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(March 21, 2003 9:45 P.M. // link)

There are two questions that the Bush administration is currently refusing the answer about the war. First, how much will it cost? Vice President Cheney was asked by Tim Russert on NBC’s Meet the Press whether the war might cost $100 billion. Cheney had no answer other than that there are estimates “out there.” This answer suggested to Washington Post writer, E.J. Dionne, Jr., that “out there” means that the administration has no estimates of its own. I disagree. I can’t imagine that they don’t know how much the military phase of this operation will cost. I am equally certain that for political reasons they don’t want to answer the question. It is much easier to say that no expense can be spared in support of our troops, and leave it at that.

The second nagging question is, how long will it take? Everyone is hoping for a quick and decisive military victory. The real work starts when the shooting stops. Barry Walker has an interesting article in this morning’s Laconia Citizen, which includes an interview with Thomas Schlesinger, a former Army intelligence officer involved in the post-WWII occupation of Germany. Schlesinger points out the differences in preparations before the US occupations of Germany and Japan and the current situation in Iraq. Schlesinger observes that not only is the preparation different, but so is the culture of Iraq. Iraq is a nation forged from diverse cultures by imperialist Britain after WWI. The conquest of the current regime will naturally release ancient tensions between and among those diverse groups requiring an intensive effort to maintain the peace and develop a successor government.

These questions are not being answered because the answers are inconvenient and will draw criticism and resistance to the Bush policies. If Dick Cheney admits that the war will cost $100 billion, Congress could rightly ask for cuts in domestic programs, or even, God forbid, in the Tax Cut for the Wealthy entitlement program, to offset those costs. Naturally, that requires that the Congress, which abdicated its authority to the President last fall, would suddenly find purpose and independence.

Oil and oil service companies such as Halliburton (Dick Cheney is a former chief executive) are certainly looking forward to the end of the war so that they can reap the benefits of post-war contracts.

I have repeatedly chastised the administration for its lousy politics, but there may be another way to look at the administration’s politics of September and October 2002. I’m not saying I buy it, but E.J. Dionne, writing in the Washington Post on Tuesday, March 11, said “In political terms, Bush’s approach was brilliant. By going to the United Nations in September, Bush disarmed many Democrats who would not vote against the President at a moment when he was seeking U.N. support. The President won himself a virtual blank check from Congress to proceed as he wished.” I would never use the words “brilliant” and “Bush” in the same paragraph, but if the President went along with 1441 for the purpose of gaining his Congressional vote of confidence, his politics worked effectively. That does not change my opinion that it was deceptive and wrong, but if in fact this was the plan, it was done well. Dionne describes the ploy as seeking a “marriage of convenience, not commitment.” If Dionne is correct and the administration now has gotten what it wants and is ready to move on, I hope that Congress has heard the message.

My recent writing has focused on the arrogance of the administration in entering an agreement without intending to live up to it, or worse, without laying a proper diplomatic foundation to implement its strategy. Even given Dionne’s view, I think that the government expected that they would get the second vote required under 1441 and so they agreed to the requirement. Only after they were unable to get support for the second resolution did they begin to seriously distance themselves from their own comments in September.

(March 21, 2003 8:00 P.M. // link)

On the home front, the House of Representatives narrowly passed a $2.2 trillion budget resolution. The plan preserves the Bush tax cuts at the $726 billion level, however, the resolution only passed by a vote of 215 to 212. The resolution passed is only a planning measure, and it does not carry the force of law. A separate and substantially different measure is being considered by the Senate. Both measures will undergo fundamental changes when the House and the Senate meet to reconcile the House and Senate versions.

There is no money in either version, House or Senate, for the war in Iraq. It is hard to imagine that the resolutions will result in a budget which continues to include the full stroke of welfare for the wealthy, calls for a balanced budget by 2012 and contains unrealistic cuts in Medicaid and student loan programs. Hopefully, the moderate voices on both sides of the aisle who are attempting to set realistic priorities and reduce the tax cut by half will make inroads before the budget reaches the President’s desk.

