TIME WOUNDS ALL HEELS: There’s a juicy rumor making the rounds that former vice president Dick Cheney bought a home in Santa Barbara. I’d very much like for it to be true. It comes from a plausibly reliable source, so it might even be accurate. Although I have yet to confirm this via county real estate records, I’m going to just assume it’s correct. I met my source while we were both riding our bikes to the synagogue for a memorial service. I got tangled up in some side streets, momentarily losing my way; she did not. That alone establishes her reliability as a source. She had come to this info from an unnamed guy she knows who claims he did some work on Cheney’s home. Why should I be squeamish about asserting such information as gospel on the basis of such unsubstantiated “fact”? Clearly, Dick Cheney never was.
Relying on information he knew to be far less reliable than mine, Cheney successfully stampeded this country into waging a war against Iraq 10 years ago this week. In Iraq, suicide bombers celebrated the 10-year anniversary by blowing themselves up, killing 65 and wounding 240. In the United States, we celebrated by pretending it never happened. In some ways, it never did. There never were any weapons of mass destruction, as Cheney told us. There never were any aluminum tubes, no yellowcake uranium, no program to build a nuclear bomb, as he also alleged. And, as we would also learn, there was no legitimate — however mistaken — basis for Cheney to sincerely pretend to have believed Saddam Hussein harbored active nuclear intentions. It was all a big deliberate lie. For me, the $2.2 trillion question remains, why? What did we hope to achieve by attacking Iraq? I didn’t get it then, and 10 years later, I’m still in the dark.
It’s inviting to blame Cheney for everything. With his ramrod righteousness and unswerving resistance to reflection of any sort, he makes the perfect fall guy. But if Cheney lied, we made it way too easy for him. With a few notable exceptions — like the Knight Ridder newspapers — the media swallowed Cheney’s concoctions and amplified them as urgent, unalloyed fact. It’s undeniably true, as well, that the Republican White House was diabolically duplicitous. But the Democrats — with a few notable exceptions like Santa Barbara’s Lois Capps — not only drank the Kool-Aid, but asked for seconds. Blaming Cheney for getting us into the war on Iraq is akin to cancer victims blaming the cigarette industry for covering up how smoking is bad for you. Sometimes, you should just know better. Collectively, we clearly chose not to. As a nation, we can accept being lied to. Less forgivable, however, was the ruthless incompetence with which the war was waged.
We’re still paying the price. We all know that 4,500 American troops paid the ultimate price, 30,000 incurred serious bodily injury, and untold hundreds of thousands have had their brains sufficiently scrambled that returning vets are killing themselves at a rate of 18 a day. Women who served in Iraq were at such a high risk of rape — by their own side — that they were advised not to visit the latrines without an escort. That doesn’t take into account the estimated 134,000 Iraqi civilians — those are the ones we were liberating — who lost their lives. Only by torturing the definition of “torture” beyond recognition can the United States now state this is something we, as Americans, don’t practice. We have capitulated utterly to the primacy of unseen, unseeable intelligence agencies that are now empowered to detain American citizens — suspected of collaborating with enemy noncombatants in the war on terror — on American soil without ever having to file charges. Where is the Tea Party when you really need them? Now we find ourselves debating under what circumstances the United States can — and cannot — kill its own citizens, who are suspected of collaborating with the enemy, without ever filing charges? We’ve come a long way, baby, and it’s all backwards.
Who can forget how in the early days of the war, we flew in 360 tons of shrink-wrapped stacks of $100 bills — that’s $12 billion in case you’re wondering — and passed it out as walking-around money? Presumably, the money helped buy friends and influence people who might otherwise try to kill us. But half that cash mysteriously disappeared and has never been accounted for. New estimates just released by economists at Brown University put the total price tag for the Iraq War at $2.2 trillion. That’s about $500 billion more expensive than they estimated last year, due in large measure to revised health cost estimates for returning vets. With interest, that figure could climb as high as $6 trillion. It was Cheney’s sick genius to hide the costs of war. Just as he successfully prohibited the media from photographing the flag-draped coffins, he and the White House kept the Iraq War off the books and out of the budget process. What we didn’t know is now biting us in the ass in the form of sequestration-induced budget cuts and a massive federal debt for which we will all make many painful sacrifices. If this bought stability in the Middle East, maybe all this would have been worth it. But last I checked, the region seems as much of a time bomb as ever, if not more so.
Not that it did any good, but Santa Barbara distinguished itself by the relentless opposition of its residents to the war. In the months leading up to the invasion, Santa Barbarans organized a consecutive string of Saturday-morning demonstrations, unrivaled in its consistency anywhere in the country. Once the war started, Veterans for Peace sprung into action with Arlington West — its Sunday-morning installation of crosses honoring the war dead at the beach by Stearns Wharf. I don’t care how drunk you got the night before; those crosses sobered you up. Welcome to Santa Barbara, Dick Cheney. We’ll leave you alone. But when you get through telling us — yet again — how you have no regrets, maybe you could explain why we really attacked Iraq. It’s been 10 years, and we still don’t know