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George McGovern/William Polk: National Press Club re Iraq

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An Impartial Interrogation of George W. Bush

   George McGovern/Wed Jan 17, 12:57 PM ET/

   The Nation -- I'm glad to be back at the National Press Club.
   Indeed, at the age of eighty-four, I'm glad to be anywhere. In my
   younger years when the subject of aging came up, trying to sound
   worldly wise, I would say, "It doesn't matter so much the number of
   years you have, but what you do with those years." I don't say that
   anymore. I now want to reach a hundred. Why? Because I thoroughly
   enjoy life and there are so many things I must still do before
   entering the mystery beyond. The most urgent of these is to get
   American soldiers out of the Iraqi hellhole Bush-Cheney and their
   neoconservative theorists have created in what was once called the
   cradle of civilization. It is believed to be the location of the
   Garden of Eden. I mention the neoconservative theorists to recall
   Walter Lippman's observance, "There is nothing so dangerous as a
   belligerent professor"

   One of the things I miss about my eighteen years in the US Senate
   are the stories of the old Southern Democrats. I didn't always vote
   with them, but I loved their technique of responding to an
   opponent's questions with a humorous story. Once when Senator Sam
   Ervin of North Carolina had to handle a tough question from Mike
   Mansfield, he said, "You know, Mr. Leader, that question reminds me
   of the old Baptist preacher who was telling a class of Sunday school
   boys the creation story. 'God created Adam and Eve and from this
   union came two sons, Cain and Abel and thus the human race
   developed.' A boy in the class then asked, 'Reverend, where did Cain
   and Abel get their wives?' After frowning for a moment, the preacher
   replied, 'Young man--it's impertinent questions like that that's
   hurtin' religion.'"

   Well, Mr. Bush, Jr. I have some impertinent questions for you.

   Mr. President, Sir, when reporter Bob Woodward asked you if you had
   consulted with your father before ordering our army into Iraq you
   said, "No, he's not the father you call on a decision like this. I
   talked to my heavenly Father above." My question, Mr. President: If
   God asked you to bombard, invade and occupy Iraq for four years, why
   did he send an opposite message to the Pope? Did you not know that
   your father, George Bush, Sr., his Secretary of State James Baker
   and his National Security Advisor General Scowcroft were all opposed
   to your invasion? Wouldn't you, our troops, the American people and
   the Iraqis all be much better off if you had listened to your more
   experienced elders including your earthly father? Instead of blaming
   God for the awful catastrophe you have unleashed in Iraq, wouldn't
   it have been less self-righteous if you had fallen back on the
   oft-quoted explanation of wrongdoing, "The devil made me do it?"

   And Mr. President, after the 9/11 hit against the Twin Towers in New
   York, which gained us the sympathy and support of the entire world,
   why did you then order the invasion of Iraq, which had nothing to do
   with 9/11? Are you aware that your actions destroyed the
   international reservoir of good will towards the United States? What
   is the cost to America of shattering the standing and influence of
   our country in the eyes of the world?

   Why, Mr. President did you pressure the CIA to report falsely that
   Iraq was building weapons of mass destruction including nuclear
   weapons? And when you ordered your Secretary of State, Colin Powell,
   to go to New York and present to the UN the Administration's
   "evidence" that Iraq was an imminent nuclear threat to the United
   States, were you aware that after reading this deceitful statement
   to the UN, Mr. Powell told an aide that the so-called evidence was
   "bullshit"?

   Is it reasonable to you, President Bush, that Colin Powell told you
   near the end of your first term that he would not be in your
   Administration if you were to receive a second term? What decent
   person could survive two full terms of forced lying and deceit?

   And Mr. President, how do you enjoy your leisure time, and how can
   you sleep at night knowing that 3,014 young Americans have died in a
   war you mistakenly ordered? What do you say to the 48,000 young
   Americans who have been crippled for life in mind or body? What is
   your reaction to the conclusion of the leading British medical
   journal (Lancet) that since you ordered the bombardment and
   occupation of Iraq four years ago, 600,000 Iraqi men, women and
   children have been killed? What do you think of the destruction of
   the Iraqi's homes, their electrical and water systems, their public
   buildings?

   And Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney, while neither of you has ever been in
   combat (Mr. Cheney asking and receiving five deferments from the
   Vietnam War), have you not at least read or been briefed on the
   terrible costs of that ill-advised and seemingly endless American
   war in tiny Vietnam? Do you realize that another Texas President,
   Lyndon Baines Johnson, declined to seek a second term in part
   because he had lost his credibility over the disastrous war in
   Vietnam? Are you aware that one of the chief architects of that war,
   Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, resigned his office and years
   later published a book declaring that the war was all a tragic
   mistake? Do you know this recent history in which 58,000 young
   Americans died in the process of killing 2 million Vietnamese men,
   women and children? If you do not know about this terrible blunder
   in Vietnam, are you not ignoring the conclusion of one of our great
   philosophers: "Those who are ignorant of history are condemned to
   repeat it." And, Mr. President, in your ignorance of the lessons of
   Vietnam, are you not condemning our troops and our people to repeat
   the same tragedy in Iraq?

   During the long years between 1963 and 1975 when I fought to end the
   American war in Vietnam, first as a US Senator from South Dakota and
   then as my party's nominee for President, my four daughters ganged
   up on my one night. "Dad, why don't you give up this battle? You've
   been speaking out against this crazy war since we were little kids.
   When you won the Democratic presidential nomination, you got snowed
   under by President Nixon." In reply I said, "Just remember that
   sometimes in history even a tragic mistake produces something good.
   The good about Vietnam is that it is such a terrible blunder, we'll
   never go down that road again." Mr. President, we're going down that
   road again. So, what do I tell my daughters? And what do you tell
   your daughters?

