Thursday, May 17, 2007

I Wasn't a Soldier Once, But Joe Galloway Was

Joe Galloway and I both worked for UPI for a long time, but only once, in passing, did I meet him and share a beer. I didn't even know at the time, in the mid-80s, what he had done; that he is universally considered the finest war correspondent of our time.

Galloway now writes a column on military affairs for McClatchy Newspapers. His credentials, aside from crisp writing and flawless reporting, include authorship of the the best-selling book "We Were Soldiers One and Young," made into a movie by Mel Gibson, and having been the only civilian awarded a medal by the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War -- a bronze star for rescuing a wounded GI while under fire.

So if I am just a woolly headed bleeding heart draft-dodging liberal, Joe is someone who ought to be listened to. He is revered by the troops and most of the brass, with one exception. A year or so ago Donald Rumsfeld had him over for lunch and Joe ate the defense secretary for lunch.

I take the liberty here of reposting his column for this week.

By Joseph L. Galloway
McClatchy Newspapers

There are 614 days left until January 20, 2009, and the end of our long national nightmare as President George W. Bush and his Rasputin, Vice President Dick Cheney, shuffle off to their necessarily well-guarded retirement homes and onto the ash heap of history.

So much of what they talked about doing in a new century and a new and different world never came to pass. So much of what they did to grow the power of the presidency and prune the constitutional safeguards crafted by our Founding Fathers, they never talked about.

The American people have turned their backs on George Bush and his dreams of planting the seeds of democracy in Mesopotamia at the point of a gun and seeing them spread like kudzu across the Middle East.

He's failed in his quest for victory in Iraq and for a world put in order by a new and stronger United States, and his brash blundering into a dangerous land has made us all much less safe.

The president’s approval ratings are below his knees, sinking to 28 percent in one recent poll, and he cannot recover short of the kind of miracle that parts seas and feeds the multitudes.

The war that was never ours to win by military means _ the only button this president who never learned war ever learned how to push _ is lost. Bush and Cheney and the rest of their cronies and co-conspirators are toast.

The question is: How did such ordinary-looking men _ seemingly unable to carry out even the smallest non-political tasks of governing _ succeed in doing such extraordinary and lasting damage to our country, our military and our body politic in so few years?

With Congress in the hands of the Democrats, and the 2008 election looming dead ahead, the president can’t even count on key figures in his own Republican Party to stand behind him as he embarks on a long and painful lame duckhood. His hopes of crafting meaningful immigration reform and fixing Social Security are dead on arrival.

The legacies that George W. Bush will carry into retirement are the war he started, lost and stubbornly refused to end, and the corruption that he and his team visited on our democracy and Constitution.

The president’s lawyer, "mi abogado", Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, dangles in the wind as we learn, day by day, of how grotesquely this administration politicized the professional staff of the Justice Department.

It was Gonzalez, as White House counsel, who provided legal cover for the torture and maltreatment of prisoners and suspects that led directly to the Abu Ghraib prison scandal and the CIA’s secret Kafkaesque prisons scattered around
the world where "enhanced" interrogation methods were generously, if unproductively, employed.

It was Gonzalez, as attorney general, who hired and gave unprecedented hiring and firing powers to a 33-year-old attorney, Monica Goodling, who'd graduated from a TV evangelist’s Oklahoma law school. It was Ms. Goodling who resigned and took the Fifth Amendment to avoid answering questions that hadn't even been asked. It was Ms. Goodling who was Justice’s liaison to the White House and Karl Rove.
Meantime, the White House can’t find 5 million e-mail messages involving official business and refuses to provide many of those it can find to the congressional committees investigating the firing of U.S. attorneys.

The agencies of government _ the CIA, FBI, Treasury, Department of Defense and who knows who else _ use secret executive authority to suck up databases of personal information about ordinary Americans, without regard to their privacy rights, in a search for suspected terrorists. Have they found any using that information? Have they unearthed terror cells with more potential than the ones in Florida and New Jersey that were penetrated and perhaps manipulated by FBI informants?

That sort of terrorist isn’t half so frightening as George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.

Over in Iraq, some 150,000 American troops soldier on, attempting, at the cost of their own lives and limbs, to follow the orders of a president who still thinks he can pull victory out of defeat. A democratically elected but hopelessly divided Iraqi parliament feuds and dithers and contemplates its summer vacation while Americans and Iraqis die in increasing numbers in the streets outside the Green Zone, and the mortar and rocket fire lands inside that sanctuary with increasing frequency.

Six-hundred-fourteen days, and counting. Nineteen months. It doesn’t seem possible or even bearable.