Walking the Wrong Way
New York Times Editorial Board, Sunday, August 21, 2005
The Bush administration has announced plans for a Freedom Walk on Sept. 11, which will start at the Pentagon and end at the National Mall, and include a country music concert. The event is an ill-considered attempt to link the Iraq war to the terrorist attacks of 2001, and misguided in almost every conceivable way. It also badly misreads the public’s mood. The American people are becoming increasingly skeptical about the war. They want answers to hard questions, not pageantry.
It is perfectly appropriate for the Defense Department to organize a memorial for Americans who died on Sept. 11, since many were Pentagon employees. It is also fine to pay tribute to the sacrifices being made by the troops in Iraq. What is disturbing is the Bush administration’s insistence on combining the two in a politically loaded day of marching and entertainment.
Having failed to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the administration has been eager to repackage the war as a response to Sept. 11. The Freedom Walk appears to be devised to impress this false connection on the popular imagination.
The walk will end with a concert by the country musician Clint Black. Mr. Black is a gifted entertainer, but his song about the Iraq war, “I Raq and Roll” – which contains such lyrics as “our troops take out the garbage, for the good old U.S.A.” – sends a jingoistic message that is particularly out of place at a memorial service.
The Freedom Walk is being organized at a time when popular opinion has been turning against the war. In recent days, Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a soldier killed in Iraq, has attracted enormous attention with her protest outside President Bush’s Crawford, Tex., ranch. The increasing war toll and the sad stories of multiple losses in some communities are reinforcing the message that the invasion of Iraq has not been pain-free for all of the country. The mother of a fallen marine, Lance Cpl. Edward Schroeder II – one of 16 Ohio-based marines killed in a recent three-day period – said last week that the president should either “fight this war right or get out.”
These mothers are expressing concerns that a growing number of Americans share. In a recent Associated Press poll, just 38 percent of those surveyed approved of President Bush’s handling of Iraq. In a Gallup poll this month, 57 percent said the war has made the United States less safe from terrorism.
The Bush administration took the nation to war on the basis of a bundle of ever-changing arguments, few of which stood up once the fighting began. Ever since, the White House has tried to shore up its positions by discounting all bad news and shielding the civilian public from any war-connected inconvenience. But that strategy has very clearly stopped working. It is time for a somber acceptance of the war’s costs, and some specific talk about what the nation’s goals and strategy are in Iraq.
The Defense Department’s ham-handed mixture of mourning and celebration, and its misleading subtext, feels as if it was dreamed up by an overly slick image consultant. It is not the kind of program the administration should be sponsoring, unless it wants to give the impression that the Pentagon’s mood is less serious than the public’s.