Millions of Americans have lost their homes, tens of millions of Americans can't find a decent job and 44 million Americans are on food stamps. This is causing an increasing number of Americans to ask this question: "Why is the economy so bad?" There are some Americans that are old enough to remember the Great Depression, but the vast majority of us have never known hard times. All our lives we were told that America was the greatest economy on the planet and that we would always experience endless prosperity in this nation. That was easy to believe because even though we had a recession once in a while, things always bounced back and got even better than ever. But now something seems different. The current economic downturn began back in 2007 and yet here we are in 2011 and there seems to be no end in sight for this economic crisis. So what in the world is going on? Can anyone explain why the economy is so bad?
The following are some of the kinds of questions that the American people are asking about the economy these days....
Why does it seem like it is harder to get a job today than it used to be?
Well, it is because there are far fewer jobs available and far fewer people are getting hired. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, an average of about 5 million Americans were being hired every single month during 2006. Today, an average of about 3.5 million Americans are being hired every single month.
Is there much hope that the unemployment rate will start to decline significantly?
Unfortunately there does not appear to be much reason for optimism. Initial weekly unemployment claims have been above 400,000 for 7 weeks in a row. The "jobs recovery" we have been promised simply is not materializing. Only 66.8% of American men had a job last year. That was the lowest level that has ever been recorded. At the rate we are going things are going to be about the same this year.
So where did all of the jobs go?
They are being sent overseas at a blistering pace. The United States has lost an average of 50,000 manufacturing jobs per month since China joined the World Trade Organization in 2001, and the U.S. trade deficit with China is now 27 times larger than it was back in 1990. Amazingly, the United States has lost a staggering 32 percent of its manufacturing jobs since the year 2000.
Why does it seem like nearly all of the jobs that are available right now are crappy, low paying jobs?
Well, because most of the jobs that are available are crappy, low paying jobs. The following is a brief excerpt from a recent article posted on Tomdispatch.com.....
According to a recent analysis by the National Employment Law Project (NELP), the biggest growth in private-sector job creation in the past year occurred in positions in the low-wage retail, administrative, and food service sectors of the economy. While 23% of the jobs lost in the Great Recession that followed the economic meltdown of 2008 were “low-wage” (those paying $9-$13 an hour), 49% of new jobs added in the sluggish “recovery” are in those same low-wage industries. On the other end of the spectrum, 40% of the jobs lost paid high wages ($19-$31 an hour), while a mere 14% of new jobs pay similarly high wages. Why are so many Americans afraid to start businesses?
Maybe it is because the overregulation of business in this country has now reached extreme levels. For example, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently slapped a fine of $90,000 on one family from Missouri because they sold more than $500 worth of rabbits in a single year. The $4,600 in rabbits that they sold ended up netting the family only $200 in profits.
If people are not able to make a decent living, then how are they providing for their families?
Sadly, an increasing number of Americans are simply not able to put food on the table anymore. Today, one out of every eight Americans is on food stamps and one out of every four American children is on food stamps.
For the first time ever, more than a million American homes were repossessed during 2010. So is there any sign that this will turn around in the years ahead?
Sadly, things could get even worse. Today, there are 6.4 million homeowners that are delinquent on their mortgages or in foreclosure. Of those, 675,000 have not made a payment in at least two years.
Will the U.S. housing market ever recover?
Hopefully we will see some sort of a recovery at some point, but right now things don't look good. In April, signed contracts to buy homes fell to a 7-month low. There are 120 million more people in the U.S. than there were in 1963, but home purchases are currently at about half the level they were back then. The truth is that there are dozens of indications that the U.S. real estate crisis may get even worse before things start getting better.
Why does it seem like health care costs so much these days?
Sadly, it is because the entire U.S. health care industry has become a giant money making scam. According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, health care costs accounted for just 9.5% of all personal consumption back in 1980. Today they account for approximately 16.3%. One study found that approximately 41 percent of working age Americans either have medical bill problems or are currently paying off medical debt. Health care costs continue to increase far faster than the general rate of inflation and so this crisis is going to continue to get worse.
Is "retirement" rapidly becoming a luxury that only the wealthy can enjoy?
According to stunning new research, 54 percent of all American workers plan to keep working after they retire. A different study found that American workers are $6.6 trillion short of what they need to retire comfortably.
