in order to sway public opinion back to his favor. Suddenly Hussein has been transformed into a new Osama, a figurehead and weapons broker.

And it was in the same speech that President Bush first began promising a future in which the people of Iraq would “join a democratic Afghanistan and a democratic Palestine, inspiring reforms throughout the Muslim world.” My response:

Man, that would be nice, wouldn’t it? Again, I applaud his spoken motivations, but I just don’t see this administration or the American voters being willing to put forth the long term efforts necessary for such a radical change. Let me be clear here: I have complete faith in the abilities of our armed services, and I have no doubt that we could quickly destabilize Iraq and oust its leadership (though doing so will come at the cost of thousands of lives, some ours, most theirs). But what happens next? That’s the answer that I most wanted to hear yesterday and the one that I knew he would carefully sidestep.

Downright prescient, eh?

Now, finally, a majority of Americans are beginning to ask the questions that so many of us wanted answered nearly a year ago. These in my very first blog entry, for instance. Norman Mailer and George Kennan warned us. Reverend Fritz Rich warned us. Democratic Senator Robert Byrd and Republican Representative John Duncan warned us. Countless church leaders warned us. Chris Hedges warned us. And Shane Claiborne certainly warned us.

In October Pete Stark stood on the floor of the House and asked a question that his less courageous peers only now have the balls to ask:

What is most unconscionable is that there is not a shred of evidence to justify the certain loss of life. Do the generalized threats and half-truths of this administration give any one of us in Congress the confidence to tell a mother or father or family that the loss of their child or loved one was in the name of a just cause?

I wonder how that mother interviewed by ABC last night would respond?