Friday, July 22, 2005

Three Who Might Have Lived

Americans sometimes view voting as an obligatory act, instead of an opportunity to make their voices heard in a meaningful way. Who we elect and the consequences of our choices are often not considered beyond election day and, certainly on a national level, those votes can sometimes come with a very real human cost.

To be sure, when we allow our presidents to be selected by the Supreme Court and when half of the electorate is effectively disenfranchised, the outcome can be devastating – as we have seen in the last five years.

I never had the opportunity to meet Tricia Jameson, Deyson Cariaga or Ronnie Williams. But I do know that if George W. Bush had not become president in January of 2001, they might still be alive today.

All three were killed this month in Iraq.

Tricia Jameson, 34, of Omaha, Nebraska, died in Trebil, Iraq. An Army National Guard health care specialist, she was killed by an improvised explosive device while responding to a casualty incident. Close friends say Tricia loved to help people and, when on leave from the Guard, she worked with developmentally disabled children.

Deyson Cariaga, of Honolulu, Hawaii, was just 20. Also in the Army National Guard, Cariaga died in Al Hammadi when his vehicle struck a land mine. He had just graduated from high school in 2002, loved to surf and, according to his older brother, enlisted because "he wanted to serve a greater purpose."

Regular Army Specialist Ronnie Williams, 26, of Erlanger, Kentucky, died in Baghdad of injuries sustained when his Abrams tank crashed during combat patrol operations. Known by the other guys in his squadron as "Iron Will," Williams had just gotten married in December and had a two-year-old son.

These young people, who bravely followed what they believed to be the honorable directives of their Commander-in-Chief, are the tragic consequences of George W. Bush being in the White House.

Immediately after September 11, when Bush was really feeling his oats, conservatives liked to derisively speculate on how America would have responded to such terrorism if Al Gore were president.

I can tell you this: There's a damn good chance that Darlene Williams would still have a husband and their son would still have a father. Deyson Cariaga would still have decades of surfing left in him and Tricia Jameson would still be in Omaha helping children.

Because Al Gore would not have attacked Iraq under the same circumstances.

Vice President Gore is a Vietnam veteran, to whom war and combat are something more than an abstraction and he would have been much more circumspect in evaluating the true threat Iraq posed to the United States. (Conversely, Bush brings to mind the image of a little boy, playing with green plastic soldiers and throwing dirt in the air to simulate explosions.)

With his Vietnam experience as a backdrop, Gore would also have kept in mind that just because you are (by far) the more powerful country doesn't necessarily mean you win. Even if action had ultimately been taken with Iraq, he would have been more prepared for the prospect of a strong insurgency, listened to his military staff and deployed troops far differently.

Al Gore also understands that, as John Kerry often said in the 2004 campaign, "just because you have the biggest house on the block doesn't mean you don't have to be a good neighbor." He would have worked much harder to avoid war with Iraq, would have ensured that we maintained true faith with our traditional allies and that the world was not turned against America.

A President Gore would have listened to intelligence from our allies, and fully absorbed all indications that there was no reason to invade Iraq. Al Gore wouldn't have lied to the American people and he would have remembered that you take your nation to war because you have to, not because you want to.

We would still have the trust and respect of the world and we would still have a world where the value of our intelligence services and our word are unquestioned.

Of course, there's no saying that these three people would still be alive today under different national leadership. They might have been struck by the proverbial bus, succumbed to disease, been in an auto accident or may even have died in Afghanistan while fighting the people who were indeed a threat to our country.

But they certainly would not have died in a pointless war in Iraq. If we had a different president today, we might actually have Osama Bin Laden and the people who really did attack us on September 11.

We might also still have Tricia Jameson, Deyson Cariaga and Ronnie Williams.