Why does it seem like U.S. companies are hiring so many temporary workers?
It is because American businesses are hiring them by the bushel. A whopping 26 percent of all the workers hired in 2010 were temporary workers. That is way, way above historical norms. Temporary workers are far cheaper and much easier to get rid of.
Is the gap between the rich and the poor growing in America?
Yes, it most certainly is. Between 1979 and and 2007, the average household income of the top 1% of Americans soared from $346,600 to $1.3 million. During that same time period the average household income for middle class Americans increased only slightly. At this point, the poorest 50% of all Americans collectively own just 2.5% of all the wealth in the United States.
Does how much money you make tend to alter your view of how well the economy is doing?
Well, according to recent Gallup polling, 46% of those Americans that make less than $30,000 a year believe that we are in a depression right now, while only 23% of those making $75,000 or more believe that we are currently in a depression.
Why do members of Congress seem to care so little about average American workers?
Perhaps it is because 58 percent of the members of Congress are millionaires while only about 1 percent of the general population is made up of millionaires.
So if the economy is in such bad shape why do we still have such a high standard of living?
Sadly, the truth is that we have only been able to maintain our incredibly high standard of living by going into massive amounts of debt. The U.S. national debt is now more than 14 times larger than it was when Ronald Reagan took office. America has become absolutely addicted to government money. Any politician that threatens to reduce government payouts usually gets voted out of office fairly quickly. 59 percent of all Americans now receive money from the federal government in one form or another. U.S. households are now actually receiving more income from the U.S. government than they are paying to the government in taxes. In 1980, government transfer payments accounted for just 11.7% of all income. Today, government transfer payments account for 18.4% of all income. As long as the American people continue to be addicted to receiving government payouts the federal government will continue to be drowning in debt.
But it is not just the federal government with a debt problem. State and local government debt has reached an all-time high of 22 percent of U.S. GDP. Many state and local governments are even closer to going broke than the federal government is.
U.S. households have been on a debt binge for decades as well. Average household debt in the United States has now reached a level of 136% of average household income.
The truth is that we are a nation that is addicted to debt. We are living in the greatest debt bubble in the history of the world and it was really fun while it lasted.
Unfortunately, the bills are starting to come due and nobody is quite sure how we can possibly pay for all of our mistakes.
We are drowning in debt at the same time that our economic infrastructure is being ripped to shreds. Tens of thousands of factories have closed over the last decade. There is a never ending parade of companies leaving the United States. U.S. workers are having a really tough time competing against slave labor on the other side of the globe. Thanks to "globalization", multinational corporations can hire workers for slave labor wages on the other side of the planet and nobody can stop them.
But if U.S. workers lose their jobs, they go from paying taxes into the system to being a drain on the system. This makes our government debt situation even worse.
Let there be no mistake - America is in economic decline.
So why is the economy so bad?
The truth is that decades of debt and really, really bad decisions are starting to catch up with us.
The economy is a mess right now and things are going to get a whole lot worse.
An exhaustive investigation into the incidence of childhood cancer in Britain over a period of 35 years has failed to find any increased risk of leukaemia among children living near nuclear power stations.
The independent committee of scientists that carried out the study investigated 13 nuclear power plants across Britain and failed to find one that has a statistically significant "cluster" of childhood cancers among families living near by.
The findings will almost certainly be used by the Government to support its case for building a new set of nuclear power stations to meet UK energy demands over the coming decades, which many environmentalists have opposed on health grounds as well as risks to the environment.
Scientists appointed by the Government to review the evidence of a link between radioactive emissions from nuclear power stations and childhood leukaemia said the risk is "extremely small, if not zero" and that in future it would be more profitable to investigate other potential causes of the cancer, such as viral infections, rather than radiation.
Professor Alex Elliott, chairman of the Committee on Medical Aspects of Radiation and the Environment (Comare), and a distinguished medical physicist at Glasgow University, said that the estimated extra radiation dose from a nearby nuclear power plant amounts to just 0.0065 per cent of the dose typically received from natural and medical causes combined.
"While we need to keep a watching brief on radiation as a possible cause of leukaemia," Professor Elliott said, "we should be looking at other places for the cause of childhood cancers, such as viruses and other infections introduced into relatively isolated communities by outsiders – a theory known as population mixing."
