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Gary Crooks: Can’t find the real scandal

Here’s my idea of a scandal. In 2012, 349 veterans took their own lives, while 229 were killed in combat in Afghanistan. But one-a-day suicides couldn’t muster the outrage of four deaths in Benghazi.

Now that up to 40 veterans may have died because they couldn’t get timely medical appointments, the larger issue may finally get the attention it deserves. Veterans Administration services are overwhelmed with patients because “about 2.5 million men and women have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and just over 1.5 million had left active duty by September 2012,” according to a Harvard study on the costs of those wars.

When our leaders calculate the costs of wars, they offer lowball estimates, and they don’t factor in a lifetime of health care for the survivors. It’s interesting to see Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki on the hot seat for this scandal, because as U.S. Army chief of staff he said several hundred thousand soldiers would be needed in Iraq. The Bush administration wasn’t pleased because that was far more than it told the public.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said the Iraq war would cost about $50 billion. White House economic adviser Lawrence Lindsey lost his job after saying the bill would be closer to $200 billion. Both these estimates were pitifully low.

When all war-related costs are factored in, including future health care costs and disability payments, the price tag will come close to $4 trillion for both wars, the Harvard study estimates. That’s $80 billion a year for 50 years.

We weren’t told this, because the Bush administration wanted to wage war while protecting tax cuts. Americans, for the most part, have let this slide. An apt slogan for this attitude would be: “Thank you for your service, but we’re not paying for it.”

Scandal Overkill. A year ago, the Wall Street Journal published an editorial that began, “We are in the midst of the worst Washington scandal since Watergate. The reputation of the Obama White House has, among conservatives, gone from sketchy to sinister, and, among liberals, from unsatisfying to dangerous.”

Peggy Noonan, a Wall Street Journal columnist, said the scandal was worse than Watergate.

What could it be? You’d think it would be obvious by now. After all, Watergate led to the resignation of President Nixon and the jailing of his two top aides. His attorney general was forced to resign. Other assorted characters were also sent to the slammer.

Plus, this Obama “scandal” was deemed worse than the Iran-contra affair, in which Reagan administration officials were involved in clandestine arms sales to Iran to illegally finance revolutionaries in Central America. Imagine, for a moment, the Obama administration breaking laws to funnel weapons to Iran shortly after that nation held Americans hostage for 444 days. Even Fox News might think that’s worse than Benghazi.

At the time of Iran-contra, Noonan was a speechwriter for President Reagan. The Wall Street Journal editorial board directed its outrage at the independent counsel pursuing administration crimes.

So what had these conservative writers so worked up last year? It was the IRS scandal, where they alleged a partisan president sicced the agency on tea party groups to deny them nonprofit status. Problem is, none of the investigations has linked this to the administration. FBI sources told the Wall Street Journal in January that no criminal charges would be pursued.

Republicans have wanted a Watergate or Iran-contra to pin on a Democratic president for a very long time. So it was Whitewater, Travelgate, the death of Vince Foster, and Monica Lewinsky when Clinton was president. All hands they overplayed. Then, of course, there was the birth certificate lunacy when Obama was elected.

The problem isn’t that Democrats never do anything wrong; it’s that Republicans have no sense of proportion. Then they get upset when they’re not taken seriously.

Associate Editor Gary Crooks can be reached at or (509) 459-5026. Follow him on Twitter @GaryCrooks.


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