The President and his speechwriters have, these last years, fallen in love with “victory.” Back in November, 2005, for instance, promoting his administration’s “National Strategy for Victory in Iraq,” Bush used the word “victory” 15 times in a single speech. Things in Iraq were already bad enough then. Now, of course, they are beyond disastrous and, in a small but telling piece on p. A28 of Wednesday’s New York Times, Thom Shanker reports the following: “Tucked away in fine print in the military spending bill for this past year was a lump sum of $20 million to pay for a celebration in the nation’s capital ‘for commemoration of success’ in Iraq and Afghanistan.” He adds, “Not surprisingly, the money was not spent.” It was, in fact, rolled over to next year when… well, if the Republicans still control Congress, it will surely be rolled over to 2008, 2009, and 2010.
Victory in Iraq is not on many American minds right now in a country where, according to the latest CNN poll, 66% of us disapprove of the job the President is doing there. So it’s not surprising that a little piece about marches in honor of “success” in his wars is tucked away in the paper, while an unexpected slaughter among the Amish and mayhem over charges over pedophilia cover-ups among Republicans, dominates front pages countrywide. But here’s the strange thing: Right now, if victory is relegated to p. 28 (and next year’s military budget), the pain of American loss has hardly been easier to see recently, unless, as Juan Cole pointed out at his Informed Comment blog, you’re reading very local papers.
Since Saturday, at least 23 American soldiers have died in Iraq (mostly in Baghdad) and at least 2 in Afghanistan. A single day total of 8 was announced by the Pentagon for Monday and yet these numbers generally didn’t make it near a front page. The Washington Post, whose Wednesday front page had a huge story on the murdered Amish girls, “Pa. Killer Had Prepared for ‘Long Siege,'” on page 1, dealt with American casualties in Iraq in a tiny Associated Press piece on page A21 (“11 U.S. Troops, 52 Iraqis Killed”). A story of rising American casualties around Baghdad only hit the paper’s front page today. The New York Times, whose front page had a similar Amish story (“Elaborate Plan Seen by Police in School Siege”) Wednesday, put its Iraq piece by Michael Luo (“8 G.I.’s Die in Baghdad, Most in a Day Since ’05”) on p. A12 — with a tiny box about it on p. 1.
The news from Baghdad is even worse than you might imagine, but this week you had to be a news junkie to notice. The capital not only experienced the highest daily American casualties of the war, but “the highest number of car bombs and roadside bombs… this year.” And here’s the real twist: While American casualties are on the rise, Iraqi military casualties are actually falling! This undoubtedly reflects not better fighting skills on the part of the Iraqi Army, but an ever-lessening engagement with the insurgency in Baghdad where a militia-ridden, death-squad-linked national police brigade was also being pulled off the capital’s streets and replaced by… well, what did you expect?… American troops.
The President has long said, “As Iraqis stand up, we will stand down.” But what if they stand down? And Americans in their place simply die in increasing numbers.
Maybe the Vietnam-era advice of Vermont Senator George Aiken is still worth considering. What if we just declared “victory” and started to come home. Then that $20 million in parades might be a fine investment.