Childhood leukaemia is a rare disease, affecting about 500 children each year in the UK. The scientists found just 20 cases between 1969 and 2004 among children living within 5km of a nuclear power plant, and 430 cases of the disease in children living within 25km.
None of them fell into recognised "clusters" – defined as a significantly higher number of cases in a designated area compared with the national average. There was no increased risk of childhood leukaemia associated with living near a nuclear power plant.
"Comare's primary analysis of the latest British data has revealed no significant evidence of an association between risk of childhood leukaemia in under-fives and living in proximity to a nuclear power plant," Professor Elliott said.
But previous investigations by Comare have established that there are two childhood cancer clusters near to the nuclear reprocessing plants at Sellafield in Cumbria and Dounreay in northern Scotland. The latest Comare report did not investigate these clusters but previous reports said radiation emissions from the two plants are too small to account for the excess cancers.
A German study has established a higher risk of childhood cancer around nuclear power plants, specifically a cluster around the Krummel plant near Hamburg. But Professor Elliott said that the numbers involved are so small that there might be another explanation or interpretation.
"It is extremely difficult to do these epidemiological studies and one single piece of data should not be taken out of context," he said.
To test their statistics, Comare examined childhood cancers around sites where nuclear power stations were planned, but never built. They found a statistical cluster around one site with no nearby nuclear reactor.
Captured wife reveals in interviews that Bin Laden had been living in Pakistan since 2003
By David Randall in London and Andrew Buncombe in Chak Shah Mohammad
Sunday, 8 May 2011
Osama bin Laden lived for two and a half years in a village just 20 miles from Pakistan's capital, Islamabad, before moving into the compound in Bilal town, Abbottabad, where he was finally caught and killed, it was claimed yesterday.
The revelation that the al-Qa'ida leader may have been hiding not in wild tribal areas, but in the heart of the country came from his youngest wife, Amal Ahmed Abdulfattah, in interviews with Pakistani officials, and was reported in Islamabad newspapers and The New York Times.
Her statements will add to the embarrassment of the Pakistani establishment, create further tension in its relationship with the US, and increase Washington's suspicions that elements of Islamabad's intelligence service knew of, or even colluded in, Bin Laden's evasion of capture. If her account is true, it means that Bin Laden was living in Pakistan just 18 months after 9/11.
There were reports last night that US officials were demanding the names of some of Pakistan's leading intelligence agents to see if any are found to have had some contact with Bin Laden or the men who shared the compound with him.
Pentagon officials are now saying that data seized from the compound further demonstrates that top al-Qa'ida commanders and other key insurgents are scattered throughout Pakistan, and are being supported and given sanctuary by Pakistanis.
Villagers in Chak Shah Mohammad, a kilometre or two south-east of Haripur, yesterday found themselves being questioned by police and officers from the "agencies", who wanted to know if anyone had information about strangers or "foreigners" living in the area in a rented property. How precise the information given by Ms Abdulfattah to investigators was remains unclear.
"Amal told investigators that they lived in a village in Haripur district for nearly two and a half years before moving to Abbottabad at the end of 2005," a security official told Reuters. The woman, along with at least one other wife and several children – perhaps as many as eight – were among up to 16 people detained by the Pakistani authorities at the compound after the raid by US Navy Seals.
More detailed accounts emerged yesterday of what was, at least until the early hours of Monday morning, the entirely secret life of Osama bin Laden. They go some way to explaining how – if not why – a 6ft 4in man with perhaps the most famous face in the world was able to keep on the run for nearly a decade.
And they show that, while all intelligence officials, in the US as well as Pakistan, believed their quarry was skulking in the mountains, he had long since chosen to live a life of claustrophobic domesticity in urbanised Pakistan. Also yesterday, a Taiwanese judo coach called Jimmy Wu released photos of himself with a man he says is Bin Laden, taken in Riyadh in the early 1980s. The future al-Qa'ida leader, he says, was a student of his.
If the testimony of his wife is reliable, Bin Laden and his family forsook the heights of Waziristan as long ago as early 2003, and moved to Chak Shah Mohammad. Locals there were bewildered at the suggestion that Bin Laden may have been a local resident. "Our forefathers have been living here for decades. There is no way that Osama bin Laden could be living here," said Abdul Waheed, a farmer.
