Thursday, March 8, 2007

Connect the Dots ...

When I was a kid, I couldn't draw. Still can't. The most I could handle were those lame connect-the-dot games. You know, the ones where the page contained a series of numbered dots that, on their own, seemed random. But, once you connected the dots in numerical order, an image of something magical, like a giant bunny, appeared.

As simple as the game was, the American people seem to have forgotten how to play it. I come to that conclusion because if Americans did remember, they would be in the streets protesting, demanding a change in the way our government does business. More likely, however, the people are home, stuffing themselves with food laden with high fructose corn syrup and watching a TV show that either glorifies violence and torture (yes 24 and Lost, I'm talking to you) or panders to our basest instincts (I can't help but think we're a year away from watching D-list celebrities fighting to the death on a reality show, all so they can hold onto a shred of fame, even if it will be posthumous).

(As an aside, you may or may not know that the producers of 24 and Lost had to produce a video for the troops hosted by its stars because soldiers were allegedly copying the torture techniques used in the shows. If we've reached this point as a culture, maybe we've crossed a line. I'm just saying.)

Back to the dots. I noticed a headline on the Yahoo! home page yesterday that said something along the lines of: "Taliban Ready for War With NATO." That's right, the people that gave safe haven to the extremists who perpetrated the horrors of 9/11 are back, in part at least because the U.S. military is too busy in Iraq to finish the job it started in Afghanistan. Dot one.

This comes a day after the former chief of staff to the Vice President of the United States of America was convicted on four felony counts for actions relating to revealing the identity of an undercover CIA agent for the crime of having a husband who questioned the intelligence on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq (and, I might add, was proven to be correct). Dot two.

Also, days ago, we were treated to images on TV of mold and vermin infestation at Walter Reed Army Medical Center that made the accommodations of the average Survivor contestant look palatial compared to what our government offered to our wounded soldiers. Dot three.

But wait, it gets better. After the general in charge of Walter Reed was fired after six months on the job, the replacement general revealed at a press conference that the pictures were not indicative of the true condition of the hospital, and things aren't really that bad there. Way to be accountable, Gen. Bilko! Dot four.

Throw in the daily reports of American soldiers -- and even more Iraqi civilians -- being killed in bombings in Iraq (dot five), and the administration's seeming inability to understand the complexity of the rivalry between Sunni and Shia Muslims in the region that, according to Seymour Hersh of the New Yorker, has led to U.S. money being funeled to groups with ideological ties to Al Qaeda. Dot six.

Meanwhile, as the U.S. is bogged down in Iraq, Iran is happily pronouncing that they will never shut down their nuclear program, and the head of the notoriously publicity-shy Israeli security agency Shin Bet did an interview to report that Iran is training members of Hamas. Dot seven.

This administration's foreign policy problems don't just lie in the Middle East. There was an article in the New York Times recently about how the U.S. has had to reach out to Russia to assuage hurt feelings over the way the administration has botched that relationship over the past six years. Now that Russia is awash in oil money, they are looking to reassert some world authority, and I'll give you one guess who they're angry with (hint, the people of Switzerland are safe). Dot eight.

My list of dots is far from complete (Abu Ghraib, Mission Accomplished, "dying throes" of the insurgency, missing billions in Iraq, no-bid Halliburton contracts, etc.), but I think the picture of the giant bunny is starting to emerge: This administration has put the United States of America into a horrendous position in the world. And, more importantly, we're less safe than we could or should be.

I know the conservatives have counter arguments (or spins, really) on my dots. Where I see a rabbit, they will argue that there is an oil well that is "fighting them over there so we don't have to fight them here, and, incidentally, if you disagree with us you hate your country and love the terrorists." I'm sure if I was important at all, nine of them would be already looking for dirt on me (too boring), my wife (too good) and my rabbit (too simple).

But, the facts remain: The taliban is resurgent. Scooter Libby was convicted in a court of law (despite, according to the New York Times, having a $4 million legal fund that got MORE donations after he was convicted). Two buildings at Walter Reed were in Amityville Horror-esque condition. The new general in charge tried to play it down. People are dying in Iraq. The Sunni-Shia conflict is extremely complex. Iran is strengthening. And, Russia is pissed. And, by any objective count, this administration has failed miserably.

Despite the previous 13 paragraphs, I'm really not writing this to voice my discontent at the actions of the Bush administration. No, the target of my point is first and foremost the American people, with honorable mention going to the Democratic Party.

Maybe I'm naive, but I think if the American people took to the streets in peaceful protests, things would change. Now, before you break into your "Dear Hippie Commie ..." emails, I'm not looking for some glossy-eyed throwback to the Vietnam era. I don't think the protesters should look different from the average American (that is, stringy long hair, headbands and love beads are not required), nor should they engage in protesting as scene-building (anyone with a silver peace medallion, a tie-dyed shirt or a joint should be turned away at the protest door).

No, I am advocating that average Americans -- doctors in medical coats, construction workers in jeans, Wendy's cashiers in visors -- stand up and say, "This is my country, I love it, I'm a patriot, and I'm tired of you destroying it." If they don't, then they get the government they desserve.

Some of you might argue, isn't that the Democrats' job? Why yes, it is. But they're not doing it very well. Can you imagine what the Republicans would have done with this administration's resume if the president was a Democrat? I mean, the Walter Read and CIA-agent-outing issues alone would have had Republican members of Congress looking for their copies of "Impeachment for Dummies." Remember, they impeached a president for not admitting to getting oral sex from an intern. If that behavior warrants impeachment, then mishandling the war on terror and getting the U.S. into a war in Iraq for no good reason and without an exit plan should warrant, what? Jail? Flogging? Forced appearances as celebrity judges on You're the One That I Want?

No, the Democrats went straight for the jugular with a nonbinding resolution. If a Democratic president had done what Bush has done, the Republicans would have controlled the debate and, by the time 2008 arrived, Nader would be outpolling the Democratic nominee. The Democrats couldn't even score points when Senate Republicans blocked the vote on the nonbinding resolution.

The Democrats took back both houses of Congress in 2006, but it wasn't because the American people were wild about universal healthcare, gay marriage or Howard Dean's bizarrely entrancing hairstyle. In my book, those are three worthy causes, but they did not turn the election. No, the Democrats won because voters in a handful of center- and right-leaning districts were pissed off about Iraq. Pure and simple. And make no mistake, it was a small group of people that swung that election. Democrats were not taking contested seats by millions of votes. The senate races in Montana and Virginia swung on fewer people than Versus's TV audience for the NHL All-Star Game.

So, to borrow a phrase President Bush was once fond of, the Democrats have politcal capital to spend in one and only one area: Iraq. The small group of angry voters said to the Democrats: "We don't like you much, but we want the U.S. out of Iraq. Do something about it." And no, a nonbinding resolution just doesn't cut it. I was heartened a bit to see today that the Democrats are calling for a withdrawal from Iraq by Fall 2008. I hope they follow through. Announcing a plan is easy. Weathering the "helping the enemy" blasts from the desperate Bush administration and their Republican congressional allies is harder.

So, my fellow Democrats, do something about Iraq. Take real action. Stay strong. Because if you don't, don't come crying to me in January 2009 when President McCain presides over the Republican majorities in both houses of Congress. And, even more importantly, young Americans are still being sent home in coffins (not that the government will let them be photographed) for no good reason.

It's up to you, Democrats, because voting you into office was all the American people had the energy to do. After all, Jack Bauer is about to attach a car battery to someone's nipples, and the melted cheese product for the nachos is getting cold, so, really, the American people are a little busy right now.