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Monday, June 26, 2006

Every Junkie's Like a Setting Sun: Enabling the President's Addiction

"Addiction," my dictionary tells me, is "the condition of being habitually or compulsively occupied with, or involved in, something." Watching George W. Bush, almost giddy and sometimes nervous with excitement, talk about being a "War President," I can't help but wondering: is this president a junkie?

Now, don't get me wrong. I don't mean to say that this president is a drug addict, although it is true that this president inhaled or.um.snorted.

And I don't mean to say that this president is an alcoholic, although it is true that, as a grown man, this president stood on the front yard of his family's home, and after drinking one too many cans of.um.courage, he challenged his dad, George Sr., to come outside and settle their differences like men, "mano-e-mano."

No, what I mean to say is that this president is.well. a war addict. Sure, I know other presidents have fought wars - Lincoln fought the Civil War; Franklin Delano Roosevelt fought World War II; Woodrow Wilson fought World War I; Truman had Korea; Johnson and Nixon had Vietnam; and even William McKinley had the Spanish-American War - but not one of them seemed to enjoy fighting a war the way this president seems to enjoy fighting in Iraq.

I know it may sound wrong to say, but look, in my defense, this president's predilection for absolutes, for intoxicants, and for all-round recklessness is pretty well documented. I mean, when it wasn't drugs, it was alcohol, right? And when it wasn't alcohol, it was religion, right? In fact, no matter what the president's "focus" happened to be, his attention was, and remains, best described as "habitual," "compulsive," and "occupied" - that is, an addiction. Just consider his childlike zealousness when he carped on about cartoon absolutes: "Good versus Evil," "Dead or Alive," and "Your either with us or with the terrorists."

Then there was his downright enthusiastic invasion and occupation of Afghanistan - and then Iraq. And with no plan worth a damn to end his wars - even with the dead mounting like cordwood - he sings merrily about fighting the Long War on Terror in Iraq, and elsewhere, oblivious to its murderous consequences. So does it really seem so out of line to suggest that George W. Bush gets a rush out of being a "War President"?

That said, between you and me, after years of his addiction, I think it's starting to get to him.

I mean, you have to admit it: the president doesn't look so good these days. When he talks of positive momentum and improvement in Iraq, or even about "temporary setbacks," lately he appears, well, nervously restless. He garbles his words and shifts his weight from one foot to another. He constantly moves his eyes, searching the crowd for something he can't quite see. His hair has grayed and his face grown haggard and drawn. To be honest, he looks as like a man who hasn't slept in months. Maybe years.

Addictions are like that.

I suppose it's bad enough that the President of the United States is a war addict, but this addiction affects us all. "I've seen the needle and the damage done," Neil Young once sang, "a little part of it in everyone." In the language of addictions, we have become the president's co-dependents. We've lived with the addict and his addiction for so long, participated in feeding the addict and the addiction for so long, we've simply adjusted ourselves to the president's erratic moods - and have become his enabler.

Remember how the dead once shook our souls. September 11, 2001: 2,986 killed by terrorist attacks in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania. Our reaction? We were shaken beyond words. Our collective gorge rose in deep horror.

Now consider this - June 22, 2006: 2,823 American soldiers killed since March 19, 2003, in Iraq and Afghanistan. 50,000 or more civilians killed since March 19, 2003, in Iraq and Afghanistan. Our reaction? We hardly even wince anymore. We just change the channel.

What a difference an addiction makes.

Neil Young sang, "Every junkie's like a setting sun." This far down the dark path of addiction, the American president is unlikely to kick his addiction to war. He's even said as much, suggesting that the next president will have to end the war in Iraq. But history tells us this: eventually, an addiction this bad over takes the addict. Certainly, it won't be pretty when it does, but this addiction will end, one way or another. And then, perhaps, we can begin our healing.

Meantime, with years left before the junkie "sets like a setting sun," we can only share Neil Young's lament about the ravages of addiction: "ooh, ooh, the damage done."

Steven Laffoley (stevenlaffoley@yahoo.ca) is an American writer living in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He is the author of "Mr. Bush, Angus and Me: Notes of An American-Canadian in the Age of Unreason."
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Every Junkie's Like a Setting Sun: Enabling the President's Addiction

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