At another village, Ali Khan, a similarly bucolic spot, a landowner said several of his tenants had told him they had been questioned as to whether any outsiders had tried to rent a property in the area. He was similarly dismissive about the idea that Bin Laden may have been there. "I don't think he could be hiding in this vicinity. Here there would be no supporting elements for him," said the man, who asked not to be named, looking out over a vista at ended in the foothills of the Karakoram. "Osama's wife is not a Pakistani so she would not know where she was living. If she was a Pakistani, it would carry more weight."
It is possible the village was merely a bolthole while the compound in Abbottabad was being constructed – a complex that consisted of a main house on three floors, several yards and high walls, plus a guesthouse. But, whatever their previous safehouse, by late 2005, Bin Laden and his entourage moved to Abbottabad.
There were pluses and minuses to this location. As the home to a large military academy, Abbottabad was well policed, and security was tight. But it also had something of an al-Qa'ida track record which might make it regularly monitored. The terrorist organisation was known to have used three local houses, according to the autobiography of the former president, Pervez Musharraf.
In 2003, a house was raided on suspicion that Abu Faraj al-Libi, then al-Qa'ida's third in command, was holed up there. And, earlier this year, Umar Patek, suspected of the 2002 Bali bombing, was arrested in Abbottabad. He had $1m in cash on him, and Indonesian officials now believe he was on his way to see Bin Laden.
Pakistan security forces have, in the past few days, arrested up to 40 people in Abbottabad suspected of having "connections" to Bin Laden.
With the al-Qa'ida leader in the compound at the end were three of Bin Laden's wives (one of whom says she never left the upper two floors in six years), three of his children (a girl and two boys), an unknown number of other children, two men who acted as "couriers", Bin Laden's Yemeni doctor, and perhaps five other women. Only the two couriers ever left the compound, making regular trips to the local shops, and taking the opportunity for a crafty cigarette, since Bin Laden banned smoking inside.
The compound had a cow, a large vegetable patch, and the children kept rabbits. The inward-looking nature of his existence was underlined last night when the US released home video footage seized from the compound which shows the al-Qa'ida leader seated on the floor, watching himself on television wrapped in a blanket and wearing a knitted cap. Footage also showed him recording propaganda videos. US media reported in gloating fashion last night that Bin Laden trimmed his beard and primped himself for these appearances, as if such preparations were unknown in America.
Shielding this location were 18ft walls, and for nearly five years his location remained unsuspected. But US officials had got, via Guantanamo Bay interrogations, the name of one of the al-Qa'ida leader's couriers, and traced him, through a chance telephone call, to the area. There were no phones (or internet connection) in the compound, and, according to a report in The Washington Post by Bob Woodward, the couriers would drive 90 minutes from it before even inserting a battery into their phones.
The next step is not clear, but presumably CIA operatives picked up the trail of the courier when he next left the compound, and followed him back to it. By last August, the CIA had the place under surveillance. It rented a house overlooking the compound, and, behind mirrored windows, began monitoring comings and goings, taking photos, and even using infra-red imaging kit to see if escape tunnels had been dug. From time to time, a tall figure was seen walking in the compound's yard.
Oblivious to all this was Bin Laden, and the nature of his life inside the compound is the subject of conflicting reports. The Pakistanis claim he was "cash-strapped", and al-Qa'ida had split into two, with Bin Laden nominally head of the lesser part. The Americans, meanwhile, equally anxious to maximise their achievement, say he was issuing orders to groups in Yemen and Somalia, and actively engaged in planning terror strikes, including one on the US rail network.
This "plan", dated February 2010, seems to have been more of a doodle than a blueprint, and was on one of the documents found in the raid. These, together with five computers, 10 hard drives, and around 100 memory sticks and disks, are now being studied at an FBI lab in Virginia..
But, mastermind or has-been, Bin Laden was not, says his wife, the feeble invalid, and a martyr to kidney disease some have claimed. Ms Abdulfattah said he had long since recovered from two operations he underwent during the Taliban era in Afghanistan, was taking medicines, and "was neither weak nor frail".
