EDITOR’S NOTE: This is one in a series of columns submitted in response to the Daily Planet’s call for tributes to Molly Ivins.
It can be depressing to be politically progressive, and because she took my depression away from me more than once I will always have a soft spot in my heart for Molly Ivins. Her spirit, and that of Ann Richards, was a reason I felt comfortable moving to Texas in the last year. It has been a hard year.
Austin is a place where peace is taken seriously. My wife’s and my neighbors, in our otherwise nondescript new development, put up Christmas decorations in December, including a lighted “Peace” sign on their fence. When the season ended, the home’s other decorations came down but the “Peace” sign stayed. In point of fact, it is not difficult to find peace symbols and signs throughout Austin. You’re free to believe that such displays have no effect on the world, just as you’re free to believe that the current resident of the White House is one of the best presidents we’ve ever had.
The war Ms. Ivins had taken it upon herself to help end is not good. Not only are thousands dead, tens of thousands maimed, and billions misspent—but the whole enterprise is a geopolitical debt in my country’s name that will be difficult, if possible at all, to repay. Bush took one of the most brutal countries on earth, Iraq, and made it more so. He took one of the most complex and troubled regions on earth, the Persian Gulf, and made it more so. And, not incidentally, he avoided required service by American presidents to monitor and work to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; the consequences of his dereliction in Jerusalem may one day rival his more obvious misdoings in other parts of the Middle East.
Over the last couple of days, U.S. and Iraqi forces, fighting side by side, engaged in one of the more ferocious battles of the war. Their opponent was a “death cult” comprised of several hundred Shiite fanatics bent on wiping out the mainstream Shiite leadership during a religious holiday. I only mention it because I want to draw attention to how unlikely it is that our commander-in-chief understands what underlay this battle or, at least, that he would be willing to acknowledge understanding the reality on the ground. To wit, the fight, in which three hundred of the death-cultists perished, is just a single wrinkle in the hideous tapestry of religious fanaticism and vengeance that the United States has helped to uncover, and in some places weave.
But despite many similar instances of internecine havoc, Bush has chosen to pretend that al Qaeda was the greatest threat to stability and peace in Iraq, and that the far more copious bloodletting achieved by other actors was somehow not real. The reason? Because the name al Qaeda, connected to Sept. 11 as it is, helps to resell and rejustify our own bloodletting in Iraq, of our own boys and girls, and anyone else’s boys and girls.
The “decider” managed to put al Qaeda in a country where it wasn’t and then to keep repeating its name, almost religiously. He may have hoped to confuse his less-educated countrymen about what more potent evil had been unleashed in his own name in Iraq, and, for a time, he may have succeeded. But there are fewer and fewer people of any educational level willing to buy such malodorous waste.
Molly Ivins didn’t get to see the end of the Iraq war; she would have taken deep satisfaction in seeing that day come. She would also have been happy to know that her brothers and sisters in peace were fighting to prevent the beginning of the Iran war. Dick Cheney, our vice-president only in name, is working hard on expanding the madness eastward, which means that his putative boss is working hard on it, too.
Harold Ambler is an Austin-based writer, editor, and musician. He kept a year-long blog about his baby daughter, which can be found at http://dadwrites.blogspot.com.