Another Republican stalwart has broken with President Bush over Iraq. No, this isn't a Republican senator making a speech to buy political cover come election time.
This latest voice of dissent actually came from deep within the administration. From the Pentagon. From the Secretary of Defense himself.
I had read about Gates' speech at the Marine Corps Association's annual dinner in Arlington when he broke down in tears during a tribute to Major Douglas Zembiec. But it was only when I saw the clip while taping the McLaughlin Group that I realized how significant and deeply felt was Gates' display of emotion. Here is what he said, but please watch the clip (the third story in the first segment):
"After the battle [of Fallujah, Zembiec] said that his Marines had "fought like lions," and he was soon himself dubbed "the Lion of Fallujah"... After returning from Iraq, Doug was promoted and given a desk job at the Pentagon. He chafed at the assignment, volunteered to deploy again, and was sent back to Iraq earlier this year. This time, he would not return -- to his country or to his wife Pamela and his one-year old daughter."
This war has been full of innumerable instances of both heroism and tragedy but what is striking when you watch Gates speak is the raw emotion he showed about this particular instance of both. By letting his true feelings in the moment get the best of him, Gates broke with the Bush policy of sanitizing the war.
Bush has been relentless about shielding Americans from the cost and sacrifice of this war. Oh sure, he'll use the sacrifice of the fallen as a political backdrop during a State of the Union speech or to buttress his smears of any dissent as evidence of not "supporting the troops." But from day one of this war he has tried to keep Americans from coming face to face with the gruesome reality of this war.
That's why he refuses to go to the funerals of soldiers killed in action. That's why for so long he refused to allow photographs of caskets arriving on American soil. The president continues to believe that by keeping his game face of smug what-me-worry optimism -- what John McLaughlin called his "idyllic vision" of the war -- he can get the public to buy into his fantasy of leading us to victory.
Nor is this attitude limited to public appearances. In an op-ed in the New York Times, David Brooks recounted a recent meeting with the president:
"Far from being beleaguered, Bush was assertive and good-humored. While some in his administration may be looking for exit strategies, he is unshakably committed to stabilizing Iraq... I left the 110-minute session thinking that far from being worn down by the past few years, Bush seems empowered. His self-confidence is the most remarkable feature of his presidency."
Brooks calls him "good-humored" -- most Americans would call him deluded and determined not to let reality touch him the way it touched Secretary Gates.
The best way the president can honor the heroism and sacrifice of Major Zembiec -- and the other 3,631 American soldiers killed in this war -- is to tell the truth to the American public.
Gates' emotional tribute isn't going to end this war, but it was remarkable to finally see a high-level administration official "off message" -- breaking with the party line and movingly acknowledge the real costs of this war.
Thank you for your tribute to Major Zembiec, Secretary Gates, and for not being "good humored" about this war.
P.S. Many thanks to everyone for your good wishes for my broken foot.