I was sitting in a diner on a Saturday morning in early 2003 with my best friend Doug, the best damn reporter in the South. Even though the AJC has sent him to some godforsaken bureau east of Neptune to cover city council meetings, Doug is still the one I turn to for the wisdom on national issues. He’s a Texan, through and through, and he’s calls it like he’s sees it. I went to a party for him once years ago, and I heard one political leader after another say that he was what reporters should be—somebody who covered the news, not somebody who imposed his own views on the news. That morning, grits dribbling from his beard, he was arguing with me passionately about the impending invasion of Iraq: “Look, I don’t like George Bush, but I support this mission.”
My inner commie-pinko-fairy-liberal made me spit out the putrid coffee. (I don’t know why Doug likes these places. Why can’t he eat bagels and drink Starbuck’s like a normal person?) “But, what if they don’t find anything?”
He was quiet for minute. “Of course they’ll find something. We gave all that stuff to him. He used it, he’ll use it again. Look at the guys from the Gulf War who are sick with something that looks suspiciously like nerve gas poisoning.”
“But what if they don’t?”
He stared at something over my shoulder. “Then we’re screwed. Not just now, but forever. America will never recover. We’re just screwed.”
Welcome to Screwedville. Where the Nuclear Club just keeps growing. Where Latin America slides inexorably into the arms of charlatans and dictators. Where the victories are too brief to even be pyrrhic. Where we haplessly foment civil war and call it “together forward.” Where we watch African genocide and beg somebody to stop it, somebody other than us, somebody with the moral authority we once had.
Our leaders are lost, on either side of the aisle. John Kerry, apparently unaware that college draft deferments no long exist, tells college students to study hard or they might get stuck in Iraq. John Boehner, the number 2 House Republican says that the Generals in Iraq are to blame for the mess. And the President, who sits at the desk in the cheerful yellow office where the buck once stopped, says, “I’m pleased with the progress we’re making.” The Vice-President says that “it’s a no-brainer” that we should torture suspected terrorists and continue to dismantle the Bill of Rights.
Doug and I have often argued about politics. Sometimes one of us has been right, and sometimes the other. Like all passionate debaters, we relish the sweetness of being right. But this time, I wish I had been wrong. Dear Jesus, I wish I had been wrong.