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January 2005   
Ball Gowns And Hospital Gowns By Karen Kwiatowski, Lt. Col. U.S.A.F. Ret.

Without Reservation

A biweekly column by Karen Kwiatkowski, Lt. Col. USAF (ret.)

posted 17 January 05

Ball Gowns and Hospital Gowns

Looking forward to a gala second inaugural ball, Mr. Bush is one happy man.

The administration has many things to celebrate. No none, nada, zilch weapons of mass destruction or programs producing them were ever found in Iraq, despite literally hundreds of White House promoted statements about dangerous weapons, weapons systems, weapons stockpiles, weapons technologies, gases, diseases the list goes on.

Isn't that a good thing? Most of the world's intelligence gathering agencies, including many parts of our own, as well as thinking people everywhere, looked upon the administration's statements in 2002 and 2003 with healthy skepticism. These observers were proven correct, of course.

It is indeed a happy time. A few weeks after the President called off the search for WMD in Iraq he announced that there was "no reason to hold any administration officials accountable for mistakes or misjudgments in prewar planning or managing the violent aftermath."

Instead, the President believes that his administration already had an "accountability moment." Please, no blinking! That moment was the re-election of George W. Bush.

He's right, of course. While only slightly over half of the votes last November went to George W. Bush, and less than half of Americans today believe the war in Iraq was either necessary, prudent or in America's interest, I recall a time in late 2002 and early 2003 when I was still in the Pentagon reading the news, the policy papers and watching the President, Vice-President, Secretaries Rumsfeld and Powell wax eloquent on, well, all those things of which we no longer speak.

Americans were all too willing to trust those men in suits, armed as they were with a willingness to say anything, to justify anything, and an agenda on Iraq that to this day they are unwilling to share publicly.

A need to permanently shift the American military presence from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and even Turkey into a perfectly located Iraq, using long-term leases signed with the Iraqi puppet government to permit their construction. A desire to "Do It Their Way" in the inevitable post-sanctions Iraq investment free-for-all, something stubborn former ally Saddam Hussein would have never permitted. A need for oil to remain dominantly a dollar commodity, something Saddam Hussein quietly undermined with his switch to the euro in November 2000. After Bush toppled Saddam Hussein, his first executive order on Iraq switched it back.

But that's all so 2002 and 2003. It's time to celebrate! As ballrooms and parade grounds are prepared and decorated, funded by hundreds of donors interested in a lot more of what George W. Bush can deliver (Iraq as the perfect bling bling), the "moment of accountability" has come and gone. The administration passed with flying colors, and none of the miscreants lost their job.

It is a happy new year for the Bush administration, and this week we'll see the loveliest of parties in downtown Washington. Afterwards, sated and smiling, they will say, "we could have danced all night."

Others, not far from the festivities in Washington, at Bethesda Naval Hospital and Walter Reed and Fort Belvoir, and in military and civilian hospitals across the country and in Germany, won't be having the same happy New Year. The half a million serving soldiers and Marines who have already seen time in Iraq, many with more than one tour in hell, and the almost 160,000 there now, are not having such a great year.

The 25,000 mentally or physically injured who have been returned from what we now understand as the unnecessary but politically-demanded recreational fields of battle in Iraq are not dancing on air. The over 11,000 seriously injured are spending their time learning how to adapt to crippling, blinding and disfiguring injuries, and how to use their new prosthetics instead of perfecting their waltz, rumba, and line-dance technique. The almost 1,500 soldiers and marines who have died in Iraq, like the 100,000 dead Iraqis, are blessedly unaware of the gala celebrations in Washington.

Buying ball gowns spending lots of money on an expensive and gratuitous trifle, doing so with the help of the enthusiastic exaggeration of imaginative and pushy salespeople, emotion and desire trumping practicality and logic is something the Bush administration celebrators and donors have been doing for almost four years.

They are quite good at it. I'm sure the inaugural ball will be a smashing success. One wonders if George W. Bush and his crowd of ambitious retainers would, in a quiet moment, consider the Army and Marine fashions for the coming year body armor, backless hospital gowns, gauze and bandages, and of course, the perfectly efficient body bag.

George W. Bush has visited few of the injured, and he has attended none of the funerals. Instead, he has clamped down on news and images of these, hoping to protect his refined sensitivities. Such staid, serious events, those hospital visits and funerals. All the sadness and misery and guilt. It's just so ... last year.

The "moment of accountability" is blithely past for George W. Bush by his own estimation. For thousands of young Americans, it will instead be a long struggling lifetime, launched with shattered bodies, broken minds and dreams crushed.

Like a modern Marie Antoinette, the Bush administration in 2005 gaily throws a glittering party and says "Let them dance."

2005 Karen Kwiatkowski