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Wednesday, November 01, 2006


The Kerry kerfuffle

"You know, education, if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don't, you get stuck in Iraq."
That's what John Kerry said two days ago, and now the Republicans are howling for his head, and the Democrats are beside themselves defending Kerry.

The main line of defense, coming from Kerry and picked up by his defenders, is that this was a mangled joke, and that what he really meant to say was "If you don't, you get us stuck in Iraq," and even if he didn't leave out the word "us," he was really referring to the U.S. being "stuck" in Iraq, not the students he was speaking to.

I have a variety of disconnected thoughts on this subject, some of which I've written in comments elsewhere, others not:

But after all those points, we come to the heart of the matter. Let's assume Kerry really meant to say, in his bumbling way, that it's only because George Bush (and all the key people in his Administration?) didn't "study hard and do their homework and make an effort to be smart" that the U.S. is "stuck in Iraq." What is wrong with that statement? Let me count the ways:A lot of this comes back to John Kerry's famous quote. Here's something I wrote in August of last year, when there were a thousand fewer American dead and many tens of thousands fewer dead Iraqis as well:
How do you ask someone to be the last person to die for a mistake? But the thing is - the invasion of Iraq wasn't a "mistake". The invasion of Iraq was a deliberate, conscious decision by the Bush administration, designed to advance a variety of goals - long-term control of oil, projection of U.S. power, maintaining the Republican Party (and George Bush) in control in the U.S., providing a source of profits to Halliburton and other large U.S. companies, sending a message to countries around the world that trying to maintain a foreign policy independent of the U.S. is unacceptable, defending Israel, George Bush revenging the alleged attempt on his "daddy" by "Saddam", etc., etc.

The reasons are many, and one can certainly debate which reasons are the most important. But, whatever the reason or reasons that were behind the invasion, one thing is certain - it wasn't a "mistake". Which makes the tens of thousands of deaths listed in the first paragraph of this post all the more tragic, and likewise makes every death which will occur in the years to come before the U.S. is forced out of Iraq equally tragic, if not more so. Because their deaths, those ones which will occur in the years to come, are entirely foreseeable. And also entirely preventable.
Thinking about this, I have to ask a question to which I don't know the answer: when John Kerry said what he did in 1971, what did he mean then by "a mistake"? Did he think then that the U.S. had no right to invade Vietnam, and was conducting an illegal and immoral war? Or did he simply think, as he does now about Iraq, that it was "fought poorly," a "mistake" in the sense that it had been botched to the point where there was no way to "win," and therefore the only sensible thing to do is to get out before more people are killed?

And, just to round out this post, let me add another insight into that Kerry quote (and possibly into his current state of mind) by repeating something I wrote in November, 2004:

On more than one occasion, I have praised John Kerry's famous 1971 quote: "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?" Today for some reason I found myself thinking about that quote, and I'm ashamed to admit that for the first time I realized what is wrong with that quote. Which is that it's a completely American-centered quote, very much akin to talking only about the 1221 American dead in Iraq without mentioning the tens of thousands of Iraqis who have also died. How about "How do you ask an Iraqi to be the last innocent civilian to die for a mistake?" Of course, the problem with that quote is that the U.S. doesn't bother to ask the Iraqis anything; unlike the American soldiers, they didn't volunteer to be on the receiving end of a bullet or bomb.
But now, thousands of American and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi deaths after I first asked these questions, John Kerry still thinks the U.S. is "stuck" in Iraq, and still isn't willing to pose that famous question, even in an American-centered way. And he still doesn't understand why the U.S. is there in the first place. At least, he pretends not to understand (my guess is he understands very well).

Update: According to this chart, while 97% of U.S. military recruits in the last three years graduated from high school, only 5-6% have "greater than high school credentials." So presumably anyone who makes it through PCC, no matter what their grades, is already 20 times less likely to be "stuck in Iraq" than someone who doesn't.

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