There is a major push in the Senate aimed at reducing the tax cuts by half and it appears to have momentum. Mike Allen, staff writer for the Washington Post, covered the push in his March 20, 2003 article. I hope that the moderates will prevail.

Senator and presidential candidate John Edwards successfully pressed for an amendment to devote $30 billion for cash-strapped states to “strengthen homeland security and help avoid tax hikes and service cuts for schools and health care.” In his press release on the subject, Senator Edwards suggested that “[b]ecause of a slowing economy and federal tax cuts, states are experiencing the largest fiscal crisis since World War II.” Actually, the states have not even begun to feel the effects of the tax cuts. The catastrophic state budget crisis is only going to get worse as a result of the tax cuts. These cuts, which are yet to happen, will compound the worst fiscal crisis since World War II.

(March 20, 2003 // link)

PoP is picking up momentum. We are beginning to get some good feedback and thoughtful discussion via e-mail. We will publish feedback to the site, as we have in the past, but we have a few guidelines: First and foremost, we don't consider anonymous comments for publication. We won't even read them. Likewise, if you aren't willing to be publically identified as the author of the comments, we cannot post your comments to the site.

Just so you know, A. Pariah (Axle Pariah) is the nom de plume of Jeff Philpot, my cousin and friend. If you have a nom de plume, fine, but we have to let the other readers know who you are.

Keep those e-mails coming!

(March 19, 2003 // link)

The failure of American diplomacy regarding Iraq, exemplified by the failure to muster support among our allies for the use of force against Iraq, has its roots in the compromises necessary to pass UN resolution 1441. France, Russia and several other Security Council members forced the Bush administration into fundamental concessions in the resolution, and those concessions came back to haunt us when we recently sought a resolution authorizing force. The truth is, 1441 is a watered down version of what the US wanted last fall, and it does not contain the legal authority for this war that Bush claims it does.

In fact, our Ambassador to the UN, John D. Negroponte, clearly stated last November that “whatever violation there is, or is judged to exist, will be dealt with within the [security] council, and the council will have an opportunity to consider the matter before any other action is taken.” That is a very different position than what Colin Powell and George Bush have said in the past few days. The fact is, we compromised with other members of the Security Council to get 1441 passed and now we are not living up to our agreements.

It is now clear that the administration intended to go to war with Iraq regardless of what the UN Security Council said or did. In fact, the US was talking about March being the best time for an invasion as early as last summer. Our allies and fellow Security Council members thought that they were voting for a resolution that committed the US to further deliberations prior to the use of force. Our government encouraged other governments to believe this, but we never intended to follow the rules we agreed to.

Josh Marshall is perhaps somewhat kinder. He sees it as kind of a “tastes great, less filling” sort of misunderstanding. This argument essentially says that everybody wanted the resolution, but there was never a true “meeting of the minds” about the next step. I think that the Bush administration overestimated its ability to develop and implement an effective diplomatic strategy to support its invasion plans. They simply underestimated the political fragility of the coalition that supported 1441. They were also arrogant enough to think that they would continue to direct policy in the Security Council, despite the clear message being delivered in November when the Security Council refused to pass earlier versions of 1441 that contained automatic invasion language. If the Security Council is truly becoming marginalized or irrelevant, it is due in no small part to the actions of our government in making agreements it never intended to honor.

Check out Nick Kristof’s great historical analogy in “Cassandra Speaks” in yesterday’s New York Times.

In response to my recent article regarding the war in Iraq, I received this comment from an old friend. He writes:

"This is America, at the end of the day I expect the debate to end and someone to do something. Endless debate has nothing to do with democracy. Just because someone has something to say doesn't necessarily mean it's worth listening to."
-- A. Pariah
(March 18, 2003 // link)

"You can lead an ass to knowledge, but you can't make him think."

