September 11, General Petraeus, and the Failed Moral Vision of a Nation
Five years ago, on September 11, 2001, I and other staff members of the United Church of Christ Washington DC office were in a Congressional hearing room with 20 poor people from across the country waiting to give testimony on a bill to reauthorize funding for low income Americans, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families. We knew there had been an attack of some kind, and were nervous, especially when the members of Congress didn’t show. We soon realized that we needed to get out, and then the evacuation of the Capitol started.
Why we were still sitting there in a Capitol Hill hearing room in the midst of chaos and what was then still a rumor that the nation had been attacked, I don’t know. We had already seen the images on television of the twin towers going down, the Pentagon could be seen smoldering in the distance from the front steps of the Cannon House Office building as we entered.
No one in Washington on that day knew what to do, where to go, or how to think or even talk about how the world would be made different by what we were experiencing. All we knew was that it would be time for this nation to act. The only question was how and when.
Fast forward to September 10, 2007. Yesterday’s testimony before the House Armed Services and Foreign Affairs Committee by General Petraeus, our top commander in Iraq, indicated, more than anything, that the world has changed very little since 9/11. Vulnerable people (then New Yorkers and DC Pentagon workers, now Iraqis) are paying for the sins of an overmilitarized world with their lives. As the General sat and provided cover for a President, a Congress, and a nation mired in an unpopular war that still has no purpose or direction, I truly felt that this sideshow is about as far from a tribute to the lives lost on 9/11 as one could imagine.
The General’s speech writers did succeed in using a headline-grabbing catchy phrase to characterize supporters of withdrawal from Iraq, warning that they would be “rushing to failure.â€ Where would those Americans in poverty we sat with 6 years ago on 9/11 be today had this Administration and Congress not decided to squander $195 million a week on one war? Probably better off. Where would Al Qaeda be had this nation fought the war on terror through development assistance to the poor instead of military support for the rich and the powerful in the Middle East? Probably worse off.
Some of those “rush to failureâ€ members of Congress released statistics yesterday on what $195 million a day, one day in Iraq, could buy. It is staggering. One day in Iraq could provide unemployment benefits for almost 722,000 unemployed Americans for one week. One day in Iraq could fund Social Security retirement benefits for one day for over 6.75 million Americans. One day in Iraq could vaccinate three-quarters of the children in Africa for measles and give millions a lifetime protection from the disease. One day in Iraq could provide paid sick leave to half a million workers for an entire year.
No, General Petraeus, the nation has already “rushed to failure.â€ It’s time we rush to victory and get out of Iraq and redirect our priorities once and for all.
Rev. Ron Stief is the Director of Organizing Strategy for Faith in Public Life and on September 11, 2001, was working across from the U.S. Capitol directing the offices of the United Church of Christ.