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October 31, 2003, 10:30 P.M.

Two years ago, on the solemn occasion of her fortieth birthday, Dianne wrote a letter to President Bush, the text of which is as follows:

October 14, 2001

Dear President Bush:

Enclosed please find the money you requested in your address to the nation the other night. I should tell you that the money is mine, and that my husband and I will not permit our three children to send you their own money. I do agree that our country ought to care for the children of Afghanistan, and if you really need my $3 to meet our obligations, by all means, take it. It worries me to think that such a critical initiative should have to be funded in this kind of pass-the-hat manner.

I love my country, and I consider myself to be a patriot in the strictest sense of the word. It is my responsibility and duty as a citizen to inform you that I do not agree with the rhetoric in your communications with the American people. You must help you country examine its own behavior to try to understand how we may have helped to bring the tragic events of the last month on ourselves. I do not mean to suggest that bin Laden’s organization was in any way justified in taking the lives of so many people to draw our attention to its cause. I am in full support of Operation Enduring Freedom and your efforts to bring bin Laden and his cohorts to justice. Of course, there can be no excuse for bin Laden’s actions, but how innocent are we, really?

Our country is soft, selfish, arrogant and disinterested in the conditions that others live in on this earth. I remember the oil embargo and resultant gasoline shortages of the 1970’s and I thought that we all understood that the shortages were brought about by America’s dependence on foreign oil. It seems clear to me that our continued dependence on Arab oil, our support of bloated, oppressive regimes in the Arab countries that produce it, along with our loyalty to Israel often in the face of outrageous behavior on her part, certainly contribute to the tensions in that region.

Why are we still so wasteful? Use your office to show the people that you lead that we all really don’t need 2 ½ car garages and gas-guzzling SUVs in the driveway. Be a leader and support the development of alternative energy sources such as solar and fusion. Tell your people to conserve. Don’t believe the auto industry when it complains that it’s too hard to design more fuel-efficient cars. Strengthen our mass transit system and tell your people that you expect them to use it. Use your voice to suggest to our fellow citizens that our extravagant lifestyles might be the cause of the resentment felt by so many others who live out their lives in poverty and misery. Be proactive. Providing food to the Afghan people is not enough. When our military objectives have been met, we must rebuild the country and fully support any reasonable Arab leadership that presents itself. These are not new ideas. Remember how the vindictive nature of the Versailles treaty cause such misery in Europe after World War I and how it contributed to the rise of Adolf Hitler? Why are we will imposing economic sanctions on Iraq? Haven’t those poor people suffered enough at our hands? Help that wretched nation rebuild itself and empower its people to throw Saddam Hussein out of power.

It disturbs me to see the hemorrhagic outpouring of money and gifts beyond all reason to the families of the victims in New York. Clearly these people need to feel our love and support, but you must show the American people that their gifts can be put to better use in Afghanistan and other areas of the world where people live in conditions that we can’t imagine.

I write this letter to you with every expectation that you will read it. You must tell the American people to change their behavior, toughen up, and view the rest of the planet with interest and compassion. We need your leadership now.

Very truly yours,

Dianne Philpot

This letter was also published in our local paper and it drew some sharp and critical responses, Mainly, people objected to the fact that Dianne looked behind the “America good, terrorists evil” and asked questions and made statements that suggested that perhaps our own actions may in some part, be responsible for the hatred that lead to 9/11. Unfortunately, those of us who believe that the question of why people hate us so much is still relevant, and still unanswered by our government, are still the favorite targets of the uninformed. The blindly obedient, who only get their news from people who work for them, or from those who agree with them, or from Fox News, want to condemn the rest of us for even asking the questions.

The same mentality applies when talking about the war in Iraq. Those who dare question our role, our strategies or the advisability of our presence there, are instantly branded as unpatriotic or not supportive of our troops. It is a mindless, knee-jerk response, cultivated by our government and implemented by minions and sycophants.

A prolonged, ill-defined and unproductive campaign in Iraq will surely bring out some nuts on the other side of the fence who can’t separate our government’s folly from the troops who are forced to live with the consequences. It takes courage to keep the pressure on and to see that the right questions get asked. Dianne asked these questions early on, and they have yet to be answered.

October 31, 2003, 9:30 P.M.

According to Paul Krugman, in his recent op-ed, “A Willful Ignorance,” the President “was genuinely surprised to learn from moderate Islamic leaders that they had become deeply distrustful of American intentions.” If that’s the case, the President has either been in a coma since last January, or he is truly not that bright. Neither is a good state of affairs for a sitting president.

There are a few other things that the President is apparently not aware of, like that the White House (that’s your office, George) supplied the “Mission Accomplished” banner that he gave his big victory speech in front of on the U.S.S. Lincoln last spring. Apparently, the President thinks the Navy wanted the banner, and his office just helped make it. That makes sense. I can hear senior Navy officials sitting around discussing the President’s visit, about how to position a 1000 foot aircraft carrier full of men and women who weren’t really in a hurry to get home, and about how nice it would be if we had a banner. Somebody get the White House on the phone and see if they have any banners around. Do you think that’s really what happened, George?

