By: Nick Welsh
READ ’EM AND WEEP: With so many famous people dying in recent weeks, it’s easy to see how Dustin Donica got lost in the shuffle. In the past 10 days alone, we’ve said goodbye to James — Mr. “Please, Please, Please” — Brown, former president (and the world’s most dangerous golfer) Gerald Ford, and Iraqi dictator and mass-murderer Saddam Hussein. Shortly before they took off, we read the obits for Chilean tyrant Augusto Pinochet and Jeane Kirkpatrick, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations back in the ’80s.
To be fair, I’d say Donica and Brown deserved better company for their trip to the hereafter. Brown was one of the few genuinely self-created American originals, endowed with a hyperkinetic rhythmic audacity that surpassed even his gargantuan ego. But during his 73 years on planet Earth, Brown was generous enough to give us all a postgraduate course in booty shaking whether we knew we had enrolled or not. Thank you, Mr. Brown. Kirkpatrick is another story altogether. One of the original right-wing gangsta-academics, Kirkpatrick’s frightening exterior masked an even scarier interior. She achieved both fame and infamy articulating the novel theory that America’s dictators were superior to other countries’ tyrants because ours were somehow more susceptible to democratic reform.
Most people would get laughed out of town with ideas like that, but like I say, nobody laughed when Jeane was around. She was that scary. We can only guess that Kirkpatrick was referring to the likes of Pinochet, the Chilean general who overthrew Chile’s popularly elected socialist president Salvador Allende in 1973 in a military coup hatched in active connivance with U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and the CIA. Before he was through, Pinochet would murder untold thousands of Chileans and torture countless more. At the time of the coup, Chile enjoyed a long history of democratic elections. Pinochet was one of the few dictators ever to be brought up on charges for his crimes against humanity, but he hid behind the façade of diminished mental capacity and managed to escape this mortal coil before facing his accusers in court. It’s worth noting he died on International Human Rights Day.
Then, of course, there’s Gerald Ford, who radiated a calming congeniality no matter how ferociously reality dictated otherwise. When then-president John F. Kennedy was shot and killed in 1963, Ford, then a congressmember from Michigan, served on the Warren Commission, which sought to soothe the nation with sweet lies — like the lone gunman theory — that not even an 11-year-old could stomach. But what could you expect from a man who would later proclaim (well before the fall of the Soviet Union), “There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe and there never will be under a Ford administration.” Ford got a bad rap for being a dim bulb, but to a certain extent, he brought it on himself. “I watch a lot of baseball on the radio,” he once said. “Things are more like they are now than they have ever been before.” Ford’s political life demonstrated not just that anyone can become president, but that you can do it without even trying. Ford was appointed vice president to replace Spiro T. Agnew, who was brought up on charges of accepting kickbacks from the cement companies getting freeway construction contracts while he was governor of Maryland. Ford then got bumped into the Number One spot after Richard Nixon resigned rather than face certain impeachment. Ford’s lasting legacy is not how this accidental president pardoned Nixon for crimes against the Constitution, but the cast of nefarious characters this well-meaning man elevated to positions of great power.
It was during the Ford administration that Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld got their first tastes of serious power. These two political pit bulls quickly reshaped the Ford White House, bringing with them the likes of George Herbert Walker Bush and his longtime fixer, James Baker. It was George I who gave us George II, and it was Baker who led the successful legal fight to stop the Florida recount that allowed the current president to steal the 2000 election. And it was Cheney and Rumsfeld who cooked the books and repeated all the lies that got us into our increasingly bloody mess in Iraq. If this crew felt a compulsion to topple Saddam Hussein from power, it’s understandable. Since the early 1980s, these same individuals conspired to break and circumvent a passel of laws in order to keep Saddam as armed and dangerous as he could be. When Saddam was using chemical weapons to kill not just the Iranians, on whom he declared war, but the Kurds living in Iraq, we not only looked the other way, we provided him the military coordinates telling him where best to bomb. When the Senate passed a resolution condemning the gassing, then-president Ronald Reagan vetoed it. When the UN Security Council voted to condemn, U.S.
Ambassador Kirkpatrick voted against it. Back then, Saddam was still one of our “good” dictators. And besides, he was killing Iranians, then led by a group of crazy mullahs who had the nerve to overthrow our bloody puppet Shah Reza Pahlavi. Maybe had the CIA not overthrown Mohammed Mossadegh in 1953 — who had been Iran’s democratically elected prime minister not once but twice — then maybe the crazy mullahs would never have come to power in the first place. And maybe we wouldn’t find ourselves forced to support wars of aggression waged by psychos like Saddam in the 1980s. But then, Mossadegh wanted to nationalize Iran’s oil production, so we had no choice.
I understand an investigation has been launched into the taunting and jeering that accompanied Saddam during his execution. By the standards of recent Iraqi history, he got off easy; at least they didn’t drag his body from a car around the streets of Baghdad and then hang whatever leftover body parts they could find. But I’d rather know the extent to which the United States government aided and abetted Saddam in his crimes against humanity.
And all this leads us to poor Dustin Donica, the servicemember who was killed last week while on patrol in Iraq. Newspaper accounts tell us little of Donica other than he was 22 and from Spring, Texas. Donica’s claim to fame is not what he did while alive, but that he was the 3,000th American killed during the war on Iraq. If nothing else, Donica’s death disproves the old adage that death usually comes in threes. In his case, it comes in three thousand.