I understand the reluctance. In the same interview to which I referred in my previous post, Barack Obama declined to commit to investigating crimes of the Bush administration; in fact, he made it pretty clear he's more interested in addressing the future, by focusing on the problems at hand. So saying, he implied there'd be no investigations. I'm of two minds. Or rather, I think it should be done, but neither Obama (or people in the executive branch) nor Congress ought to be the ones to do it.
Frank Rich's latest column is a good starting point. In it, among other important things, he refers to "...an as-yet-unpublished 513-page federal history of this nation-building fiasco. The document was assembled by the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction — led by a Bush appointee, no less. It pinpoints, among other transgressions, a governmental Ponzi scheme concocted to bamboozle Americans into believing they were accruing steady dividends on their investment in a “new” Iraq.
The report quotes no less an authority than Colin Powell on how the scam worked. Back in 2003, Powell said, the Defense Department just “kept inventing numbers of Iraqi security forces — the number would jump 20,000 a week! ‘We now have 80,000, we now have 100,000, we now have 120,000.’ ” Those of us who questioned these astonishing numbers were dismissed as fools, much like those who begged in vain to get the Securities and Exchange Commission to challenge Madoff’s math.What’s most remarkable about the Times article, however, is how little stir it caused. When, in 1971, The Times got its hands on the Pentagon Papers, the internal federal history of the Vietnam disaster, the revelations caused a national uproar. But after eight years of battering by Bush, the nation has been rendered half-catatonic. The Iraq Pentagon Papers sank with barely a trace."
There's a lot more, of course. And it may well be that, in a form of mental self-preservation, people have just tuned out. I, for example, willfully force myself not to think of the money I've lost in the last year; in large part, it's because in confronting it I'm forced to admit what an idiot I was. Greedy, trusting, failing to take my own advice. But that's the point: if we allow ourselves the indulgence of simply moving on from Bush and letting him rewrite history however he wants (and, boy, is he trying!) we risk allowing it all to happen again sometime. And it's not just Iraq deceptions, and torture: in nearly every corner of government there are examples of egregious malfeasance.
When 80% of Americans think the country is on the wrong track; when a majority of historians think Bush is among the worst presidents ever, I feel safe in arguing that it's not just me. And it's far more than parlor games. If we recover, it'll be because of a phenomenal effort by lots of people, and at enormous cost, now, and for generations. By all measures, it behooves us to have a full accounting. Knowing everything (everything that hasn't been destroyed, that is) is much more important than prosecuting Bush et his als. (Although if I didn't think it'd further fracture the country and make the nearly-impossible fully-impossible, I'd like to see it.)
The hard core on the left speak of a commission as a cop-out. And so it might be. But if it's true that the transgressions need sunlight (it is), and if it's true that a drawn-out congressional investigation, or one in the Justice Department, would degenerate into an unholy partisan debacle with preposturing on both sides (it would), then some sort of independent commission, peopled with respected investigators, properly authorized, and created to be non-partisan, would seem to be the best -- probably the only -- way to bring everything to light. Who knows? Maybe they'd even show Bush wasn't as bad as I think. One way or the other, with so much wreckage in his wake as he marches madly out of town tooting his trumpet in convulsive contortions, George Bush's breaches* must brought clearly to light, even if at the outset it's clear that prosecution is off the table.
We have to know. It mustn't happen again.
*And need I say: it includes this sort of shit as well.
[Note: I write some of these posts and schedule their publishing in advance. I see that Eugene Robinson's column of 1/13 says much of the above, particularly at the end. For the record, I wrote this one a few days ago. And I have planned one on the news conference, too, even though I probably have nothing unique to say.]