By early this year, US officials were telling President Barack Obama there was a 40 per cent chance the tall man in the compound was Bin Laden. This may not sound a lot but was, in the words of one official, "about 38 per cent better than we've had before". A replica of the complex was built in Afghanistan, and US commandos began practising their assault, In the days leading up to the order to go in, they were rehearsing several times a night. On 29 April, the President said: "It's a go." Two days later, he was able to announce that the terror leader had been shot dead.
The death of Bin Laden could allow the US to claim, in the context of Afghanistan, "mission accomplished". And enthusiasm in Washington for the war there is at its lowest ebb.
The Taliban launched a series of attacks yesterday aimed at seizing control of Kandahar. The offensive began around midday, and heavy fire was continuing five hours later. For its part, the US has already launched at least one drone strike into Pakistan in the days since Bin Laden was killed, and there is no suggestion those will be curtailed. Indeed, it emerged late on Friday that a US drone strike in the Yemen on Thursdday was aimed at Anwar al-Awlaki, the US national who is head of al-Qa'ida in the Arabian Peninsula. Awlaki was not hit, but two of his comrades were.
Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari, its Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani and army chief General Ashfaq Kayani met yesterday to discuss the US raid, amid widespread calls for them to resign. The main opposition leader in parliament, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, said: "All from top to bottom who are responsible should take responsibility, and I believe that after such a big tragedy, they should resign. This is a call coming from every street of Pakistan." The killing of Osama bin Laden may yet have unforeseen consequences.
What next in Afghanistan?
"Getting Bin Laden is what wewanted when we went into Afghanistan. Now they've got him, it's time to bring the boys back home, as a matter of priority"
Rose Gentle, Military Families Against the War, mother of 19-year-old Gordon Gentle, who was killed on active service in Iraq in 2004
"There are 1,000 other reasons as to why a troop withdrawal should be accelerated and this may be one. It gives the Americans closure... it will make zero tactical difference in Afghanistan"
James Fergusson, Journalist, author of A Million Bullets: The Real Story of the British Army in Afghanistan
"We are seeing much local, tactical success in Afghanistan and I think the military will want to see those efforts through. It would be disappointing for the families of those who gave their lives to see those efforts wasted"
Major General Sir Patrick Cordingley, Commander of the Desert Rats in the first Gulf War
"The death of Bin Laden means that British troops should be withdrawn from Afghanistan immediately. The Afghan people must determine their own future and the presence of British troops only exacerbates their plight"
Andrew Burgin, Stop the War Coalition
"I don't see the Taliban at this point as willing to make a public break with al-Qa'ida but it will probably accelerate a reconciliation effort to discuss cutting a peace deal with the Taliban"
Dr Seth Jones, Senior fellow at Rand Corporation think tank, was at US Special Operations Command at the Pentagon
There is no place for God in theories on the creation of the Universe, Professor Stephen Hawking has said.
He had previously argued belief in a creator was not incompatible with science but in a new book, he concludes the Big Bang was an inevitable consequence of the laws of physics.
The Grand Design, part serialised in the Times, says there is no need to invoke God to set the Universe going.
"Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something," he concluded.
In his new book, an extract of which appears in the Times, Britain's most famous physicist sets out to contest Sir Isaac Newton's belief that the universe must have been designed by God as it could not have sprung out of chaos.
Citing the 1992 discovery of a planet orbiting a star other than our Sun, he said: "That makes the coincidences of our planetary conditions - the single Sun, the lucky combination of Earth-Sun distance and solar mass - far less remarkable, and far less compelling as evidence that the Earth was carefully designed just to please us human beings."
He adds: "Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing.
"Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist.
"It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going."
'Eyes of faith'
The book was co-written by US physicist Leonard Mlodinow and is published on 9 September.
In his 1988 bestseller, A Brief History of Time, Prof Hawking appeared to accept the role of God in the creation of the Universe.
"If we discover a complete theory, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason - for then we should know the mind of God," he said.
But the Bishop of Swindon, Dr Lee Rayfield, said science "can never prove the non-existence of God, just as it can never prove the existence of God."
He added: "Faith is a matter that's outside that.
"But as I look at the universe, and as many people who are much more understanding of cosmology than I, and mathematics, as they look at it, through the eyes of faith, they see a universe which is still very coherent with what we believe about God and His nature."
