So there I was in the Nashville Nut ensconced in my bun-shaped med-bed lost in a fuzz-fog of wonder drugs, wondering what the hell I had been doing there at three in the morning at the bottom of a lawless gorge along the Jalalabad Road in Afghanistan howling at a moonless sky. Was that when your heart broke, asshole? Well, not really.
Then when did it happen? Was it a couple of weeks before in Kabul, when a shelf-butt dufus National Guard PAO Captain yanked your press pass and left you owing $140 on your luxurious digs at the hotel Mustafa, which was a particularly rank former Taliban prison just off Chicken Street with heroin works strewn around the bathrooms and MARS — Multi-Antibiotic Resistant Staphylococcus — running screaming naked bleeding in the halls? How about when you dug into the zippered pocked of your un-laundered cargo pants and discovered you had about 800 Afghanis left to your name and no way to accomplish monetary replenishment from the magazine back in New York, because there was no place to wire you any money? Broke a little? Panicked at the thought of not being able to pay for your MARS-slathered room, wondering when you’d end up out on Chicken Street with a backpack strapped to your tired-ass frame and no place to go? Was it then? Ahhh, actually, things were looking up, because at least by then you had Plans.
So how about the week before, when you were minding your own business in the press tent at the 10th Mountain Division base camp down at Kandahar airbase waiting to go on patrol with a Ranger company in the badlands along the Pakistan border looking under rocks for Osama bin Laden? Was it when that sergeant shoved the tent flaps aside and walked in and handed you a steno pad and a Bic pen and said, sir, you have to write down all of your questions, talking points, and areas of interest before you will be allowed to interview anyone on the base, sir, and you looked up at him from your cot and said, who the hell sent you on this dead end mission, Sarge? He forced a little smile and said, the PAO, sir. And where’s the PAO, Sarge? Sir, he’s back at the PAO Shack, sir. So you turned to the so-called Personal Escort Officer, the female Air Force Major who had been escorting you ever since you C-130’ed into Kandahar about 48 hours earlier – escorting meant she had been no further than two feet away every single waking and sleeping moment with the sole exception of when you relaxed your aging ass on the crapper – and you looked over at her and said, in words to this effect, it’s probably not going to be in your best interest to escort me over to the PAO Shack, because what’s going to happen there won’t look too good on your Air Force resume. The Personal Escort Officer took about a second to decide that she had forgotten to brush her teeth that morning and grabbed her personal hygiene kit and pushed through the tent flaps and her Truscott Personal Escort days were over. Was that when it happened, as the Personal Escort Officer exited the Press Tent? Not a chance, because you followed her right out the tent flaps, heading for the PAO Shack.
So how about 30 minutes later when you escorted the shelf-butt dufus National Guard PAO Captain out of the PAO Shack away from the prying eyes and eager ears of his NCO’s and asked him what fucking planet he was living on, thinking you’re going to write down questions before you ask them? He stood there with red cheeks and wet lips, and drew himself up and said, I do not appreciate the usage of foul language in my presence, sir. So you’ve go another question for him: what fucking fundamentalist church do you fucking belong to, you fucking fuck? And it went steeply downhill from there…you were quoting the First Amendment and asking who the hell came up with the idea of fucking Personal Escort Officers for reporters…and he was sputtering about Media Rules, and how they’re for your own protection, sir…and you were telling him you didn’t have any fucking Escort Officer when you were walking patrols with the 101st in Iraq last year, that you felt plenty protected with an Infantry squad around you…and he was twitching and thinking fast and said, well it’s actually for the protection of the troops, sir…and you were asking who the fuck the Media Rules were protecting, anyway – reporters from the troops, or the troops from reporters – and finally as he gathered himself to lodge another complain about the use of foul language in his presence…remember that this was happening in an Army unit engaged in combat with an enemy in a combat zone…you just gave up and walked back to the Press Tent, unescorted, and about 6 hours later the shelf-butt dufus National Guard PAO Captain showed up and announced that you were manifested on the first C-130 back to Bagram in the morning, and by the way, may I have your press credentials, sir, because as of this moment all cooperation between the United States Army and your magazine in furtherance of your assignment is officially cancelled. Was that it? Nope again.
So how far back do we have to go? Back to that night back in 2003 when you screwballed into Baghdad on another C-130 popping anti-aircraft flares, and you got lost and ended up spending your first night in a the Iraq combat zone on the 11th floor of Baghdad International’s only un-bombed office skyscraper, and the next morning you woke up and looked out the window and gazed upon a base camp that could have been lifted wholesale out of the swamps of Vietnam and slapped down in the deserts of Iraq without missing a beat, and you turned to the Lieutenant in the next bunk and said, whoa, I’m looking at Vietnam out there, aren’t I? And he drawled in this soft Virginia way…yuup. We’re doing the same damn thing we did last time aren’t we, so we’re fucked, right, Eltee? We’re just getting started and it’s already over, huh? Yuup. We did and we were and it was, but was that it? Was that when you knew you were dying of a broken heart? Nope. Nada. Zip. Zero.