(March 17, 2003 // link)

The Laconia legislative delegation was invited to a discussion with the Laconia City Council and School Board on the topic of education funding. Prior to the meeting, I had the opportunity to raise the issue of HB 135, the charter school bill, with the three members of the delegation who bothered to show up – Rep. Holbrook, Rep. Flanders and Rep. Fitzgerald. I told them that I was disappointed that they voted for the bill given its stated circumvention of local control. Only Bob Holbrook would engage me on the topic and he actually said that he did not see that this bill undermined local control. “How can you say that?” I asked, “when the bill gives authority for establishing charter schools to the State Board of Education, without local approval?” Bob suggested that the concept works well in New York City. I agree, Bob, it probably does work well in New York City, which is a school district with a population larger than that of the State of New Hampshire, but for our state, charter schools are a catastrophe that undermines our local school districts and erodes already insufficient funding to towns and cities. What disappointed me most was an apparent lack of understanding on the part of our elected representatives of the effects of this law and its consequences.

(March 16, 2003 // link)

The closer we get to a war with Iraq, the stronger the rhetoric for and against the war is becoming. I’ve heard more than one “patriotic ballad” on the radio, and I also heard about more than one peace rally. The Hawks and the Doves are strident in their messages. I am concerned that that the debate has now become so polarized that anyone who suggests that there might be a case to be made for war is instantly and permanently branded a “warmonger.” On the other hand, anyone who suggests that the administration has not made a case for the war is labeled “anti-war” or worse, unpatriotic. Once these labels become so quickly and permanently affixed, we lose sight of the true meaning of freedom of speech, of democracy and indeed of patriotism.

Even moderate positions for and against the war, or for or against waiting to gain international approval before starting the war are being debated less and argued more. It seems that you are either for us or against us from in the view from either side of the fence. Debate and discussion are intended to result in a healthy exchange of ideas. Argument is intended to persuade an opponent of the correctness of ones position. That being said, there are good arguments to be made on both sides of this debate, and as my dad always said, “I never learned a damned thing when I was talking.” Listening to, reading and understanding the positions of those who feel differently on this issue will only serve to strengthen your message.

This country has not been involved in as prolonged, costly and deadly a war as the impending conflict can potentially become since Vietnam. During the Vietnam War, the process of debate and discussion broke down in a way that tested our system of government. This happened in part because the government failed to provide an explanation to the public about why America had to go to war or to articulate a plan for prosecuting the war. The length of the war deepened the chasm between hawks and doves but it also made the soldiers targets for disrespect and alienation from both sides of the debate. Anti-war activists began to see soldiers as the tools of an unjust government and the hawks saw them as failures for their inability to “win the war.” As a result, an entire generation of brave and proud men were dishonored and disrespected.

I remember the debates about the war in Vietnam. I participated in them. What strikes me the most is the similarity and the stridency of the debate today to those debates of the past. What also strikes me is the misuse of the word patriotism. Patriotism is not blind obedience or unquestioning loyalty. Patriotism is a passionate belief in and love for your country. In this country, it is expected that the motives and the actions of our government will be questioned. That is a fundamental tenet of our system and it is one of the aspects of our system that makes it unique. Tolerance is another. If you refuse to accept that others may have valid points, issues, or feelings on the subject of war against a foreign country, then that is your right. Good people can disagree. If you do not respect another’s right to his opinion, you do not understand the meaning of democracy or patriotism.

If this war starts, and it looks to be inevitable, it will be similar to the Vietnam War in many ways. Like Vietnam, this war will be fought without the benefit of a credible and well-articulated policy. It will be fought without a declaration of war and it will be fought without the benefit of widespread international support. It has the potential to be different in that the force that we apparently intend to bring to bear is overwhelming, making the likelihood of a prolonged conflict slim. It is different in that the threat of the use of chemical and biological warfare is real and likely. It is my hope that it will be different in that, no matter how you feel about this war, that we will give the men and women of the armed forces our unwavering and unconditional support in the professional performance of their assigned tasks. The soldiers and sailors who serve in the armed forces do not make policy, the implement it; they do not choose their mission, they fulfill it. Under no circumstance should they bear any responsibility in this debate.

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Copyright 2003 Edward Philpot

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