Practicing their new skills with surface to air missiles over the weekend, Iraqi guerrilla fighters took out a slow moving Chinook transport helicopter loaded with American soldiers, killing sixteen. The Army evicted journalists from the area and confiscated film showing jubilant Iraqi civilians and dancing children in a rare moment of national pride. The major network morning shows trotted out the news story in hurried spots lasting less than two minutes, before quickly moving along to Rosie O'Donnell's lawsuit, interviews with tonight's bachelorettes and a bit of goofy time down on Times Square with that zany weatherman and some people wearing rubber moose antlers who remembered his birthday.
Bush's informative reponse to the Ramadan offensive was "on message" and identical to the one Rove wrote for him following the Red Cross HQ explosion: "Iraq is a very dangerous place." He also reasserted his intention to "stay the course," but did not elaborate on the meaning of that. Rumsfeld was on Meet the Press on Sunday with the same one-liners, plus a fatherly reiteration of his belief in WMDs, a reminder that hundreds of evildoers have been ousted, captured or killed (Americans like that), and his disappointment that the innumerable examples of progress and good will in the reconstruction process have gone completely unreported. Military casualties are, he said, "a small price to pay for freedom." To his credit he stopped short of the recent neo-con fairy tale that attacks on Americans are the work of desperate Saddam loyalists flummoxed by the growing prosperity of a free Iraq. We all know that free Iraqis who try to approach Iraqi oil installations or who fail to stop at American checkpoints quickly become dead Iraqis, and that the terminal spasms of defeated Sunni evildoers seem increasingly to involve possession of sophisticated surface to air missiles capable of targeting all kinds of distant objects including Paul Wolfowitz's honky ass in his room at the al-Rashid Hotel. Such preposterous remarks only make you sound demented.
The slogans really are quite empty when held against the realities of this debacle. "Staying the course" has meaning only if someone is willing to say what the "course" actually is. "Iraqi Freedom" would ring less hollow if everybody didn't know that given credible freedom the Iraqis would send the Americans home and take back their oil.
And yet it is the uncritical acceptance of such high sounding slogans for which we have been willing to make the sacrifice of money and lives and moral currency. Conspicuously absent from the weekend's feeble criticism and perfunctory defense of the administration's "Iraq strategy" was any immediate statement directed to the families of the 16 dead soldiers. What do you say to the wives and kids and moms and dads who have anted up that "small price," who, for the sake of these transparent platitudes, have forever relinquished their loved ones into Sunday's fireball? What do you say? "Thanks?"