Last night President Barack Obama announced “the end of our combat mission in Iraq.” This is welcome news — if years late. Yet in an address to the nation that ranged as far afield as energy policy and “the limitless possibilities of our time,” the president never got around to the essential question of this costly bloodbath:
Why did the United States spend seven years fighting in Iraq?
By the estimate of the British correspondent John Burns and New York Times London bureau chief, who was living in Baghdad when the invasion began and remained there until 2008, the war killed 4,500 Americans and wounded 35,000 of them. It also caused “tens of thousands” of Iraqi civilian deaths; cost $750 billion, nearly enough to wipe out this year’s federal deficit; and created “the anti-Americanism that would become commonplace around the world.”
That last is all too easy to overlook. Before the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the world’s sympathy was with the United States. Everyone, including almost every Muslim, knew the 9-11 attack was heinous. Almost all nations, including nearly all Islamic nations, supported America’s counterattack in Afghanistan, which was clearly justified as self-defense. Then we bombed and invaded Iraq, a country that had nothing to do with the 9-11 monsters, killing at least 10 times as many innocent civilians as were killed here on September 11. We took huge numbers of Iraqis prisoner, and tortured or humiliated them.
We blasted to the ground cities such as Fallujah, destroying the homes of innocents while using antipersonnel weapons, such as white phosphorous shells, which are designed to cause intense suffering before death.
We installed a puppet government and began to kill those who opposed it. Much of the world was disgusted, with reason. We practically begged the moderate Muslims of the world to turn against us.
Last night President Obama praised U.S. military forces in Iraq, who deserve praise. In a confused, stressful situation where it was hard to tell who the enemy was, 99 percent of U.S. soldiers, marines, sailors and aircrew carried themselves with honor. But why were our forces in a confused, stressful situation?
Iraq under Saddam Hussein was a horrible place, and Saddam was a horrible person. But there are other horrible places, and the United States ignores them. Why did we invade and occupy a country that posed no national security threat to the United States? Two presidents, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, have elaborately dodged this question. America deserves an answer.
The story constantly changes. At various points it was claimed by the second Bush White House and Defense Department that Iraq was building atomic weapons, or a stronghold of al Qaeda, or even planning an attack on the United States. A video timeline of Bush Administration statements about the need to attack Iraq is under the “latest program.” Regardless of whether Rachel Maddow is your cup of tea, it’s an informative timeline. All these claims were later retracted by the White House and Defense Department.
Suppose the true motives for the attack were to destroy banned weapons and depose Saddam. Morally, those motives can be defended. But, once American forces occupied Iraq, it took about a year to capture Saddam and hunt down his senior associates and to determine that there was no atomic bomb program. After doing this, why didn’t we just leave? If the United States had left after the first year – after performing the tasks that could be defended morally – the world might have admired us. Instead we stayed and stayed and stayed, killing and dying. Why?
The only attempt at explanation is circular. Last night Obama said, “A war to disarm a state became a fight against an insurgency.” The reason the insurgency came into being was to oppose the U.S. occupation: even Bush, by 2006, said the United States had become “an occupying force.” Many Iraqi insurgents are despicable people – terrorists and criminals. Some are patriots. If another nation invaded the United States, wouldn’t Americans be radicalized and use guerilla warfare against the occupiers? To invade a country, create an insurgency and then claim the insurgency you created rationalizes years of combat and killing is Orwellian.
But there would have been chaos and violence in Iraq if we’d just pulled out and left. How, exactly, would you characterize what happened in Iraq with the United States still there? The last six years of occupation have only served to delay the moment when Iraq confronts its fate – which has always been inevitable regardless of whether U.S. forces departed or remained.
Was the invasion “the madness of King George?” Conspiracy theories, especially in the Islamic world, hold the United States attacked Iraq out of a vicious desire to slay Muslims or a venal desire to seize oil or as a ploy to control the Middle East. The first two proposed explanations are nonsense (in Kosovo the United States fought to save Muslims, and Washington could have purchased all the oil in Iraq for far more cheaply than by seizing it). The third is implausible — if the U.S. goal was control of the Middle East, it sure didn’t work.