Listen, you Ambien-addled fuzz-ball. How far back are we going to go? Back to that time you were on the News Hour with Jim Lehrer? When was that? The day after President George W. Bush donned a flight suit to land on a carrier just off the coast of California and announce with military fanfare that insofar as the war in Iraq was concerned, our mission was accomplished. It was a Friday, and you had just flown into Dulles from L.A. on your way to Charlottesville the next day where you would for the fourth year accompany your Hemings cousins to the annual family reunion at Monticello. The flight was late, and they sent a car, and you made it to the studio at the last minute to appear on a panel about…well, about “The Lessons of the War,” now that the war was over, our Mission of course having been declared Accomplished less than 24 hours previously by The Commander in Chief. Was it an out-of-body experience, to go on live TV in the nation’s Capital to discuss a complete falsehood as if it were Received Wisdom? You damn well fucking right it was. There you were, sitting in a low-rent public television studio with Correspondent Margaret Warner and a table full of Conventional Wisdomists and one “military historian” satellited-in from Chicago, and they were all smiling and puffy-cheeked, because they are sated from Important Lunches with Important People that very day and they’re just stuffed to exploding with the Sermon from Mount New York Times, or perhaps the Ten Commandments of the Washington Post, and Margaret does the intro and they’re already pulling the limos into Rumsfeld Place with the Rumsfeldian Lesson of the War, that of course what we didn’t know and why we didn’t know it was because we didn’t know it before we knew it and why it doesn’t matter because stuff happens when you’re Taking Baghdad and besides we’re all fucking Mission Accomplishing here…and they’re deconombulating the double-delicious discernment of Douglas Feith and they’re peering into the massive Black Hole of Wonderfulness that is Paul Wolfowitz and they’re gesticulating wildly at the tactical genius of Tommy Franks and they’re reliving the marvelosity of the smart-bombing of the Republican Guard Headquarters…not the one on K Street, fool, the one on the River Tigris…and when one of them pauses for breath, another is breathlessly awed at the awesomeness of Shock ‘n Awe and another smartly steps in and snuggles up to the stupendousness of the strategically smartness of the smart bomb, and the chorus builds and builds sheer stupefying Shock at the Awesomeness of the Awe, and the Awe at the Shockifyingness of the Shock…
The Lessons of the War were just about to run out of gas when Margaret Warner turned to you with a tight smile and asked, Lucian, what do you think? And you answered, just innocent as shit, well, Margaret, isn’t it a bit premature to be learning lessons from a war that’s not over?
She tightened her grim little smile. Whatever do you mean when you say the war isn’t over?
Well, you leaned back in your TV studio guest chair and opined that for one, nobody surrendered, you said.
Shock and Awe fogged the floodlights, but nobody spoke.
You were warming to your subject amidst icy, uncomprehending stares. Weren’t you watching TV the first night they bombed Baghdad? Didn’t you see what the cameras were catching in the foreground? Icy stares turned frozen. What op-ed page did this shit come from? Well, you explained, they had cameras set up on the edge of what appeared to be the second floor of what we have learned was the Palestine Hotel, and they were using wide-angle lenses so if a smart bomb happened to bomb something smartly to the far left, followed by another smart bomb bombing something smartly to the far right, they could pick up both smart explosions in a single shot. Only thing is, wide angle lenses don’t merely pick up what’s wide left and right. They pick up what’s wide top and bottom. Didn’t you see the road down there in front of the Palestine Hotel? There were BMW’s and Mercedes with their headlights on driving along the Tigris River, directly across from the Presidential Palace and the Headquarters of the Republican Guard and Saddam’s Intelligence Headquarters. Smart bombs were exploding less than a half mile away. It was 9:00 o’clock, and Baghdad was in the Middle East last time I looked at a map, and they were going to dinner. Didn’t look like those smart bombs left many people in Baghdad shocked or awed.
If you’d been a pin, you could have dropped, and they’d have heard you down in the depths of the fucking Situation Room.
What are you saying? We should have killed more civilians? Across the table, a staffer on the Senate Armed Services Committee was way past Shock and Awe and well on his way to Outrage.
As patiently as you could, which wasn’t very patient at all, you reminded the Senate staffer he said that, not you. But now that he mentioned it, yeah, the whole idea of waging war is to get people feeling so threatened and defeated that they surrender, preferably unconditionally. And there was no evidence whatsoever that anyone in Iraq was giving up, which left us with the possibility, if not the probability, that we were doing the same thing we did in Vietnam all over again. We were occupying an undefeated country. Big fucking mistake. If they don’t give up, they fight.
Well. The table was not happy. The Conventional Wisdom had not been parroted by an allegedly approved guest. A price would be paid. The segment came to an end, and a producer appeared to remove your mic and earpiece and whispered, Jim Lehrer wants to meet you. He led you to Mr. Lehrer’s personal set in another section of the studio, you shook hands, and the host of the News Hour cast his eyes upon you with opprobrium.
You told him that you guessed that this was the last time you were going to be on his show, was that right?
Yes indeed, intoned Mr. Lehrer. And it was.