January 31, 2008, “Many in this chamber understand that America must not fail in Iraq, because you understand that the consequences of failure would be grievous and far-reaching . . .”
There it is again, that choking lie, so smoothly administered — with just enough fear to help America gag down all that righteousness.
President Bush told it again in his final State of the Union address the other night, of course. What choice did he have? The truth, coming from him at this point, would be . . . too weird, too offensive, impossible to comprehend.
But the truth is that we’ve already failed in Iraq, and throughout the Middle East and Central Asia — failed with consequences beyond reckoning. God knows someone will have to take a swig of political courage and acknowledge it one of these days, simply to stop the lie — the lies, a governmental cluster bomb of them — from doing further harm.
It’s common knowledge now that we “went to war on a lie” — the WMD scam — but what isn’t common knowledge is how the war is sustained on a daily basis by lies and partial truths and desperate, behind-the-scenes financial damage control. The war is all weapons systems and public relations, with the reality of wrecked countries and wrecked lives and a hemorrhaging of the national treasury suspended in media hoodoo and denial.
Consider the number 72,000. This number — of total U.S. battlefield casualties in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, through Jan. 5, 2008 — is simple enough, but as I ponder the fact that Paul Sullivan and his organization, Veterans for Common Sense, had to wrest it from the Department of Defense with a Freedom of Information Act request, and the fact that the only media outlet to pick up on it so far is the Scottish newspaper The Herald, I begin to grasp the extent of the deception in place sustaining the war on terror.
The reason that the casualty totals reported are far lower, Sullivan explained to me, is that the Defense Department releases the stats on only one category of battlefield casualty to the media, the number of GIs “wounded” in action, that is, harmed by the instrumentation of war: bullet, shrapnel or knife.
A GI who cracks his head on the windshield of his Humvee in a crash, though he may have suffered brain damage and had to be evacuated from the battlefield, is considered “injured,” not “wounded,” Sullivan explained, and thus doesn’t show up in the figure the DoD releases and the media misleadingly report.
Likewise, a GI who suffers a heart attack, or, let’s say, one of those desert mystery illnesses, or a severe emotional collapse, is “ill,” not “wounded,” and is also MIA from the official casualty count. And in this way does the war remain a tad more statistically palatable to a distracted public.
“This administration has a concerted plan to conceal the human and financial costs of these two wars to maintain public support,” said Sullivan, a Gulf War 1 vet and former U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) project manager who was blowing the whistle on the shoddy quality of vets’ health care long before the Washington Post “broke” the Walter Reed scandal a year ago.
“There are some in the VA — top political appointees — who are fundamentally opposed to providing health care to vets,” Sullivan went on, talking about the deeper deceptions of the war on terror that keep the political debate focused on vague future “consequences of failure” rather than the present-day consequences of a criminally inept, shoot-from-the-hip foreign policy of aggression.
It is at this level of deception that things get horrific: in the denial of care for physically and, especially, emotionally wounded vets — men and women suffering from the private hell of post-traumatic stress disorder.
“VA hospitals and clinics have already treated 263,909 unplanned patients from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars,” according to a Vets for Common Sense press release. “On top of that, VA reported 245,034 unanticipated disability claims from veterans of the two wars.”
Note well the words “unplanned” and “unanticipated.” This facet of the Bush administration’s lack of planning for its invasions has so far escaped significant notice. Apparently the neocon brain trust expected such a cakewalk that the costs and logistics of GI medical care weren’t taken into account.
Sullivan said he fully expects the VA to face as many as 700,000 patient claims — including staggering numbers of PTSD claims as our battle-weary troops “deploy for a third or fourth combat tour in an escalating war that surrounds our troops with 360-degree combat 24 hours per day” — which could run up a tab of $700 billion. The only way to control this monster expense is routine claim denial.
“This administration is so absolutely corrupt, incompetent and malevolent, it pales anything that came before it,” Sullivan said. “Why is our economy tanking? The war, the war, the war.”
Note particularly that the human and financial costs Sullivan and others are making are not “projections” for an endless war but estimates based on where things stand at the moment. But this is a war we can keep on losing into the indefinite future.
Robert Koehler, an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist, is an editor at Tribune Media Services and nationally syndicated writer. You can respond to this column at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his Web site at www.commonwonders.com.