All the indications, barring some last-minute change of schedule, are that President George W. Bush will be flying into Billings on Thursday, Nov. 2, in a last-ditch effort to save Conrad Burns. During a debate with his Democratic opponent Jon Tester, Burns said the president had “a plan” for dealing with the ill-fated Iraq war. Well, he’ll be right here in Montana in early November, following a month in which more than 100 good American soldiers lost their lives in an increasingly unstable Iraq. Now would be as good a time as any to let us know: What’s the plan, Mr. Bush?
Obviously Burns is in trouble. Every poll shows him trailing Jon Tester, and whether you take polls seriously or dismiss them out of hand, it’s never a good sign to be trailing in all of them this close to election day. The situation is serious enough to bring the president to what most Americans consider the frozen hinterland of Montana to give a rousing stump speech to what will undoubtedly be another hand-picked audience of Republican party faithfuls.
But if there’s one thing the Republicans don’t want to talk about right now, it’s the disaster known as the Iraq war—and with good reason. We have gone from a fictional cause for launching a deadly pre-emptive invasion of a sovereign nation to the horrific and growing loss of life for both American soldiers and Iraqis for no discernible reason—except that George W. Bush and his Republican-controlled Congress are incapable of saying “we made a big mistake.” Instead, and despite the ever-changing vernacular, nuance and spin, Bush and his buddies remain committed to “staying the course”—whatever that means.
As we wander aimlessly in the desert sands, the national treasury is being sucked dry by deficit war spending to the tune of at least $2 billion a week, with estimates that costs will hit or exceed a trillion bucks before we close the books on this particular disaster. That’s $2 billion every week that won’t be going to educate our kids or help send them through college. $2 billion a week that isn’t there to take care of our elderly, the sick or the needy in this country—all of whom face growing problems. $2 billion a week that won’t be there to stabilize Social Security and Medicare for the millions of retiring Baby Boomers.
To put that number into a rather ironic perspective, Conrad Burns has built his entire campaign on convincing Montanans that he has brought them $2 billion in federal appropriations over his 18 years in the Senate. It sounds so good in his campaign ads, until you realize it’s the same amount he has voted to spend, and which we are spending, every week in Iraq.
Of course neither George Bush nor Conrad Burns wants to talk about how much this fiasco is costing. After all, the electorate is supposed to continue believing that Republicans are the party of fiscal responsibility. It’s been their theme for years and continues to be used maliciously as a scare tactic in the Burns-Tester campaign. We’ve all heard it ad nauseam—Tester will raise taxes and spend recklessly. But the undeniable truth, not hypothesis or threat or innuendo, is that it has been and continues to be the Republicans in Washington, D.C., who have spent us into the massive $9 trillion federal debt. At the last estimate, every man, woman and newly born child in the United States now faces $30,000 in federal debt racked up by none other than George W. Bush and Conrad Burns. It’s time we called it what it is—not fiscal responsibility, but fictional responsibility.
Thus it is not unwarranted that Montanans might want to find out how long this lunacy will go on. Don’t we have a right to know how many more of our fathers, mothers, sons and daughters, friends and relatives will die in Iraq—or when the Treasury hemorrhage will end? Don’t we deserve to at least get some idea of what’s being decided by the Great Decider? You bet we do.
But when the issue of “staying the course” in Iraq arose during the Burns-Tester debate in Billings, Burns had this to say (and I quote directly from the Billings Gazette story): “We can’t lose in Iraq. The consequences of losing is too great. He says our president don’t have a plan. I think he’s got one. He’s not going to tell everyone in the world.”
Well, okay Conrad, okay Mr. President, here’s your chance. Since Bush and Burns will both be on the same stage in Billings, why doesn’t President Bush speak for himself this time around and tell us, the American people who are fighting, dying and paying for this war, just what the secret plan is for Iraq? How are we going to end the sectarian violence that has grown to civil war or deal with the looming division of the country into autonomous and most likely warring factions? When will our troops come home? What, exactly, are the goals that will have to be realized to “win”—and how will you attain those goals? “I know but I won’t tell ya’” just doesn’t cut it any more. It doesn’t cut it with the two-thirds of Americans who now oppose the war and it doesn’t cut it with Montanans, who are used to getting straight answers to straight questions. Sorry for the bad pun, but this beating around the Bush is getting old.
This is it, the big tamale, the final days before we walk into the polls and decide to either send Conrad Burns back to D.C. to support George Bush’s policies, or replace him with Jon Tester, who will, as he has said, vote to get us out of the Iraq quagmire. We asked Conrad Burns, but he ain’t gonna say. So it’s up to the president. What’s the plan, Mr. Bush?
When not lobbying the Montana Legislature, George Ochenski is rattling the cage of the political establishment as a political analyst for the Independent. Contact Ochenski at firstname.lastname@example.org.