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Bill Orton
(D-Long Beach)

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March 13, 2003

The War, the President & Mr. Lincoln

by Bill Orton

It seems clear that before April comes, bombs shall be falling upon Iraq.

I do not agree with the logic leading to this war, nor do I believe that the President is leveling with the American people about the tremendous long-term costs of our exercise in nation building.

I am, however, one who believes in the Constitution.

The President may be wrong when he says that there is little to fear from our actions, but he is the Commander in Chief. If a mad, screaming rush into war is what our President intends to achieve, he has the power to do it.

But I say this, Mr. President: Be careful what you wish for.

Any commander can give an order, but how do we get out? Not just from the fighting, which will be swift, but from the reconstruction of Iraq?

The lasting consequences tell the final story.

Think of the man on the five dollar bill.

A deep glance at the engraving on the old five shows the profound weariness of Mr. Lincoln, who took office with war raging and died just before the Civil War's conclusion.

Perhaps Lincoln is best to think of, for who (other than FDR) could understand the longterm costs of reconstruction once the war ends.

It was at the most profoundly distressing moments that both Mr. Lincoln and Mr. Roosevelt steeled the American people to the challenges of war and rallied our people to final victory.

Sadly, I see little of Mr. Lincoln in our current President.

George Bush is a pale imitator of "Dr. Win the War."

Unlike the man from Illinois, who envisioned true Reconstruction, this President refuses to even discuss the world after war.

Unlike the careful candor and push-ahead determination of Franklin Roosevelt, our man in Washington seems unwilling to level with the public over consequences.

What COULD go wrong?

I offer the comments of Colonel Mike Turner (U.S. Army, ret.), who served as Norman Schwartzkopf's briefing officer during the First Gulf War.

In a brutal assessment of what could go wrong, Colonel Turner lays out a worst case scenario that includes...

-- global holy war,
-- oilfields aflame,
-- TV pictures showing Americans in a field of carnage,
-- resulting world outrage against the United States,
-- a body blow to our economy,
-- Tony Blair voted out of office and
-- a long, lonely, costly political quagmire to keep the peace.

I've put the Colonel's assessment at the top of my home page, at:, as "Worst Case Scenario."

Why a war now? Could it be that we're trying NOT to think about...
-- The economy in retro-recession.
-- Unemployment at an eight-year high.
-- Health care unaddressed.
-- State budgets reeling in red ink.
-- The federal surplus gone.
-- Federal budget deficits as far as the eye can see.
-- Environment, choice, labor laws all under constant assault.
-- Civil liberties eroding. (Somehow we won the Cold War without the Patriot Act.)

Is war an evasion of the FACTS?

Whatever the case, when the Commander in Chief gives the order, our forces shall do their duty with honor.

Our men and women in uniform shall show once again that the all-volunteer American military is the finest in the world. The enemy shall be shocked and awed.

May fortune be with our forces, for once they are called into battle, everything that they need must be provided.

And a special note of thanks to the tens of thousands of National Guard and Reserve personnel who have been called away from their homes and jobs to serve in this war. I worry about PFC Alexandra Staples and others who may have thought differently of risk when they became citizen-soldiers. But they bear their duty with equal honor.

The Constitution is clear on who commands our forces. Good luck, Mr. President. May you find in the halls of the executive mansion the patience and magnanimity of Mr. Lincoln and the determination and wisdom of Mr. Roosevelt.

Good luck also to the Congress and our military. Together, we must all ensure that our troops do not falter for lack of want.

May victory be secured quickly, completely and with little cost in human life.

For myself, once this war is won, and when our troops are safe, I shall pour every ounce of energy that I possess into electing a new Administration in 2004 so that this nation -- to quote Mr. Lincoln -- shall once again become a government of, by and for the people.

After all, the bottom line is that we need a President who can do more than just drag us into war.

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Bill Orton, 40, is a writer and historian living in Seal Beach, California with his wife and daughter.

Bill Orton is a writer and historian living in Long Beach, California.