   Mr. President, I do not speak either as a pacifist or a draft
   dodger. I speak as one who after the attack on Pearl Harbor,
   volunteered at the age of nineteen for the Army Air Corps and flew
   thirty-five missions as a B-24 bomber. I believed in that war then
   and I still do sixty-five years later. And so did the rest of
   America. Mr. President, are you missing the intellectual and moral
   capacity to know the difference between a justified war and a war of
   folly in Vietnam or Iraq?

   Public opinion polls indicate that two-thirds of the American people
   think that the war in Iraq has been a mistake on your part. It is
   widely believed that this war was the central reason Democrats
   captured control of both houses of Congress. Polls among the people
   of Iraq indicate that nearly all Iraqis want our military presence
   in their country for the last four years to end now. Why do you
   persist in defying public opinion in both the United States and Iraq
   and throughout the other countries around the globe? Do you see
   yourself as omniscient? What is your view of the doctrine of
   self-determination, which we Americans hold dear?

   And wonder of wonders, Mr. President, after such needless death and
   destruction, first in the Vietnamese jungle and now in the Arabian
   desert, how can you order 21,500 more American troops to Iraq? Are
   you aware that as the war in Vietnam went from bad to worse, our
   leaders sent in more troops and wasted more billions of dollars
   until we had 550,000 US troops in that little country? It makes me
   shudder as an aging bomber pilot to remember that we dropped more
   bombs on the Vietnamese and their country than the total of all the
   bombs dropped by all the air forces around the world in World War
   II. Do you, Mr. President, honestly believe that we need tens of
   thousands of additional troops plus a supplemental military
   appropriation of $200 billion before we can bring our troops home
   from this nightmare in ancient Baghdad?

   In your initial campaign for the Presidency, Mr. Bush, you described
   yourself as a "compassionate conservative". What is compassionate
   about consigning America's youth to a needless and seemingly endless
   war that has now lasted longer than World War II? And what is
   conservative about reducing the taxes needed to finance this war and
   instead running our national debt to nine trillion dollars with
   money borrowed from China, Japan, Germany and Britain? Is this wild
   deficit financing your idea of conservatism? Mr. President, how can
   a true conservative be indifferent to the steadily rising cost of a
   war that claims over $7 billion a month, $237 million every day? Are
   you troubled to know as a conservative that just the interest on our
   skyrocketing national debt is $760,000 every day. Mr. President, our
   Nobel Prize-winning economist, Joseph Stiglitz, estimates that if
   the war were to continue until 2010 as you have indicated it might,
   the cost would be over a trillion dollars.

   Perhaps, Mr. President, you should ponder the words of a genuine
   conservative - England's nineteenth-century member of Parliament,
   Edmund Burke: "A conscientious man would be cautious how he dealt in
   blood"

   And, Mr. President at a time when your most respected generals have
   concluded that the chaos and conflict in Iraq cannot be resolved by
   more American dollars and more American young bodies, do you ever
   consider the needs here at home of our own anxious and troubled
   society? What about the words of another true conservative, General
   and President Dwight Eisenhower who said that, "Every gun that is
   made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the
   final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those
   who are cold and not clothed."

   And, Mr. President, would not you and all the rest of us do well to
   ponder the farewell words of President Eisenhower: "In the councils
   of government, we must guard against the acquisition of the
   unwarranted influence of the military-industrial complex. The
   potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will
   persist."

   Finally, Mr. President, I ask have you kept your oath of office to
   uphold the Constitution when you use what you call the war on
   terrorism to undermine the Bill of Rights? On what constitutional
   theory do you seize and imprison suspects without charge, sometimes
   torturing them in foreign jails? On what constitutional or legal
   basis have you tapped the phones of Americans without approval of
   the courts as required by law? Are you above the Constitution, above
   the law, and above the Geneva accords? If we are fighting for
   freedom in Iraq as you say, why are you so indifferent to protecting
   liberty here in America?

   Many Americans are now saying in effect, "The American war in Iraq
   has created a horrible mess but how can we now walk away from it?"
   William Polk, a former Harvard and University of Chicago professor
   of Middle East Studies and a former State Department expert on the
   Middle East, has teamed up with me on a recent book requested by
   Simon and Schuster. It is entitled, Out of Iraq: A Practical Plan
   for Withdrawal Now. I feel awkward praising it, so I give you the
   respected journalist of the New York Times, and now of Newsweek,
   Anna Quindlen who told Charlie Rose on his excellent TV program:
   "There is a wonderful book I am recommending to everyone. It's a
   very small, readable book by George McGovern and William Polk called
   Out of Iraq. And it just very quickly runs you through the history
   of the country, the makeup of the country, how we got in, the
   arguments for getting in--many of which don't withstand
   scrutiny--and how we can get out. It's like a little primer. I think
   the entire nation should read it and then we will be united."

   If you need a second for the judgment of Anna Quindlen, I give you
   the esteemed Library Journal: "In this crisp and cogently argued
   book, former Senator McGovern and scholar Polk offer a trenchant and
   straightforward critique of the war in Iraq. What makes their highly
   readable book unique is that it not only argues why the United
   States needs to disengage militarily from Iraq now...but also
   clearly delineates practical steps for troop withdrawal...Essential
   reading for anybody who wants to cut through the maze of confusion
   that surrounds current US policy in Iraq, this book is highly
   recommended for public and academic libraries."

   Professor Polk is a descendant of President Polk and the brother of
   the noted George Polk, is here today from his home in southern
   France and he will join me at the podium as I conclude this
   impartial interrogation of President Bush. And now, members of the
   National Press Club and your guests, it's your turn to cross-examine
   Bill Polk and me in, of course, an equally impartial manner.