ORLANDOI'm against the war. Who isn't? (Maybe the 2 percent who tell The New York Times/CBS poll that Iraq is going "very well.") But this column isn't about the war. It's about logic.
In his new book, Al Gore argues that Americans are losing the ability to, well, argue. "Reason, logic and truth seem to play a sharply diminished role in the way America now makes important decisions," claims the president-in-internal-exile. Never mind left versus right; irrationality has become so prevalent that outlandish jingoism and sentimental lunacy have displaced reason as the framework of our national dialogue. What passed for debate on the latest funding bill for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan makes a convincing case for Gore's thesis.
The 2006 midterm sweep was widely interpreted as an electoral mandate to end the war. Democrats were supposedly now in the driver's seat on Iraq. So why do they keep steering right, as if November never happened? Despite Democratic control of both houses of Congress and polls that show widespread contempt (76 percent) for the war and Bush (63 percent), party leaders felt they had no choice but to give Bush exactly what he wanted: another $100 billion, no strings attached.
Even for the majority that believes invading Iraq was a mistake, there are several reasonable, even liberal, arguments for staying the course: preventing a bigger civil war, keeping the conflict from spreading into other Middle Eastern nations, honoring our commitment to rebuild a country we've destroyed, the superpower's strategic imperative of flexing its military prowess just because. Logic, however, never entered the debate. Instead, an absurd rhetorical turd carried the day, among prowar Republicans and reluctant Democrats alike: supporting the troops requires funding the war.
"Like it or not, we ran out of options," said David Obey, the Democratic chairman of the House appropriations committee. "There has never been a chance of a snowball in Hades that Congress would cut off those funds to those troops in the field." Even Hillary Clinton, one of just 14 senators who voted no, said she'd thought "long and hard" about her vote because she wanted to "do everything we can to protect the troops."
Remember, this isn't about war—it's about logic. Cutting off funding would do nothing to jeopardize U.S. troops fighting in Iraq. That's obvious. It would, of course, endanger the war itself. Without Congressional appropriations, Bush would be forced to bring them home. Which would make them, despite the reductionist and false 2003 GOP talking point that the streets of some U.S. cities are more dangerous than Iraq, safer. A lot safer.
Both parties, with the media playing along, have painted a bleak, transparently ridiculous portrait of besieged American soldiers, surrounded by rabid insurgents. It's The Alamo 2007, or maybe 2008, and our brave young men and women go down, fighting to the last man (or woman) until they run out of ammo, cursing Washington politicians for failing them. Save the last bullet for me, buddy!
It is baffling that this fiction prompted any response from the media, or Democratic pols, beyond dismissive laughter. The fact that it carried the day in a congressional vote, without even a word of comment from national barometer Jon Stewart, stands as testimony to the triumph of what Mike Judge termed "idiocracy."
"Thank goodness we are finally here," Republican Congressman John Boehner said in reference to the Democratic agreement to support the war, "choking up" for C-SPAN. "Three and a half months [the time spent on the debate] to respond to our troops and their families is too long," added his colleague Roy Blunt. What are they talking about? The troops don't need or want the appropriation. They get a paycheck whether they're stationed in Iraq or here in the States. The congressional appropriation in question goes to weapons manufacturers, contracting firms such as Halliburton and Iraqi tribal sheiks in the form of bribes. The troops don't see a cent, much less their families.
What puts our troops in harm's way is the war. No war, no worries. Sure, Iraq falls apart (faster). Sure, Iraqis die (faster). But lost in the malarkey is the brutal truth: Voting for more money for the war means more troops get killed and wounded. Again, there are valid arguments for subjecting them to these risks. But there is no logical basis for the claim that the money will make them safer.
Stupidity isn't new, but the willingness of a culturally sophisticated and technologically advanced society to swallow such obvious hogwash brings it to a higher plane of moronitude: We're smart enough to know better, but we choose not to. A striking symbol of such willful idiocy takes the form of a new Creation Museum in northern Kentucky. The $27-million facility posits that the Earth is barely 6,000 years old, dinosaurs were created on the sixth day, and Jesus is the savior who will one day repair the trauma of man's fall. Fossils, the museum teaches, are no older than Noah's flood; in fact, dinosaurs were on a section of Noah's ark ... There are 52 videos in the museum, one showing how the transformations wrought by the eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980 reveal how plausible it is that the waters of Noah's flood could have carved out the Grand Canyon within days.
Hipsters are driving rented Zipcars to Kentucky to revel in smirky awe at the cheese of it all, but there's a serious reason fundamentalist churches spend $27 million on such propaganda: It works. A new Newsweek poll finds that 48 percent of American adults don't believe in evolution, and "one-third (34 percent) of college graduates say they accept the Biblical account of creation as fact."
Back among the chattering classes, the war=troops trope has outlived the funding battle. Attacking Democratic presidential aspirants Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, John McCain decried their votes "against funds to support our brave men and women fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan." I wonder: Is McCain that stupid? Or is he a liar who knows he can count on a brainless public not to call him out?
COMING SOON: I return to Central Asia.