Krugman said it best when he commented on Bush’s “lack of curiosity”: “The best way to get news,’ Bush says, ‘is from objective sources. And the most objective sources I have are people on my staff.’ Two words, says Krugman, ‘emperor, clothes.’”

Exactly who is it that Bush thinks is giving him objective advice, Richard Perle? Karl Rove? Give me a break!

Most significant, a salient point in Krugman’s piece is that Bush’s ignorance is not evidence of stupidity on the part of his advisors (although I still reserve judgment on just how awake the President is), but, rather, it is evidence of “a new post-9/11 political correctness, a ‘willful ignorance,’ that condemns anyone who tries to get beyond “America good, terrorists evil.” If you only listen to people who agree with you, you get a pretty one-sided view of things.

We say that we are not engaged in a holy war, but we allow General “My God’s Bigger Than Yours” Boykin to keep a policy making position in the Pentagon. How does that help the “it’s not a holy war” message? This was a great Krugman column. Well worth reading.

October 29, 2003, 9:15 P.M.

Today's news from Iraq included a report of an Abrams tank being attacked and disabled, with two of its crew being killed. This brings the total number of soldiers killed in Iraq since the “cessation of hostilities” to 115, more than the number killed during the invasion phase of Iraq operations.

It is equally significant that the casualty count continues to rise in Iraq, and that the latest assault involved a successful attack on the most sophisticated piece of military hardware on the ground in Iraq today. This demonstrates once again that the “resistance” is better organized, better equipped and better trained than the administration wants us to believe. As I said in a previous post, this does not bode well for the long term stability of the region or for the safety of U.S. troops.

On the issue of U.S. troops, much was made recently of a letter purportedly distributed among troops stationed in Iraq that was signed and sent home by a number of G.I.s at the “request” of their commanding officer. Reports describe the 5 paragraph letter as saying, in part, “[t]he quality of life and security for the citizens has been largely restored, and we are a large part of why that has happened.” The officer who wrote the letter wanted to focus America’s attention away from the casualties, and on the good things going on in Iraq such as the opening of schools and hospitals in Iraq since the end of the war. The credibility of these letters was seriously undermined when it was discovered that they were not spontaneous outpourings in reaction to negative media coverage, as was first thought. What is more important, however, is the anecdotal evidence that the situation in Iraq really is as bad as we think. This information comes to us from families of soldiers and service personnel in Iraq, and can be derived from the casualty count alone. The fact is that when 35 attacks a day are occurring, the situation is not under control.

Richard Perle was a guest on CNN this week and he mentioned that there was good news in Iraq: schools and hospitals were opening and the lights were coming on. Perle’s comments were played against a backdrop of absolute carnage at the Red Cross headquarters in Baghdad – another television moment rich in irony. I want to know what schools and hospitals have been opened because of our efforts, as opposed to those that have simply been reopened since the end of the war, or that have been opened by the efforts of the Iraqis themselves.

The Iraqi infrastructure has not been restored, so a rocket launcher, disguised as a mobile generator, could be moved to within striking distance of the al Rashid hotel, where Paul Wolfowitz was staying a few days ago. This could happen because there are mobile generators everywhere. There are also long gas lines, continual shortages and a general disdain for the occupying force evidenced by our inability to capture Saddam Hussein, and the ability of his supporters to mount and sustain an active and effective guerilla campaign.

Does any of this sound familiar? A puppet government, propped up by American dollars and American troops, operating in an atmosphere of mistrust, danger and corruption, in a country where outsiders have never been welcome. U.S. soldiers used as shields to protect and nurture a locally recruited police force and army, which might someday shoulder the burden of uniting a fractured country on their own: a hearts and minds campaign aimed at replacing a dictatorship that catered to the everyday needs and wants of the people with a democratic system that has no roots or history in the region. This is Viet Nam, folks: same idea, different jungle.

I have said all along that our policy in Iraq suggests that our major policy planners do not understand or accept the culture and history of the Middle East and therefore, we are doomed to repeat the folly of our past. When the U.S. entered Viet Nam, we had no understanding of the history or the culture of the region and thus continued to try to pound a square peg into a round hole, with our attempts to create a western democracy in the east.

It’s almost worse in Iraq because Iraq is not now and has never been a country with a single identity. Viet Nam was at least that. The times have also changed. There is no shortage of manpower for the holy war against the U.S., and access to the battleground of Iraq is a lot easier for those groups than targets in the U.S. Inflammatory invective from the likes of our deputy undersecretary of Defense, Lt. Gen. Boykin, will result in fanning the flames of hatred and instilling in those soldiers of Jihad a sense of religious righteousness in their cause. With friends like Boykin, who needs enemies?

Before this conflict gets too much more involved, the U.S. needs to step back and seek regional and international input on how to resolve this situation. I don’t think the solution is to find a way to let go of the tar baby; it has to be more than that. The solution has to be home grown, though, or it will never take root.

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Copyright 2003 Edward Philpot

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