In Iraq and in America, frustration turns to anger and despair.
In America, the frustration grows even among those least engaged in what is going on. The years pass and nothing changes but the numbers of the dead and wounded. They may not know that they are still being lied to, but they see George Bush doing the Trudge and recognize it for what it is.
The Trudge is the trip abroad where our officials meet the same officials in the same rooms and walk out of them to make the same statements they made the last time and the time before the last and the time before that. The Trudge to China, the Trudge to Israel, the Trudge to Egypt, to Iraq, to Afghanistan—all to no avail. One Trudge merges into the next. In her most recent Trudge, Condi Rice announced to a less-than-breathlessly-awaiting world that “I came here to Ramallah, as I am going around the Middle East, to say to everyone that the United States is deeply committed to finding ways to accelerate progress on the road map. The road map, after all, is the internationally recognized guide to the establishment of a two-state solution, and we should fulfill all of its terms.
“I am also here to talk about how we can build on the momentum that is currently in Palestinian-Israeli relations, to look at the political horizon and to begin to show to the Palestinian people how we might move toward the establishment of a Palestinian state …. ”
These words came a few days after the United States let it be known that it is shipping $88 million worth of guns and ammunition to Fatah, the moderate (or obedient) Palestinian political party, to be used to fight Hamas, the extremist (or disobedient) Palestinian political party, which was unruly enough to win the last election in that sad half-prison/half-Bantustan containing some 3.5 million people.
Fatah was the party of Yasir Arafat, who, while he lived, was denounced as too corrupt and too dictatorial to be a negotiating partner. Hamas, now denounced as a collection of Islamo-fascist fanatics, was once the recipient of money from the Israelis, who built it up to cancel out Fatah. What Mr. Bush and Ms. Rice are doing in Palestine is the equal of an Iraqi government hanging. Ponder it: Here are these millions of Palestinians, literally walled in and trapped on what little land has yet to be stolen from them, with the United States government shipping in guns so they can kill each other while withholding, via the agency of Israel, everything from food to schoolbooks. And all because the cursed Palestinians voted the Fatah crooks out of office in favor of overly pious Hamas.
The line of Trudgers arriving in Iraq is a long one. The place is so dangerous that most Trudgers’ arrivals must be kept secret until they have been safely stored in the Green Zone, that palace of foreign-policy pipe dreams. Outside the Green Zone, the blood flows. The United Nations guesses that 34,000 Iraqis died in the non-civil war last year. Each body contained about a gallon and a half of blood. When spilled, does that cumulatively constitute a trickle, a stream or a river?
However fast it runs, there is nothing we can do to staunch it. The President says that keeping up the flow on Blood River is the way to win. The commentators say he’s doing it for his legacy. We say goddamn his legacy, but the blood continues to flow as the Trudgers keep on trudging.
Talk is heard of trying to apply a tourniquet by impeaching Bush. If it proved to be impossible to successfully impeach and remove a President from office for having out-of-wedlock sex, what chance is there of doing it for spilling blood?
Then is there nothing we can do but watch the flow meters on Blood River? No, remember the power of the purse—the Congressional power to withhold the money to continue the war. Alas, there’s no chance with that one, either; the politics of it are wrong. Men and women hoping for re-election are not going to put themselves in a position to be attacked for leaving our service people high and dry.
Odd as it may be, the best means of stopping the flow is not by withholding money for the war, but by raising more of it. It is a way that shelters the Democrats from being called soft on the war on terror, closet pacifists and defeatists.
The Democrats can tax our way out of the war. This would be a Victory Over Terror tax (V.O.T.), to be levied on incomes of $5 million a year or more. It should be a surcharge of 20 percent over and above what people in that rarefied income bracket are already paying. It should be levied on all income, regardless of what form it takes, and would include stock options, jet-plane rides, company-paid health and life insurance, retirement programs, golden parachutes, the use of apartments in Paris, cars and drivers, and so forth.
The people in this stratospheric income category have enjoyed the big tax cuts that went into effect despite the fact that the nation had been attacked and was going to war. Individuals making $1.25 million a year have gotten tax cuts of almost 20 percent, but many of these people would be spared paying the Victory Over Terror tax, which only cuts in at the $5-million-a-year level.
This is a tax designed to collect from those whose only stake in the war so far has been to make money off of it. They have no material interest in winning it, but this tax would give them one: The V.O.T. would apply until Congress votes to declare the war against terrorism officially won and ended.
Needless to say, those paying this tax do not represent the Democrats’ voter base. As these things go, this is politically pain-free. The tax is aimed at war profiteers, overpaid C.E.O.’s and grossly fat cats in general, most of whom carry a lot of weight at the White House. Since the tax will last as long as the war does, it will give this group a powerful incentive to work for victory—or at least for peace—fast and soon.
If there is any group of people in the world whom George W. Bush listens to, it is this bunch of billionaires. With this tax on their backs, this group will not look kindly on new escalations or expansions of the conflict to Iran or Somalia. They will have been made stakeholders in a quick end to the fighting.
Call this a backdoor use of the power of the purse, or call it what you will: The V.O.T. beats trudging any time.