The Real Iraq Progress Report

The Real Iraq Progress Report

The parade of political tourists to Iraq in recent weeks suggests that this murderous adventure will continue well into the next presidency.


The parade of political tourists to Iraq in recent weeks, during which easily impressed pundits and members of Congress came to be dazzled by the wonders of the troop surge, probably ensures that this murderous adventure will continue well into the next presidency–even if the Democrats win.

For example, Kenneth Pollack, a top national security adviser in the Clinton Administration whose 2002 book, The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq, convinced many Democratic politicians to support the war, now finds renewed optimism after the surge. In a July 30 New York Times op-ed article, “A War We Just Might Win,” which he coauthored after spending eight days in Iraq, Pollack gushed, “We traveled to the northern cities of Tal Afar and Mosul. This is an ethnically rich area, with large numbers of Sunni Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen. American troop levels in both cities now number only in the hundreds because the Iraqis have stepped up to the plate. Reliable police officers man the checkpoints in the cities, while Iraqi army troops cover the countryside.”

So much so that a town forty miles northeast of Tal Afar was the scene, on August 15, of the deadliest attack of the war–a quadruple bombing left more than 500 dead and 1,500 wounded, and most of the buildings in ruin. What about those “reliable” police officers and Iraqi army troops whose presence in the area Pollack found so reassuring? If Pollack was asked about that on any of the talk shows that routinely feature him as an expert, I have not found the footage.

Other Democrats brought to Iraq for photo-op visits have similarly descended into total myopia. Take Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Calif., who is suddenly more upbeat about the future US role in the region: “If anything, I’m more willing to find a way forward,” he enthused. Rep. Tim Mahoney, D-Fla., proclaimed that the US troop surge “has really made a difference and really has gotten Al Qaeda on their heels.” Odd, then, that Al Qaeda was blamed by the United States for that deadly attack near Tal Afar.

In the past week, two Iraqi governors have been assassinated in incidents attributed to intra-Shiite violence that is dramatically on the rise. But not even this bloodshed stops yet another Democratic lawmaker, Brian Baird (Wash.), from proclaiming that he will no longer support measures to set a deadline for troop withdrawal, because “We are making real and tangible progress on the ground.”

Contrast the rosy optimism of those day tourists with the assessment of seven active-duty soldiers coming to the end of their fifteen-month tour of duty on the ground in Iraq. They had an op-ed piece in the August 19 New York Times titled “The War as We Saw It“:

“To believe that Americans, with an occupying force that long ago outlived its reluctant welcome, can win over a recalcitrant local population and win this counterinsurgency is far-fetched. As responsible infantrymen and noncommissioned officers with the 82nd Airborne Division soon heading back home, we are skeptical of recent press reports portraying the conflict as increasingly manageable and feel it has neglected the mounting civil, political and social unrest we see every day.”

Get their article–excerpted quoting cannot do it justice–and hand it to anyone who prattles on about how “our” leaving Iraq will only make matters worse. “Four years into our occupation, we have failed on every promise, while we have substituted Baath Party tyranny with a tyranny of Islamist, militia and criminal violence,” they wrote. “In the end, we need to recognize that our presence may have released Iraqis from the grip of a tyrant, but that it has also robbed them of their self-respect. They will soon realize that the best way to retain dignity is to call us what we are–an army of occupation–and force our withdrawal.”

In the meantime, the seven soldiers urge that we let “Iraqis take center stage in all matters” and “let them resolve their differences as they see fit. This suggestion is not meant to be defeatist, but rather to highlight our pursuit of incompatible policies to absurd ends without recognizing the incongruities.” The plea ends with “We need not talk about morale. As committed soldiers, we will see this mission through.”

And sadly enough, they will continue to be sacrificed to a policy that makes no sense to them as well as to most other Americans. As their op-ed piece recounts, “one of us, Staff Sergeant [Jeremy A.] Murphy, an Army Ranger and reconnaissance team leader, was shot in the head during a ‘time sensitive target acquisition mission,’ on Aug. 12; he is expected to survive.” But what about the next good man sacrificed to the whims of politicians and pundits?

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Katrina vanden Heuvel
Editorial Director and Publisher, The Nation

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