War: Voters Said No, Congress Said Yes

War: Voters Said No, Congress Said Yes

War: Voters Said No, Congress Said Yes

In Congress and the popular press, fantasy rules when the subject is Iraq.


First let’s yield the floor to a Republican, Senator Gordon Smith of Oregon, who recently proclaimed, “We have no business being a policeman in someone else’s civil war. I welcome the Iraq Study Group’s report, but if we are ultimately going to retreat, I would rather do it sooner than later.” Not cut and walk. Cut and run.

Now let’s go to a Democrat, Representative Silvestre Reyes of Texas, Pelosi’s pick as head of the House Intelligence Committee. The freshly anointed Reyes told Newsweek, “We’re not going to have stability in Iraq until we eliminate those militias, those private armies. We have to consider the need for additional troops to be in Iraq, to take out the militias and stabilize Iraq…I would say 20,000 to 30,000–for the specific purpose of making sure those militias are dismantled, working in concert with the Iraqi military.”

Reyes comes to his important post with an open mind, meaning an empty one. He knows nothing of the region. This became clear in his brief parley with a reporter from Congressional Quarterly who had the impudence to ply him with questions at the end of a tiring day, when men of mature judgment head for the bar. CQ‘s man asked Reyes if Al Qaeda was Sunni or Shiite. Reyes tossed a mental coin. “Predominantly–probably Shiite.” Wrong, of course, since Al Qaeda is Sunni, of a notoriously intolerant strain. It’s as if Reyes had called the Pope a Presbyterian.

Then the pesky newshound probed him on the matter of Hezbollah. “Hezbollah. Uh, Hezbollah…” Reyes answered irritably. “Why do you ask me these questions at 5 o’clock?” Back in 2002 Reyes, a Vietnam vet, was opposed to the war. Give him clout as Intelligence Committee chair and he starts citing John McCain approvingly, even upping the mad Arizonan’s troop-boost call by 10,000.

At least Gordon Smith can publicly concede that as things stand, the Iraq mission is a disaster, and quitting time is here. No prominent Democrats in Congress besides Jack Murtha can bring themselves to do that. (I include here Senator Slither, otherwise known as Barack Obama, who trims to every shift in the wind.) The language is always of pleasing schedules, in which a (fictional) entity called the Iraqi Army, at the disposition of an (imaginary) power called the Iraqi government, can be welded into an (entirely fantastical) nonsectarian force by (as yet unavailable and putatively suicidal) US military trainers.

Suicidal? A poll cited by the Iraq Study Group found that 61 percent of Iraqis believe that it is appropriate where possible to attack the US occupying troops. Since the poll included Kurds, who are less hostile to the US presence, we can assume that the percentage of Sunnis and Shiites who think it a patriotic act to shoot or blow up a US soldier is well above 61 percent. Now imagine yourself as a US trainer embedded in an Iraqi unit, the vast majority of whose members believe it right and proper to kill you. “Suicidal” seems to be the correct term. These calls for a bigger US training force are complete hokum.

You would have thought that Democrats would rush to hang their hats on the bipartisan ISG report, calling for cut and walk. But the long-awaited report is dead shortly after arrival. There aren’t more than a handful or so of Democrats who are going to be caught in the same room as a report that calls for the return of the Golan Heights to Syria and dares to raise the issue of the right of return of Palestinians to their homeland. In America these days persons in political life can describe reality only if they are self-employed, with a guaranteed independent income and above 75 years of age. Jimmy Carter and James Baker are two prime examples of this truth. Otherwise fantasy rules in Congress and the press, which has consistently misrepresented the extent of the disaster in Iraq, preferring to promote fatal illusions about a viable central government and fantasies of the United States being able to shape a new model army of Iraqis.

No reporter has played a more assiduous role in fostering these delusions than Michael Gordon of the New York Times. Gordon somehow skipped free of the misreporting charges that finally caught up with his former colleague Judith Miller, even though he shared a byline with Miller in the very worst report, the claim that aluminum tubes were hard evidence of Saddam’s WMD program. In the past months, in the Times and on CNN Gordon has been laying down a propaganda barrage against speedy withdrawal and for a hike in US troop numbers in Iraq.

At the Washington Post David Ignatius has similarly been fostering the impression of feasible options in Iraq. “With enough troops and aggressive tactics,” Ignatius wrote this year, “American forces can bring order to even the meanest streets.” In March Ignatius, in Iraq, detected “unmistakable signs here this week that Iraq’s political leaders are taking the first tentative steps towards forming a broad government of national unity that could reverse the country’s downward slide.” His keen eye detected a “new spirit of accord.”

So here we have the Times‘s and Post‘s lead reporter/commentators on the war diligently promulgating the core fantasy: that the United States has options beyond accepting defeat. The vast majority of Iraqis want US forces out. Militarily the United States has been defeated. Diplomatically it is isolated. Politically it is immobilized. From the Republican defeats at the polls through to the publication of the Iraq Study Group report, there was a window for Washington to commence diplomatic operations to get out with all speed. That opportunity has almost gone. The House Democrats rejected Murtha. In the Senate they gave swift and unanimous approval to Robert Gates, a career intelligence faker with a shameful recent record at Texas A&M of opposing affirmative action. Let’s see how many Democrats will oppose their leadership’s recommendation that they vote to approve the supplemental budget appropriation early next year–probably $160 billion–which will give Bush enough money to keep the war going till he leaves town. Let’s see if the antiwar movement can organize sit-ins in the offices of Democratic Reps preparing to vote those funds.

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Katrina vanden Heuvel
Editorial Director and Publisher, The Nation

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