Those of us who have read our Dante find ourselves thinking "poetic retribution" almost every time President Bush explains his decision to go to war in Iraq. But even in Dante's hands, poetic retribution seldom came down so heavily on the head of an offender as it did the day Bush told his global audience Saddam Hussein had "deceived the world."
We knew that long ago. What we didn't know with real clarity until recent months is that the George W. Bush administration deceived the world more skillfully. Though it would take a foul turn of mind to compare Bush himself with the bloody-handed, butchery-minded Hussein, the fact is that he too now stands condemned. And in much of the world's eyes, America stands with him, condemned.
The condemnation is growing. It comes not only from the likes of those war protesters who gathered on both coasts the weekend of Oct. 25 and 26 - people the Bush cohort would ordinarily not bother to scorn, but have begun to notice as public concern grows over the Iraq quagmire.
Criticism has mounted in Republican quarters as well, showing just how deeply doubts about the administration's war agenda have spread. Virginia's John Warner, Nebraska's Chuck Hagel, Ben Nighthorse Campbell of Colorado - all have spoken out in the Senate, either against Bush's conduct of the war or, in Campbell's case, against the war's impact on domestic spending. Lack of funding for Indian priorities shouldn't "fly in the face of justice," Campbell said at a Senate Committee on Indian Affairs hearing - not, he added, when there's $87 billion to reconstruct Iraq.
Sen. Tim Johnson, a South Dakota Democrat, described the problem of the war for many public agencies in the example of our chronically underfunded Indian Health Service. To quote Associated Press accounts: "The war in Iraq spends more money in one month than the entire IHS budget," Johnson said. "Don't tell me there isn't enough money. The problem is there isn't enough priority."
But the war priority gets stronger even as its circumstances become more troubled. Almost as I write, I learn that four suicide car bombers in Baghdad have killed almost 40 people, including an American soldier in this war that was supposed to be over, while injuring perhaps 250 others. Most of the victims were Iraqi. The suicides appear to have been non-Iraqi foreigners sworn to resist the American occupation.
Bush has called this a victory - the latest bloodshed is a desperate response to American successes in Iraq, don't you know.
This is an overstatement at the very least. Beyond that, I am convinced of only this much: American troops don't have a world of time to win Iraqis over with such "victories" before the general populace joins the resistance. And they won't have much time at all after that before the American public begins to see our occupation through the grim prism of Vietnam, another war that was supposed to be over. The administration already sees it that way, to judge from its semi-hysterical habit of seizing upon half-truths that turn out to be wholesale lies.
Much of the American nation gave this president a golden loyalty after Sept. 11. Their trust has been broken. The administration's track record of deception on Iraq has killed countless tens of thousands, many of them innocent - we still haven't gotten a count of Iraqi dead, though most of us know that Americans die almost every day in this war that was supposed to be over.
Let's be more honest still: this is an unprovoked war that shouldn't have gotten started.
None of the weapons we went to war for have been found. The so-called mobile facilities for producing weapons of mass destruction on the fly, the reconstituted nuclear program, those "drone" airplanes the administration said would be used to spread toxins over U.S. targets if we didn't strike first, the uranium and nuclear tubing Iraq was supposed to have tried to purchase from Nigeria - all so much war-mongering, so much excuse-making.
As if that weren't enough, it now turns out there was never any connection between Hussein and 9/11.
Our national discredit can't even be calculated. But rest assured, it will get worse. It is hard to believe we'll stay the course in Iraq to the tune of $87 billion, with little international incentive in sight to share the burden after the way Bush and company chose to cowboy on alone, jeering historical allies and insulting reasoned calls for moderation. Yet a premature withdrawal after our frenzy of destruction would turn discredit into disgrace.
It is a true American tragedy that much of our world would see that as poetic retribution.
Rebecca Adamson is the president of First Nations Development Institute and a columnist for Indian Country Today.