Friday, August 26, 2005

Two Monkeys

(Oh, before we get started on the monkeys, Bush: I know you’ll be thrilled to hear that we finally sold our house. Well, to be more precise, we received an offer and accepted it. I’m leery about saying that we sold it until escrow closes and the check’s in the bank. We did okay. We didn’t get quite what we wanted, or what we felt the house was worth: the fact that this truly beautiful home sat on the market for so long is an indication, to us at least, that the housing market is not so strong as it was a few months ago. Perhaps that’s not such a terrible thing, from the broader perspective. And we did okay. We have reason to be grateful—and certainly very much relieved. Now we can look forward to actually paying for the reconstruction costs on our new home! But enough of that. Let’s get back to our monkeys.)

You remember those three monkeys, Bush: the one with his hands over his ears, the one with his hands over his eyes, the one with his hands over his mouth? Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil. I’m not sure I have the order right, but that’s the gist of it. I was thinking about those three monkeys as I read the essay by retired US Marine colonel Thomas X. Hammes on the op-ed page of yesterday’s New York Times: "Lost in Translation." The good colonel was lamenting the lack of English-Arabic translators available to those fighting your war out there in Iraq, and the dire consequences that can result.

It struck me, of course, that to fight a war deaf is to be at as much of a disadvantage as to fight a war blind. The soldiers on the street bear the brunt of it: as Col. Hammes astutely points out, without a translator they’re unable to distinguish between a fracas over the price of tomatoes and an imminent and dangerous threat. Their officers suffer from a serious shortage of the kind of intelligence that should be immediately available from local sources—the trained Iraqi forces and the police; as well as from the ample documentary intelligence that, as Hammes claims, piles up back home in the US for want of competent translators.

We are a nation that generally expects others to learn our language, if they wish to communicate with us in any way—whether as tourists or as business people. It seems that we expect those we invaded, and those whose country we occupy, to do the same. According to Hammes, our distrust is such that we fail even to exploit the resource of willing recent immigrants, native Arabic speakers who could work either as interpreters or translators.

If we choose to remain deaf as a country, Bush, it seems that you choose to remain deaf, in many respects, as our leader. Deaf, that is, to opinions other than those you want to hear. It was that choice on your part to remain deaf to informed advisors that led us into this war, and that choice that keeps us trapped in it. What you hear, I suspect, is only the encouragement of your closest advisors—your Cheney, your Rumsfeld, your Rice—and the cheers of the ecstatic and admiring crowds they arrange for you to meet on your speaking tours. To dissenting voices, like the obstinate Cindy Sheehan or the wise and prescient General Shinseki, you are the monkey with his hands over his ears.

I think, too, by the same token, that you see only what you wish to see. At best, you wear rose-tinted glasses. Some would say blinders. I find it hard to believe that you would say the things you keep repeating if your eyes were truly open. Aside from the dreadful, mounting death toll of Americans, I see Iraqis killing Iraqis every day. I see Sunnis killing Shiites, and vice versa. Today, in the news, I see Shiites killing Shiites, apparently over some sectarian differences. I see a country whose disparate and distrustful groups can reach a brittle agreement only under extreme pressure from the United States—an agreement that almost everyone agrees won’t last beyond the immediate, artificially-created necessity. At the same time, I see the Taliban gathering renewed strength in Afghanistan, and casualties mounting in that country once again. You speak bravely in public of finishing the job in Iraq. But the job you started—and rightly, surely—in Afghanistan remains unfinished too.

So that would be the second monkey, Bush. The one with his hands over his eyes. See no evil. I have to ask you, do you really see the progress you keep talking about? Do you really see a nascent democracy taking root? Do you really see the insurgents on the run? Do you really see this country—our own, that is—as being more secure as a result of your Iraqi war? Do you really see us better protected against the terrorist threat?

Because—excuse me, I know I’m much less well informed than you are—I see none of this, Bush. I see, in every case, the opposite.

As for the third monkey, I can’t let you off that hook, I’m afraid. Your hand is covering everything but your mouth. I hear you speak intemperately, with arrogance. I hear you say things like "Bring ‘em on!" and "Mission Accomplished!" I hear you readily defame others with a smile on your face. I hear you speak with purposeful deception. I have heard you all too often, to put it more bluntly, telling lies.

But anyway, that’s two monkeys, by my count. Hands over ears. Hands over eyes. Hands definitely not over mouth. Think about it. I guess that just about does it for today.


dennis said...

Peter, Did you see Cindy Sheehan on Bill Maher tonight? Wow!
The antiwarmongers movement may have a new face. Could it be?! The face of the common man.

Pixie said...

Congrats on selling your house!!

Hey Dennis, I saw that with Cindy on Bill Maher. I'm very impressed with this woman...she's so articulate and never loses her focus for one second. She's got incredible courage...but I guess a tremendous loss and a whole lot of rage can help you channel your inner strength.

PeterAtLarge said...

Dennis... No, I didn't catch it. Sorry to have missed it, though. And Pixie, thanks for joining me, and for the spot-on comments.