Thursday, April 21, 2005

About some things, I'd like to be wrong, and Iraq is one of them. I listened to the enthusiasm about their election and read a news report about Iraqi soldiers killing 85 insurgents, locating them with the help of Baghdad citizens. I've listened to Bill Maher point out that they've only had a government since January. Give them more than...say, a couple of weeks, he advises, to get a democracy in place. After all, he reminds listeners, our own country didn't even have a constitution for eleven years after the Revolutionary War started. I wish such optimism was justified, but it isn't.
An article in the May 2 issue of The Nation by Rep. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts summed up his visit to Iraq. He came home just as skeptical as ever. He rode into Baghdad in a helicopter between two soldiers pointing their guns down at the ground. He spent most of his only day there (staying overnight was too dangerous) in the heavily fortified Green Zone, listening to the brass try to sell eight members of Congress a bill of goods: Conditions here are improving; we have 147,000 Iraqi troops; we do not plan to build permanent bases here. They admitted to no post-invasion mistakes and just kept repeating, "We're moving in the right direction." One military leader said that he can tell conditions are easing because when U.S. helicopters fly over certain parts of Iraq, people wave.
Considering his own helicopter ride into Baghdad, McGovern asked if perhaps the officer was confusing a wave with a plea not to shoot. The congressman's take on conditions there was 180 from what was being touted.
Conditions are not improving. Iraqi women leaders he talked to said that there was more electricity before the war, and according to the World Food Program, hunger among Iraqis is getting worse. It's true that the recent level of violence has decreased, but it's still unacceptable, and the insurgents use our presence there to recruit members.
We have no plans to draw down our troops because most of the Iraqi troops aren't combat capable, and no one can say when they will be. In fact, even their "85 insurgents killed" headline was, it turns out, likely to have been exaggerated.
The claim that we're not going to build permanent bases there is disingenuous: Congress just appropriated $500 million dollars for that purpose. Oh, and Bush plans to ask for more billions for the war later this year.
In fact, the only honest answers McGovern received while he was there came from the soldiers--who told him straightforwardly that they'd been forbidden to share any complaints with visitors. So McGovern came away feeling that the lies that led to this war and to his mistrust of the Bushies are just continuing.
But Bush's re-election and the supposed good news from Iraq have taken the steam out of the anti-war movement. Unfortunately, our troops will not be coming home until the anti-war movement here revs up again.


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