The Path Not Taken
Recently I was chatting with my wife and the subject of military service came up. And while I never served, at a few specific times during my adult life I seriously contemplated enlisting.
One of those times was a few days after 9/11.
In those dark and scary days we were sitting on pins and needles wondering when and where the next attack would from. No one knew if the threat was a massive force of underground cells ready to pounce on all of America's shopping malls and skyscrapers as soon as we turned our backs.
It was in this mind set that I recall talking to my wife about enlisting because I have a very specific skill set that institutions like the Military need. I can plan menus, order food, cook it well and feed groups of up to several thousand at a time in a fairly efficient manner. It seemed reasonable that such skill might be required if there was a huge military mobilization.
Fortunately al Qaida turned out to be much smaller and less embedded than we had feared. And our military was pretty efficient in almost crushing them before we confused their mission with Chalabi's secret agenda.
But why does this matter now?
Because the biggest opportunity lost in those days following the attacks on NYC and the Pentagon was the chance to bring and *keep* the country together. The Congress was willing to pass legislation that the Executive branch claim to need without much thought. Regardless of what you think of the Patriot Act its passage was an amazing show of bipartisanship. The authorization to go after the terrorists with the full military force of the US is another example.
The world offered us anything we needed in the way of diplomatic, military and most significantly moral support.
So WTF happened?
My first inkling that the administration and certain conservatives saw this unrivaled unity as an opportunity to ram an agenda down our throats was the unbelievable way that they were fawning over President Bush's performance in the days and weeks after 9/11. He was called Churchillian. We were told that there were unnamed Democrats who were "relieved" that Al Gore had lost the election. We were told lies about Air Force One being a specific target. There were lots of little things that made me wonder if the partisanship had really stopped, or if Karl Rove was being opportunistic.
Then the legislative fight began. Bush and the GOP were willing to scrap the new airport safety bill because the future employees might unionize. And don't forget the tax cuts.
When a few voices on the Democratic side of the aisle suggested that cutting taxes for the second time in a year for the uber-wealthy might not be in the country's best interest, they were labeled as treacherous. Not just by the GOP, mind you, but by the press as well. How dare a legislator express an economic opinion that differed from Dear Leader's vision!
Of course the biggest wedge that separated the true American patriots from us traitors was Iraq. The press all but ignored the 50% of the country that opposed the war prior to its onset. (I was actually a very reluctant supporter who thought that we were rushing in waaaayy too fast.) But those on the left who voiced that Operation Iraqi Freedom was misguided or folly were roundly criticized as enemies of freedom or worse.
Recently those who called the Iraqi prison abuse scandal an outrageous betrayal of American values were labeled as abbetters of Saddam and Osama by right wing pundits and politicians. Senator Inhofe's asinine comment that he "is outraged by the outrage" of the "humanitarian do-gooders" is the classic example.
Now here we are almost 3 years after 9/11 and one year after the Iraq invasion. My, how things have changed.
Our allies are wary and tired of us. Our enemies are emboldened by this administration's recklessness. Our soldiers are at greater risk than ever and wondering how, why and when they will be pulling out of Iraq. The military as a whole has been stretched to a breaking point revealing weaknesses that I'm sure Kim Jong Il has noticed. Islamic Jihadists are reportedly having more success recruiting martyrs and soldiers than ever before. And we've cried wolf so often, that our National Alert System has turned into a joke. If a real danger were to arise, we'd be in trouble.
The press seemed to wake up around the time of the 9/11 Commission hearings and Richard Clark's revelations about the incoherence of Bush's terror policy. Once the 4th Estate started covering some of these shortcomings, the mushy middle of the American electorate actually wisened up to what some have been saying for 3 1/2 years: That this administration is motivated only by the political perceptions of their actions. The only principle that matters is will any action gain or cost votes at the ballot box.
Four years ago the country was torn. We had an outgoing popular President in severe partisan turmoil and two political parties that seemed more interested in beating each other up than building up a political structure that provided a vision and leadership. One of the common themes in the 2000 election was the question of which candidate could heal these wounds most effectively. Its tragic, but we are far worse off in this respect now than we were at the end of the stained blue dress impeachment fiasco
So my ultimate point.... They could have had me and many more like me. I was ready to sacrifice on behalf of my country. (Not necessarily in the military, but in any way needed) I wanted to be used for the good of the nation.
I wanted the President to ask me to serve a greater cause and forget the past two decades of poltical wrangling. Instead I was called a traitor because I said I didn't need a tax cut.