By Nancy Jane Moore
So said the great investigative reporter Seymour Hersh (pictured at left) at a lecture in San Antonio April 4.
He was speaking as part of a series named in honor of another great iconoclast: Maury Maverick Jr. (pictured at the bottom), who lived up to his name. (In fact, the term "maverick" evolved from his family name -- he came from a long line of mavericks as well as Mavericks.)
Hersh is blunter as a speaker than he is as a reporter. In his excellent coverage of U.S. foreign policy in the pages of The New Yorker -- here's a recent example -- he puts together a set of damning facts and lets the readers draw their own conclusions. But in person he counts down the remaining days of the Bush administration and warns that Bush will be dangerous until "11:59 AM on January 20, 2009."
Hersh, who opposed the Iraq war from the beginning (as I did), thinks journalists as well as politicians let us down. I have been grateful for him and the few other brave souls who kept giving us the facts that no one seemed to want to hear until a couple of years ago.
He discussed a lot of things in his speech -- including the scary idea that the Bush administration hasn't given up on war with Iran -- but what really grabbed me was his emphasis on just how big a mess our government has made of Iraq. There are millions of refugees, both in other countries and even within Iraq. The U.S. military is perceived as just another militia in a country full of armed camps. The Iraqi people are more and more segregated by religious belief -- Sunnis and Shia no longer live in the same neighborhoods. Baghdad doesn't even function well, much less anyplace else.
Cleaning this up is not as simple as just pulling out the U.S. troops, Hersh says. It's just too big a mess. He didn't have a list of ways to solve this problem, but he did challenge the Democratic candidates (he had no hope that McCain would listen) to talk honestly about how difficult it was going to be to fix things and to come up with ideas.
Much as I wish we could just bring the troops home and pretend the Iraq war never happened, Hersh is right. This isn't just a moral issue -- even though all that human suffering should keep us awake nights. Iraq and the Middle East as a whole is a volatile area of the world, with problems rooted in a couple of centuries worth of outside interference by a variety of superpowers. All mistakes made there come back to haunt not just the region, but the entire planet.
So we can't just walk away, though it's possible that anything we do will cause new problems down the road. As I've said more than once, the only useful solution I can find to the Iraq mess is time travel -- go back to 2003 and stop the invasion (or better yet, go back to 2000 and prevent Bush from stealing the election). Unfortunately, time travel violates physics as we know it, so we need to work with the messy current reality and try to do our best.
Regardless of what happens in Iraq itself, the fallout from this war will haunt our country for many years to come. The $3 trillion or so we've spent will have to be paid off somehow. The large number of injured soldiers -- particularly those with brain injuries -- will be a painful legacy, and I fear there will be even more PTSD in Iraq veterans than there has been in those who fought in Vietnam. Our military has been badly damaged.
Our economy is in the toilet right now. Actually, I don't think that has as much to do with the war as it does to many other bad policies from the Bush years -- the erosion of regulation and lack of support for crucial areas -- and the lionization of wheeler dealers on Wall Street coupled with the insane idea that the housing market (like the dotcoms before it) couldn't crash.
But the incredible waste of this war will definitely harm us down the road. We're going to be paying off that war instead of rebuilding our infrastructure and making sure we have an educated populace ready to face the future. I often fear that Bush has led the country so far down that we will never come back, even if we should elect several gifted presidents and end up with a Congress full of people interested more in the common good than their own careers.
Still, it's not just the fault of Bush or Congress or the journalists, though all have let us down. The latest New York Times poll says 81 percent of the American people think the U.S. is on the wrong path. They're right, of course, but why did it take them so long to figure it out? The country's been on the wrong path for seven years now.
We sure do need a lot more mavericks.