The recent best-seller, "Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure,” by Larry Smith and Rachel Fershleiser, is an inspired compilation of efforts at distilling a person's story into six words.*
From comedian Stephen Colbert (Well, I thought it was funny.) to waitress turned folksinger Patty Griffin (Hey Red, order's up, chop chop.) to my own contribution (Born in California. Then nothing happened.), the offerings run the gamut from the poignant to the ironic and amusing.
The book’s title might suggest that even George Bush penned a contribution. For "not quite what I was planning" just about sums up the legacy of this President's disastrous administration. We can at least hope that when Bush does write his inevitable memoir he will limit it to six words. As in, "Invaded Iraq. Destroyed Iraq. Mission Accomplished.” Or, reflecting on the legacy of his tax cuts, "Saved rich $287,000, poor kids $20." (Thanks to Greg Palast for that juxtaposition.)
Incredibly, among Republicans Bush's “mission accomplished” fiasco of 2003 has morphed into the specter of a potential 100 years war in Iraq, at least in the version of reality party front-runner John McCain adheres to. McCain's disturbed vision might suggest this Republican "maverick" is about as progressive as a 14th century French royal. But 14th century militarists didn't dream of dictating policy to the entire planet. It also suggests “never met war not worth escalating” might best sum up McCain's six-word story.
Obviously, it doesn’t bode well for McCain’s chances in the general election that his views on Iraq are virtually indistinguishable from the President's. This is another way of saying that even a five-year debacle of death, chaos, and billions of dollars down the drain is not enough for the man to learn anything. But should in coming months insurgent groups such as al-Sadr’s Mahdi army end their present cease-fire against Iraq's occupying forces, exposing the emptiness of the claim that the troop surge is working, McCain's hawkish views will almost certainly lead his campaign straight into history's proverbial trash bin.
But what about Iraq and the Democratic Presidential contenders? Despite their declared intentions to begin withdrawing troops upon taking office, there's little reason to rest easy that either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama would offer voters a guaranteed path out of Iraq. That's because their current criticism of the Iraq war is more pragmatic than principled. Clinton voted for the Senate legislation authorizing the war, of course. Even now she can't bring herself to say that vote was a mistake. Last year she also voted to brand Iran's governmental Revolutionary Guard a "terrorist" organization, enabling the Bush Administration once again in its efforts to target for possible military attack another Middle East nation. And so we ponder Clinton’s story in six words: “Vote right. War wrong. Repeated mistake.”
Obama might have slightly more credibility as a war opponent, having opposed the war at the outset. But Obama clearly articulates a foreign policy perspective that accepts as a given the need to maintain global U.S. military supremacy, as he argued in a speech last year to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. Considering that U.S. military expenditures alone account for 43 percent of total world military expenditures, the USA Number One theme hardly casts him as a serious critic of the military-industrial complex.
In fact, voters would be well advised to read the fine print beneath the bold print of both Obama and Clinton's Iraq campaign rhetoric. There they will find this six-word asterisk: “Troops guaranteed home by 2012. Maybe.”
Obama's role model for “responsible” foreign policy also raises some concerns. “When we use force in situations other than self-defense,” Obama said in his Chicago speech, “we should make every effort to garner the clear support and participation of others—the kind of burden-sharing and support President George H.W. Bush mustered before he launched Operation Desert Storm.”
Is this an example of “change we can believe in”? Or is his five-word campaign slogan but a prelude to this six-word eventuality? “Change we can believe in—not.” Accordingly, should we assume Obama would have categorically rejected every single Iraqi offer to negotiate a withdrawal from Kuwait, as did George H. W. Bush in the weeks preceding the 1991 military assault on Iraqi forces? At the time, only Newsday and the ever-observant Noam Chomsky reported on Hussein's efforts to reach a diplomatic settlement.
Sadly, when Democrats won control of Congress in 2006, many Americans opposed to the war were hopeful the war would end soon. Fast forward a year and the Democratic Senate majority is approving another $70 billion in war funding. Six words for the so-called Democratic opposition? “We will repeatedly crush your hopes” comes to mind.
As for my own memoir, the irony might be slightly misleading. Actually, a lot has happened since born in California. But that's another six-word story. Let's just say I've developed a healthy distrust of multi-million dollar election campaigns. I've also come to believe, election or not, that the grassroots antiwar movement should keep organizing, independently and in the streets. I suspect we are going to need an antiwar campaign regardless of who is elected the next President.
But then the peace movement has always had the best six-word slogan: “Bring All the Troops Home Now!”
Mark T. Harris is a writer living in Bloomington, Il. Website: www.Mark-T-Harris.com.
*“Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure,” by Larry Smith and Rachel Fershleiser (Harper Perennial, 2008) 240 pages.+