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Barbara Boxer Was Right
The Personal Price Americans Aren’t Paying for War

clueless, heartless, and loyal to failure

Two years ago this week Condoleezza Rice was before the Senate Foreign Relations committee, seeking confirmation as Secretary of State. By then 1,366 American soldiers had died in Iraq, 10,300 had been wounded, 58 percent of Americans disapproved of President Bush’s handling of the war, just 44 percent thought the war was worth fighting. Iraq was the principal issue of the presidential election just two months before, a month that saw a record 137 Americans killed. In her 3,700-word opening statement to the Senate committee, Rice not once mentioned the casualties of war. Nor did she mention the Iraq war. Her only references to war, other than plugging Pakistan “as a vital ally in the war on terror” (she calls Pakistan’s dictator, Pervez Musharraf, “a good friend”) had to do with World War II and the Cold War. She was not only in a time-warp. She was in an empathy warp.

Publicly, Rice has shown more emotion about Brahms’ second piano concerto, which she’s promised herself to learn “before I leave this earth,” than she has about her own and her employer’s mistakes, which now have the United States fighting three losing wars — in Iraq, in Afghanistan, on “terror” — and winning only one: the domestic one against Americans’ liberties. As a National Security Adviser, Rice, an old Chevron director who once had an oil tanker named after her, was the pipeline through which the greased machinations of trumped-up, sexed-up and dumbed-down rationales for serially failing strategies made it to the president’s ears. “Constantly mother-henning me,” is how Bush once described that role. As a Secretary of State, Rice has been the frequent-flier to nowhere. Every one of the foreign-policy hot-spots she inherited two years ago — North Korea , Iran , Israel and Palestine , Lebanon , Iraq , the Horn of Africa — is in worse shape today than in 2005, when things were bad enough. As a member of the Bush administration, she’s been a perfect fit.

So when Barbara Boxer, the California Democrat, brought up the matter of Americans dying in Iraq and making their families suffer consequences Rice may not understand personally, Boxer was not making an isolated observation. She had Rice’s sorry record before her. This, specifically, is what Boxer said: “Now, the issue is who pays the price, who pays the price? I'm not going to pay a personal price. My kids are too old, and my grandchild is too young. You're not going to pay a particular price, as I understand it, within immediate family. So who pays the price? The American military and their families, and I just want to bring us back to that fact.”

The reactionary class known as “conservative” spent the last two decades glorifying the virtues of motherhood, parenting and “family values.” Boxer’s words should have rung true. Instead, led by Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly, whose combined war experiences add up to a date’s sweaty palms and falafel treats at the local Cineplex, the reactionary class attacked Boxer for her “far-left” insensitivity to single women. Boxer’s observation, so rarely made — that most Americans have as much personally at stake in this war as they do in the weather patterns on jupiter, which is partly why it’s dragging on — was ideologically neutered.

Boxer, of course, never questioned Rice’s empathy. She merely pointed out that Rice and Boxer herself will never know the personal sacrifice that families losing sons and daughters to the war must live with every day. She should have pointed out that Rice’s empathy for the war’s human cost is nil, because it derives from the deepest disconnect between the administration and the country, as proved yet again by Bush’s speech last week — the most astounding expression of presidential contempt for the nation to date. This Boxer did point out: “Madame Secretary, you are not listening to the American people. You are not listening to the military. You are not listening to the bipartisan voices from the Senate. You are not listening to the Iraq Study Group. Only you know who you are listening to, and you wonder why there is a dark cloud of skepticism and pessimism over this nation. I think people are right to be skeptical after listening to some of the things that have been said by your administration.”

Should the personal play a role in this? Let’s put it this way. I don’t know if anyone who’s not a parent can feel what a parent does over the loss of a child. I’m sure a few emotional geniuses can. I have my doubts about the rest, Rice among them. What’s clearer is that this administration has been fighting the war as if it were an abstraction, its human consequences as outsourced as its location. What’s clearest is that someone is being mother-henned who shouldn’t be, and tens of thousands of young men and women aren’t, who should have been.

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