Official documents aside, letÕs say John Kerry wasnÕt a perfect American soldier. Yes, he volunteered for combat; commanded a Swift Boat; and received multiple wounds in varying degrees of severity. But letÕs assume all of this taken together only makes Kerry an average G.I. Joe. Now letÕs say George W. Bush actually had special permission excusing his extended absence from the Texas Air National Guard in order to work on his fatherÕs political campaign.
LetÕs say he had a perfectly valid excuse for defying direct orders to take a physical. LetÕs pretend the confessional testimony of longtime Texas politico Ben Barnes never happened, and there is no evidence whatsoever suggesting that BushÑa well connected young man, but an obstinately average student with a known taste for intoxicants Ñ was helped to the front of a long list of TANG applicants.
In terms of ambition, risk taking, personal sacrifice, commitment and achievement, even a sub-par Kerry scores considerably more patriot points for his service than an unimpeachably slack Bush. But no matter how you stack this 30-year-old deck of cards thereÕs no getting around the fact that weÕre paying too much attention to the wrong war. His barely-served record notwithstanding, this campaign strategy is a big winner for President Bush whoSE domestic agenda has been as big a mistake as his ÒpreemptiveÓ foreign policy.
If the U.S. discovered vast stockpiles of WMD in Iraq, or if evidence of a revitalized WMD program had emerged from the Baghdad rubble BushÕs hawkish rhetoric would be fully justified, he would be an international hero, and his second term would be guaranteed. In the absence of WMD, conclusive evidence that there was at least a functional relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda might mitigate the fallout from pre-war intelligence failures, and post-combat-phase combat. If it seemed remotely possible that a stable, America-friendly democracy might spring up in Iraq, perhaps the body count would seem less shocking. But nothing has gone right for American interests between the Tigris and the Euphrates. Nothing.
President Bush has used the specter of 9/11 as a terrifying lash throughout his campaign even though the actual event represents a catastrophic security failure, which the 9/11 CommissionÕs report suggests was largely the result of the Bush AdministrationÕs negligence in the light of Òblinking redÓ warnings. No, the commission does not directly assign individual blame for 9/11 but that has more to do with the bipartisan committeeÕs efforts to achieve unananimity, than the distillation of evidence collected in the report. The report all but says that Bush was too concerned with vacations and too mired in dated Cold War politics to see any imminent danger from al Qaeda. In fact, it does say that, just not in so many words.
Most importantly, the CommissionÕs report states in plain language that there was no operational relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda establishing that the largest bloodiest and most volatile front opened up in BushÕs war on terror has nothing to do with the actual war on terror. This is why Bush can use the specter of 9/11, but can not open himself up to real scrutiny concerning his preparation for, or his response to al QaedaÕs attack on America.
Now the left and the right are arguing over the authenticity of 30-year old memos suggesting that BushÕs service record was something less than perfect. The memos, as it turns out, arenÕt real memos, but Òrecreations of actual memosÓ (AKA forgeries) but their content has been entirely confirmed as accurate by at least to primary sources. They are Òtrue lies.Ó
So Bush REALLY WAS a military disaster, and he REALLY HAS lied about his service all these years, and somebody on the OTHER TEAM was willing to make FAKE MEMOS to prove it.
Deceit breeds deceit, I suppose. Good men sometimes lie, and as Shakespeare noted, even the Devil tells the truth sometimes.
Why are we doing this to ourselves? Bygones are bygones. LetÕs assume that Kerry was an average combat soldier and that Bush, like many so many other sons of privilege, did what came naturally and performed the most minimal service he could do in order to avoid combat. LetÕs give the Bushies their best-case-scenario concerning the events of 30-years ago, and start looking at the war we are currently fighting. ThatÕs what matters most. ThatÕs what this election should be about. n