December 18, 2011

A Reply to Barack

"Waldoswimmer-- Early this morning, the last of our troops left Iraq. As we honor and reflect on the sacrifices that millions of men and women made for this war, I wanted to make sure you heard the news. Bringing this war to a responsible end was a cause that sparked many Americans to get involved in the political process for the first time. Today's outcome is a reminder that we all have a stake in our country's future, and a say in the direction we choose. Thank you. Barack"

Dear Barack,

First of all, you're welcome. My mother did not raise an inconsiderate son, and it's important to be polite. With that out of the way...

Since you're my President, I would like to mention a few of my concerns and ask for your comments:

1. My understanding is that the December 2011 departure date was negotiated between George W. Bush and Nouri Al-Maliki a number of years back as part of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) talks. That is the case, isn't it? I think it's fine to reflect on what our military has been through in this awful war (it's something we should do), but there has been plenty of false self-congratulation surrounding this departure and maybe it's time for that to come to an end, too. Specifically, if Maliki had negotiated a different SOFA arrangement whereby American military personnel had continued to enjoy their immunity from local (Iraqi) legal jurisdiction, wouldn't you have pressed for a longer commitment in Iraq? From everything I've read on this point, it seems to me that the wily Nouri withheld this concession precisely because he knew that it would propel the Americans out of Iraq. That's the way it goes; it's important to remember that chess was invented in that part of the world.

I'm not suggesting that you're trying to take credit for a withdrawal from Iraq that was written in stone before you ever took office. On the other hand, I'm not suggesting that you're not.

"Bringing this war to a responsible end was a cause that sparked many Americans to get involved in the political process for the first time." Okay, here's my feeling on that one. Personally, I got involved in the 2008 campaign (even journeyed to Florida to work as a Voting Rights Lawyer for you) because I thought you were serious about returning the United States to a Constitutional form of government and one of laws, not of men. The drift toward lawlessness, disregard of the Constitution and open defiance of international norms of decency became very pronounced under your predecessor. The Iraq War was certainly part of that, but it was apparent before the election of 2008 that the occupation of Iraq had an expiration date.

Be that as it may, here is what I think is really necessary for a "responsible end." The news reports use the "standard statistics" for describing the costs of the war. The number cited for Iraqi deaths is always "100,000." It seems to me that if a country, such as my country, really wants to regain the ethical high ground that we ought to leave off with such convenient calculations and really go at the problem. The Johns Hopkins - Lancet study, using standard methodology for such epidemiological problems, calculated the number of Iraqi deaths at much higher levels, as many as one million "excess deaths" over and above normal mortality even under a dictator such as Saddam Hussein. George W. Bush dismissed this study with his famous "flawed methodology" comment, but of course (and with all due respect to our brilliant ex-Commander in Chief) this is not exactly definitive. We spend lots of money on "commissions" and panels of Blue Ribbon experts. How about just one more: a group of scientists and statisticians, modeled on the panel led by Richard Feynman to study the Challenger disaster, to delve very deeply into the question of "excess deaths" in Iraq. Let's find out how many people actually died. If we don't determine the true cost to the local population of these military adventures, it's just way too easy to justify interfering in a foreign locale whenever we perceive some interest of ours is being disturbed. I also think we owe the Iraqi people this measure of respect. If a million people in Iraq died as the direct result of an invasion built on false premises, let's own up to it. It's not as if they're not going to notice if we don't.

3. While we're at it, let's determine and publish a real number regarding American military casualties. This part is easy. We already have all of the statistics. Let's make public a full accounting of the injuries caused to American personnel as the result of the war, by body part, severity and life consequences. How many soldiers are brain damaged? How many lost one or more eyes? How many amputations? How many third degree burns? How many disfigurements? How many cases of post traumatic stress and/or insanity? Put it all out there as a counterpoint to the nonstop glorification of war once and for all.

I think doing all of those things is the minimal requirement of "responsibility," don't you?

4. "Today's outcome is a reminder that we all have a stake in our country's future, and a say in the direction we choose."

No question about that. As I exercise my "say" next year, I'll be watching to see how you handle my suggestions.

Merry Christmas, and by the way, basketball is my favorite sport, too.


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