Man does this war wear on me. I know that war is ugly and violent, but this war, not only was it unnecessary and based on lies, but it has devolved into the kind of mess that we normally stay out of and yet, we are the spark that caused it and the oxygen that keeps the flames growing ever larger. Despite the non-existent reporting outside the heavily fortified Green Zone and the marginal reporting from within, we still know certain things. We know that the Iraqis have had their country destroyed and are living with a few short hours of electricity a day. We know that their communities have been decimated by sectarian violence that has erupted all across their country. We know that our soldiers are dying and being wounded in an occupation that was ill advised and a peacekeeping mission that becomes more and more dire everyday.
This war is not a war anymore. Once Saddam Hussein fell, it became exactly what this administration said it wanted no part in, a nation building exercise. And like most things this President doesn’t have any interest in, like governing effectively, his lack of interest leaves death and destruction in its wake. Iraq is the manifestation of Bush’s lack of intellectual curiosity and inability to engage in diplomacy abroad, and Hurricane Katrina is the manifestation of Bush’s lack of interest in effective government here at home. He is a failure of monumental proportions and we will be paying for his incompetence for generations to come.
I watched “Baghdad ER” on HBO the other night. It shouldn’t have been shocking to see the results of the violence in Iraq, but because there is virtually no coverage on our nightly news, somehow it was. The physical wounds are gory, but it’s the emotional wounds that are so heartbreaking to watch. These are such young boys fighting over there, and their limited life experience shows on their faces. They don’t seem to know where to put these extreme experiences or how to cope with the emotional toll of watching their friends die, let alone fearing for their own lives in a situation they see no end to. And the older soldiers, the doctors that are treating these men, the angst of knowing what this lack of a clear objective costs in human life, is painfully apparent on their faces as well. It may not be the place of a soldier to question the mission, but I can’t imagine that they don’t, maybe not while they’re awake and doing their job, but when they lay down at night in the limited peace that they likely find in Iraq these days.
Greg Mitchell, over at Editor & Publisher, wrote an article about a memo that was obtained by The Washington Post, a memo from the US Embassy in Iraq written days before Bush took his secret jaunt over to Iraq in an attempt to put a happy face on the occupation. Things are not getting better over in Iraq. Just because this administration says that they are "making significant progress in Iraq" and the media continue to toe the line, doesn’t make it so. Here are a few of the “highlights” from the memo (from E&P):
--"Personal safety depends on good relations with the 'neighborhood' governments, who barricade streets and ward off outsiders. The central government, our staff says, is not relevant; even local mukhtars have been displaced or coopted by militias. People no longer trust most neighbors."
-- One embassy employee had a brother-in-law kidnapped. Another received a death threat, and then fled the country with her family.
-- Iraqi staff at the embassy, beginning in March and picking up in May, report "pervasive" harassment from Islamist and/or militia groups. Cuts in power and rising fuel prices "have diminished the quality of life." Conditions vary but even upscale neighborhoods "have visibly deteriorated" and one of them is now described as a "ghost town."
-- Two of the three female Iraqis in the public affairs office reported stepped-up harassment since mid-May...."some groups are pushing women to cover even their face, a step not taken in Iran even at its most conservative." One of the women is now wearing a full abaya after receiving direct threats.
-- It has also become "dangerous" for men to wear shorts in public and "they no longer allow their children to play outside in shorts." People who wear jeans in public have also come under attack.
-- Embassy employees are held in such low esteem their work must remain a secret and they live with constant fear that their cover will be blown. Of nine staffers, only four have told their families where they work. They all plan for their possible abductions. No one takes home their cell phones as this gives them away. One employee said criticism of the U.S. had grown so severe that most of her family believes the U.S. "is punishing populations as Saddam did."
-- Since April, the "demeanor" of guards in the Green Zone has changed, becoming more "militia-like," and some are now "taunting" embassy personnel or holding up their credentials and saying loudly that they work in the embassy: "Such information is a death sentence if overheard by the wrong people." For this reason, some have asked for press instead of embassy credentials.
-- "For at least six months, we have not been able to use any local staff members for translation at on-camera press events....We cannot call employees in on weekends or holidays without blowing their 'cover.'"
-- "More recently, we have begun shredding documents printed out that show local staff surnames. In March, a few staff members approached us to ask what provisions would we make for them if we evacuate."
-- The overall environment is one of "frayed social networks," with frequent actual or perceived insults. None of this is helped by lack of electricity. "One colleague told us he feels 'defeated' by circumstances, citing his example of being unable to help his two-year-old son who has asthma and cannot sleep in stifling heat," which is now reaching 115 degrees.
-- "Another employee tell us that life outside the Green Zone has become 'emotionally draining.' He lives in a mostly Shiite area and claims to attend a funeral 'every evening.'"
-- Fuel lines have grown so long that one staffer spent 12 hours in line on his day off. "Employees all confirm that by the last week of May, they were getting one hour of power for every six hours without. ... One staff member reported that a friend lives in a building that houses a new minister; within 24 hours of his appointment, her building had city power 24 hours a day."
-- The cable concludes that employees' "personal fears are reinforcing divisive sectarian or ethnic channels, despite talk of reconciliation by officials."
We know what the GOP plan is for Iraq, stick by the side of the President and stay the course. The course we are on will only lead to further deterioration of the situation in Iraq and of our standing in the world. The American people either understand this or, at the very least, are on their way to grasping it. The Democrats better figure out pretty damn quick that they must take a stand on the war, they can’t continue to ignore the issue and hope it simply goes away.
The occupation and peacekeeping mission in Iraq is on everyone’s mind. Some because they don’t believe in war, some because this particular mission was a strategic blunder of epic proportions, some because of the devastation we’ve caused, some because of the cost in American lives and US dollars, and some for of all of the above. The Republicans aren’t going to address these concerns, they have proven that over and over again, most recently with their sham debate on the war in Congress. The Democrats are not giving the American people an alternative to “stay the course” and as long as that’s true, they really only have a slim chance of making any gains in the midterms this November.
We cannot stay the course, the voters need another option and as long as the Democrats refuse to offer one, too many voters will stay with the devil they know, cross their fingers and hope for the best. The Democrats are right about one thing, we do deserve better, but saying it and stepping up to provide it are two different things. The sooner they are made to realize that, the better off we'll all be.