‘HOW SHARPER than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child!” complained Shakespeare’s King Lear. But Lear didn’t know from ingratitude. Think it stings to have a thankless child? Just try the sting of a thankless occupied nation!
President Bush on Sunday shared his lamentations on “60 Minutes,” the modern equivalent of the storm-swept heath. Assuming the time-honored role of Fool, CBS’ Scott Pelley asked the president, “Do you think you owe the Iraqi people an apology for not doing a better job?”
Bush retorted: “That we didn’t do a better job, or they didn’t do a better job?.... We liberated that country from a tyrant. I think the Iraqi people owe the American people a huge debt of gratitude.... We’ve endured great sacrifice to help them.... [Americans] wonder whether or not there is a gratitude level that’s significant enough in Iraq.”
Well, yes. I have wondered about that. Frankly -- I’m talking to you, Iraqis! -- a few flowers and ticker-tape parades wouldn’t be amiss, even at this late stage. Remember, we got rid of Saddam Hussein for you -- with a little help from his executioners, to be sure, who sent him to his death amid enthusiastic chants in praise of Shiite militia leader Muqtada Sadr. But that’s just a detail.
Anyway, that’s not all we’ve done for Iraq. We also introduced the Iraqis to basic principles of energy conservation. Before the U.S. invasion, the feckless residents of Baghdad used 16 to 24 hours of electricity each day. Today, thanks to us, they thriftily make do with about six hours of electricity a day. Under our tutelage, the Iraqis are also conserving fossil fuels: Oil production is still well below prewar levels! And -- recognizing that auto emissions are a major contributor to global warming -- a symbolically important number of Iraqis has gone from driving their cars to detonating their cars. Now that’s dedication.
We’ve also helped the Iraqis address the problem of urban overcrowding. With 34,452 Iraqi civilians killed in 2006 alone, according to the United Nations, and another 2 million opting to leave the country, the war has reduced the Iraqi population by nearly 10%!
OK. But you’re probably still wondering: What constitutes the “great sacrifice” we Americans have made to give these gifts to the Iraqis? After all, despite those U.S. troops who’ve lost lives and limbs in Iraq (3,024 dead and 47,657 wounded, so far), it’s not like the rest of us are being drafted, right? Don’t be so modest. They also serve who only stand and watch TV!
When Jim Lehrer of PBS’ “NewsHour” suggested to Bush that “the volunteer military ... and their families [are] the only people who are actually sacrificing anything at this point,” the president demurred. “A lot of people are in this fight,” he insisted. “I mean, they sacrifice peace of mind when they see the terrible images of violence on TV every night.” Too true! I’ve given up so much of my peace of mind for this war -- yet no Iraqi has ever so much as sent me a thank you note.
In addition to that, I’ve heeded the president’s call to fight terrorism through my “continued participation and confidence in the American economy.” When my president calls on me to “go shopping more,” I hop to it! I’ve walked the malls until my boots were as worn as those of any Marine after a hard slog through the Iraqi desert.
Anyway, when he spoke of the great sacrifices we Americans have made for Iraq, the president didn’t say the half of it. Modest soul that he is, he didn’t even mention the $200-billion annual price tag of the war in Iraq.
If we weren’t spending $200 billion a year to help the Iraqi people, we could -- for instance -- be funding universal healthcare (at an estimated $100 billion a year, according to a New York Times analysis) and a universal preschool program ($35 billion a year). With the $65 billion we’d have left over after that, we could create a comprehensive national service program for young Americans, or more than triple the foreign aid we provide to developing countries.
That’s not all. By focusing on Iraq to the near exclusion of all other issues, we’re also sacrificing our own national security interests. We’re virtually ignoring the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan, Russia’s slide toward repression, expanding regional conflicts in Africa and -- ahem -- the ongoing activities of Osama bin Laden.
So don’t be shy, my fellow Americans: Give yourselves some credit for the sacrifices you’re making for Iraq. Just as a soldier hit by an IED may at first be too stunned to feel pain, it will take time for you to truly feel the depth of your sacrifice. Rest assured: Though it may not hurt now, it will soon.