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 V.17 No.30 | July 24 - 30, 2008 

Ortiz y Pino

Hearts and Minds

In recent weeks, Sen. John McCain has begun to slip into a repetitive refrain, one intended to distinguish his position on Iraq from Sen. Barack Obama’s.

Now an “independent” group of veterans has bought a radio and television blitz that copies that refrain. New Mexico is one of the states targeted for this multimillion-dollar campaign.

In this four-point sound bite, McCain and the “Veterans for Freedom” aver that, certainly, the “troop surge” is working; that we are on the brink of “winning” in Iraq; that bringing the troops home soon would be the equivalent of throwing in the towel prematurely and that anything less than total “victory” is merely craven knuckling-under to terrorism.

The media, particularly Fox News and its clones on the right side of the political spectrum (but far from just those pundits out there on that lonesome peninsula), love this sound bite’s message. To think that somehow, through stout-hearted persistence and a stubborn refusal to yield, our gallant warriors have managed to turn the bog that was the Occupation into an actual triumph ... wow!

That’s so like the "Star Spangled Banner" blaring at the Olympics medal ceremony. It’s so like a deliciously violent video game with a battered underdog turning the tables at the last moment. It’s so like a summer vacation spent reading paperback bestsellers (or comic books) in which the good guy gets kicked around by villains for five years but steals the prize in the last chapter with a gutsy comeback.

Yes, just like those. It’s stirring, but it isn’t even close to the real-world situation in which we have become embroiled.

Wasn’t the definition of “winning in Iraq” accomplished when we caught him, humiliated him and executed him and his sons?

Of course, the basic problem is that agreeing on how to define what “victory” in Iraq might look like has been rendered almost impossible by the fact that we can’t agree on why we got into this mess in the first place.

If we truly went in to get rid of the nuclear threat Iraq posed or if we went in to locate and neutralize the dangerous WMDs we felt were menacing the entire free world (claims Colin Powell made prior to the invasion), we should have declared victory as soon as it was clear there were no WMDs and no Iraqi nuclear threat.

Or if we went in to free the Iraqi people from the suffocating presence of the tyrant Saddam Hussein, wasn’t the definition of “winning in Iraq” accomplished when we caught him, humiliated him and executed him and his sons?

But if our real mission is revenge, a crusade to wreak havoc on those who planned the 9/11 attack, or if we are actually trying to establish sectarian harmony between Islamic sects who’ve been battling each other for a thousand years, or if our real purpose is to create a model democracy as a beachhead for Western conceptions of freedom in the Middle East, or if we are basically in Iraq to eradicate al-Qaeda as a terrorist threat, then I’d say we still sure have a lot of work ahead ... at least until pigs fly.

Before we get too far away from McCain’s largely unchallenged assertion that the troop surge has been a success because the level of violence in Iraq has dropped so markedly, we might want to consider a couple of points that don’t get much play anywhere in the American press and zero play on Fox.

First, the Iraqi government wants us out. Yes, that handpicked and carefully cultivated Iraqi government that we have for three years supposedly been preparing to transfer authority to “when they are ready” has now told us it’s time to start sending our troops home.

The al-Maliki government refused to sign the document Bush wanted, the one that extended beyond Dec. 31 the U.N.-granted legal umbrella under which we’ve been there all these years. Instead they say they want us to (doesn’t this sound like the Democrats’ spiel?) set a timetable for the withdrawal of all our troops.

When that happens, one hopes the two to three million Iraqis who’ve fled their homeland during the American Occupation will begin to return, the violence our presence has engendered will drop off and the nation we have caused such grief will be able to set about the task of becoming stable.

As for the touted “success” of the surge and the false hope that we can emerge from this scenario as “winners,” there’s one final bit of information that ought to be getting more mention in our press.

One reason the Occupation has proven so incredibly expensive is that we American taxpayers are actually financing three (yes, count ’em, three) armies over there. First, there are the 140,000 American soldiers, sailors and Marines (during the surge that number went up to 180,000).

Then there’s the larger (we don’t know exactly how many, but probably 200,000) army of American contract personnel who support our troops, provide security and generally cause mayhem while filching everything that isn’t tied down. They are very expensive.

But the third army we’re financing is the “enemy” we fought for three years, the tribal chieftains who stopped shooting at us once we agreed to pay them a monthly “stipend.” Harper’s Index last month estimated the size of that army at over 100,000. And they have gladly stopped shooting and planting bombs ... as long as the stipend continues.

I’m not sure we’ve won their hearts and minds, but hey, buying “victory” is what the Bush administration has always been all about.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author. E-mail jerry@alibi.com.

 

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