In his 2008 book The Bush Tragedy, Jacob Weisberg proposes an explanation that seems chillingly believable. George W. Bush, Weisberg shows, grew up obsessed with proving that he was tougher than his father George H. W. Bush; the obsession was complicated by the father being a hero at the Battle of Midway in World War II, while the son went to great lengths to avoid military duty in Vietnam. During the 1991 Gulf War, the father’s army expelled Saddam from Kuwait but did not enter Iraq to depose the dictator — the elder Bush saying then, and maintaining since, this was because the international community had not sanctioned an attack on Iraq itself.
When the younger Bush became president and 9-11 created a pretext for use of the military, Weisberg’s theory continues, he seized the chance to invade Iraq, do what his father did not and become tougher than his father, at least within his own mind, since masculinity is not required to sit at a desk and tell others to die.
Bush Administration figures such as Vice President Dick Cheney, CIA Director George Tenet and Defense Department advisor Douglas Feith deliberately lied about the situation in Iraq in order to justify war, and Democrats in the House and Senate, in order to avoid criticism, rolled over.
We don’t have a peace treaty with Iraq. After all the cost in blood and sorrow, the United States and Iraq don’t have a peace agreement. For that matter, Iraq never formally surrendered. Think these are formalities? Peace treaties are the gold standard of success on the battlefield. Wars that “end” without them don’t really end.
There was no peace treaty to conclude the Korean War — just a 1953 armistice that stopped the shooting. That the Korean War did not end in a peace agreement is a reason military tensions between North and South Korea continue today. Fifty-seven years later, the terms of the armistice are still observed, but little else has been agreed on. For all the sacrifice in Iraq, where’s the treaty that spells out peace and friendship?
All we have is a “Status of Forces Agreement.” In 2008, the Bush Administration completed a SOFA in which Iraq’s sort-of government formally accepted the United States occupation, in return for the United States promising to depart if so instructed. By the terms of the SOFA, Baghdad could order Americans out of the country on short notice – and the United States would have no choice but depart. A referendum to see if the Iraqi people approve of the SOFA, and thereby grant legitimacy to the invasion, has been postponed repeatedly.
The July 2009 deadline to remove U.S. combat forces from Iraqi cities wasn’t an Obama idea, it was specified by the SOFA. So too was the current exit of heavy combat forces such as armored units. Though Barack Obama has been wise to withdraw heavy combat forces, he’s only following the script the Bush Administration laid out before leaving office. It borders on the bizarre to think that after campaigning for the presidency partly on his opposition to the presence of U.S. forces in Iraq, Obama is still following Bush’s Iraq timetable after being president for nearly two years, and not acting on any new vision of his own.
Is the “mission accomplished?” Bush famously claimed this while looking ridiculous on the deck of the Abraham Lincoln in 2003, and Obama sort-of claimed it from the White House last night. The claim is impossible to assess – since we still don’t know what the mission was.
Would the dead have wanted us to continue fighting? A haunting question of combat is whether others must fall to honor the sacrifices of those who have fallen before. It was argued during the Vietnam War that simply leaving would mean those who already had died there had died for naught. Last night, Obama essentially used this argument, quoting an Army sergeant as saying, “I know that to my brothers in arms who fought and died, this day would probably mean a lot.”
We live in a society that conducts these kinds of debates in sound bites. Once, the debate was conducted in poetry. In 1915, the Canadian physician John McCrea – who perished in World War I – wrote the poem In Flanders Fields, which argues that dead soldiers would want others to die, until there is victory. This poem became a sensation in the United Kingdom and the United States. Its relevant stanza:
To you from failing hands we throw The torch; be yours to hold it high. If ye break faith with us who die We shall not sleep.
In 1918 Wilfred Owen, a British poet who served in World War I and died in France days before the ceasefire, argued the opposite in the poem Dulce et Decorum Est. This poem became a second public sensation. Its relevant stanza:
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest To children ardent for some desperate glory, The old lie; Dulce et Decorum est Pro patria mori.
The Latin means, “it is sweet and right to die for your country.” It is etched on the chapel wall at Sandhurst, the British school for army officers.
The fallen cannot speak: it is reasonable to suppose they would think others should keep fighting if there were something to fight for, but oppose others dying so that politicians can avoid being honest or making hard decisions. We kept fighting in Iraq. And we still don’t know why.