Below is the latest The Pain -- When Will It End?
Updated 12/06/06

Artist's Statement

Ladies and gentlemen, we arrive at an historic moment here at The Pain: sitting down to write this week’s artist’s statement, our artist finds he simply has nothing to say. I have no new policy initiatives to present on Iraq. Panel 1 of this cartoon eloquently summarizes what has been my official position on Iraq for the last three years. I am uncomfortably aware that I am not contributing anything constructive to the debate.

On the other hand, I tried contributing to the debate back before the invasion. "What the fuck?" I said. "That’s a terrible idea. Why would we do that?" Hundreds of thousands of my compatriots and I flooded the streets of Manhattan, and completely encircled the White House in DC, to protest the invasion. (You may not have seen this on TV; it only happened in real life.) We silly knee-jerk peaceniks trotted out our usual conspiratorial and defeatist rhetoric: the war had nothing to do with 9/11, it was being trumped up on lies for suspect motives, it would turn into a quagmire, it would confirm the Arab world’s most paranoid fears about America, mew mew mew. We got called weaklings and traitors and President Bush waved us off as "focus groups."

Of course, we antiwar demonstrators didn’t know that there were no Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq, at least not with the same degree of absolute certainty that our opponents knew that there were. We were at a disadvantage, not having access to the highly classified false intelligence on which our elected leaders based their decisions. Yet the fact that we were right and the Bush administration was wrong suggests, at the very least, that any Democrat who voted to "authorize the use of force," as the current euphemism goes, was even more credulous than the kinds of people who believe that drum circles and giant puppets are feared in the corridors of power. This is the most generous interpretation. A less charitable one would be that they were so cowed by political pressure that they signed off on the deaths of thousands of Americans, and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, out of fear of looking weak or unpatriotic.

This is not just to say, "Told you so," although that is one of the few joyless consolations available to the left under Bush. After an historical fiasco of this enormity, it’s worth looking back to take note of who actually knew what they were talking about and who turns out, in retrospect, to have been completely full of shit. So let’s just say this once, in print, and then move on: we far-left antiwar liberals were right about everything. Invading Iraq was a mistake. The war is a catastrophe. Our own intelligence agencies warn that it’s recruited more terrorists and made us less safe. And the real reason politicians of both parties are so fearful of saying so is that to do so would imply two ghastly, unfaceable admissions: that all those lives were wasted, and that nobody has any idea what to do now.

So my advisory panel’s recommendation is: fuck you. You’re on your own. You guys figure it out. Including all you Democrats who voted for the war out of cowardice and then won reelection posturing as antiwar candidates. Goood luck.

A few months ago I did a cartoon semiseriously proposing the revolutionary new policy of Trying to Win, which would involve, among other things, increasing troop levels. Of course doing this would involve the unspeakable thing that no politician even wants to think about, much less mention in public--reinstating a draft. Sending rich people’s kids over there? Imagine the P.R. shitstorm. But I suspect that if we really want to achieve anything resembling "victory" in Iraq this is our only option. Of course I’m an old guy now and no longer know anybody of draft age, so this is easy for me to say. Could I accept even one person I know being killed or maimed in the cause of trying to salvage George Bush’s pointless war? Forget it. This Thanksgiving I met a young man in the army who’s being shipped first to Hawaii for six months but then--like having to eat Brussels sprouts after you’ve finished dessert--Afghanistan. He was a smart, interesting guy; we talked about cartooning, gunnery, movies, and military history, which I know a fair amount about just because I am a boy. (He really liked the big classical battles of antiquity that play out like chess games. I am a sucker for Thermopylæ and Cannæ.) The idea of people like him being sent to Iraq makes me want to wait for Paul Wolfowitz in an alley with a big jar of Vaseline and a very large American flag on a pole--the kind with the carved eagle on top.

I’m afraid the truth of the matter is something no American wants to hear: Iraq is going to be a bloodbath no matter what we do and it’s our fault. "In other words: it’s a huge shit sandwich and we’re all going to have to take a bite." I read some anxious speculation this morning that this war may define Bush’s presidency, in the same way that Vietnam defined LBJ’s. Yeah, you think? Except that LBJ is also remembered, by those few dweebs who remember anything that happened before the last news cycle, as a master politician who rammed through civil rights legislation and the Great Society social programs, while George Bush will also be remembered as the idiot boss’s son who cut taxes for rich people and let poor people wade through their own shit for a week after a hurricane. Perhaps his presidential library should be located in Fallujah, so that only those willing to risk death in the chaos of postwar Iraq will earn the right to visit it.

Already we are hearing the first grumblings about how the liberals and the media are the ones subverting American efforts in Iraq. The earliest use of this scapegoating tactic was the famous "stabbed in the back" slogan repeated throughout Germany after their defeat in World War I. The German armies hadn’t been defeated on the battlefield, no--they’d been Stabbed in the Back by certain subversive political elements on the home front (You Know Who). There was, it turns out, an illuminating article on the history of the "stabbed in the back" myth in the June 2006 issue of Harper’s: . We’ve had to listen to a tired variation on this story about Vietnam for the last thirty years. There are still surly guys slouched over their Buds in dive bars across America telling anyone who’ll listen, which isn’t me, that it was the liberal media who lost that war. (The meaningless imperative to Support Our Troops is a backlash against the supposed spitting-upon of our troops returning from Vietnam.) History suggests that in fact it was the Vietnamese who won it. In The Fog of War, the former Foreign Minister of Vietnam explains to Robert McNamara, one of the architects of the war:

"Mr. McNamara, you must never have read a history book. If you had, you'd know we weren't pawns of the Chinese or the Russians. McNamara, didn't you know that? Don't you understand that we have been fighting the Chinese for a thousand years? We were fighting for our independence. And we would fight to the last man. And we were determined to do so. And no amount of bombing, no amount of U.S. pressure would ever have stopped us."

Not that Iraq is analogous to Vietnam. It’s not people fighting for their homeland; it’s religious bigots fighting each other, foreign fanatics blowing themselves up just to cause more chaos. The only similarity is that the American troops are essentially mercenaries (albeit well-trained and highly motivated ones), whereas our enemies are motivated by ideals (albeit depraved ones). Therefore, we will give up before they do. In the meantime: car bombings, IEDs, kidnappings, beheadings, death squads disguised as police, mass graves, armless children, civil war—what a fucking nightmare. Fucking George Bush, man. Fuck.

This is what my friends and I are always reduced to whenever the subject of Iraq comes up—shaking our heads and clutching out brows, rendered speechless by the incomprehensible evil and incompetence of it all. But despite the bitter fantasies of conservatives, not even the most avid Bush haters such as me are able take even grim satisfaction in seeing our most pessimistic predictions vindicated. It’s just too awful. The only thing that still sporadically rouses me to manic outrage, that seizes me with the impulse to drive down to the White House and clutch the iron bars of the fence and scream obscenities ‘til my throat is raw, is the fact that none of it ever needed to happen at all. 


Notes on Various Beverages and Hats: Mr. Cheney is drinking Mr. Potter’s Sour Mash. The beers in panel #4 are, respectively, "Bud Senior (Fiber!)" and "Bud Plus (Heroin!)" (the latter obviously a nod to milk plus from A Clockwork Orange). The container for Bud Senior is based on a design for an Unspillable Cup I invented in seventh grade. The old Iraq vet’s cap is emblazoned with an American flag and the slogan, "#4," which is roughly where I think we’ll rank in fifty years, after China, the E.U., and India.



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