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The Depths of Memory

Is it a blessing or a curse to forget?

In the midst of the beginnings of the second term of the Bush Administration, I ask myself that question. I ask that question not to be pessimistic, but because I believe that integrity is worth fighting to keep, and that most gains recieved on account of dishonesty are hollow.

How much of the past can we let go and disregard before we lose hold of our future?

I am not alone in believing rememberance a worthy pursuit, but sometimes I get the sense the conservatives have a selective memory when they speak of those things. When it came to Iraq, many conservatives were asking Democrats if they had forgotten about 9/11. But what about remembering the absolute absence of Iraqi terrorism against the U.S. for the past eight years? What about remembering that al-Qaeda terrorists have it in for secular arab socialists like Saddam?

Of course, there was all that new evidence that the Neocons supposedly mined from all different sources. But when somebody asks them, have they forgotten, they must answer "yes". They forgot to tell us the information they mined was often undependable, single sourced, unverified by any cross-references. They forgot to tell us that much of their new information was from a single source, reported from many different quarters to give the illusion of a bonanza of new intelligence. They forgot to tell us they didn't have any on-site confirmation of the WMDs that we were supposed to risk lives, prestige, and fiscal balance to take out of Saddam's hands. They forgot to tell us that satellite photos can only take a surface perspective of things. You can't determine the obscured contents of tanks and trucks with satellite imaging. You can only make an educated guess. How educated depends on the rest of your intelligence.

They did remember something, and I distinctly remember them saying it, over and over again. We started this war to disarm Saddam Hussein. It was our excuse for taking him out of power. It was our connection of this war at its start to the war against terrorism. It was our reason to make an end-run around the balky U.N. It was our reason to take the heat off of al-Qaeda in Central Asia.

I remember the curious absence of concern over terrorism in 2001 before that infamous September day. I remember us going from the staccato concern with terrorism and terrorist acts to the legato of missile defense and rogue state rhetoric.

I remember the absolute horror and terror of that day, the monstrous clouds of debris chasing running New Yorkers, the planes crashing into buildings from all kinds of angles, the collapse of the buildings so much more messy than some Michael Bay film would portray. I remember not seeing any footage of the first plane hit until late in the afternoon.

I remember a president saying that he saw footage of the first plane hitting the twin towers before going into the classroom to read "The Pet Goat", then looking surprised when somebody tells him about the second plane. I remember the seven minutes that go by, Seven minutes where some people might have made their apologies and rushed off to get to work running the response against those who committed the act.

I remember members of the Bush administration, including Rumsfeld signing a letter years earlier advocating stronger action against Iraq. I remember Prominent Neocons were advising Benjamin Netanyahu in 1997 to take a pre-emptive action against Iraq and Syria, with Terrorism and WMDs as pretexts. I remember Paul O'Neill's account of a meeting ten days into the first term dealing with not whether to attack Iraq, but how. I remember principle cabinet officers and deputies of this administration bringing up Iraq as among the first targets in the War on Terrorism, as a culprit, despite already existing evidence pointing towards al-Qaeda and its Taliban-ruled hiding place.

How many of you have forgotten? Or maybe never bothered to find out? Recalling the details, I can feel at peace with the position I've taken, with the passion I've argued the point with. Other Democrats can do the same. Though a president like Bush still governs from the White House despite our best efforts, we can be proud that we didn't forget, that we never let the Bush administration slide on these issues.

Bush deserved to have his service questioned, in the light of all those he sent to die in combat. This war's strategies and preparations deserved to be questioned, to be judged ill suited to the task that really lay before us. Bush, Rumsfeld and others deserved to be held responsible for their mistakes, especially after all the occasions when months of denials turned into moments of candor.

The Iraqi election is a bright spot in what has been a long, dark time for this country. But it should not serve as vindication for a first term of lies, mistakes, and the divisive political rhetoric that covered for them.

It should not become a license for more of the same behavior, no more than a DWI acquittal is justification for a champagne toast on the drive home. The past is yet to fully catch up to us. The present is yet in motion.

It is a curse to forget, to act half-blindly while dealing with an already chaotic world. While we must never give up on finding the better path for our country, we must not fool ourselves into thinking that this country can continue its march of progress in the world on false hopes and hollow theories.

Posted by Stephen Daugherty at February 7, 2005 8:42 PM