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 V.13 No.36 | September 2 - 8, 2004 

Thin Line

Theater of the absurd. It's funny how enlightening a brief encounter with a stranger can be.

Three days ago I was unloading my fishing gear in my driveway when a sky blue BMW Z3 pulled up to the curb and a middle-aged couple, looking totally tourist, greeted me. The woman wanted to look around, because my place belonged to her family decades ago. Her husband was the soft-spoken sort and looked like a caricature of a Houston car salesman about to board a charter boat in Corpus—aloha shirt, gold chain, baseball hat, bulging gut.

While his wife blissfully nosed around the premises, this gentleman told me he was on vacation from his job in Iraq working for a Halliburton-subsidiary, providing laundry, food and other supplies to 35,000 troops on the Western front.

Iraq is not transitioning to democracy, he said. Instead, the country is being controlled by warlords and insurgent militias. He said control of cities like Falluja and Sadr City is in their hands. Many of the combatants being killed by U.S. military are foreigners who have joined forces with the localized militias and the U.S. hasn't established any kind of legitimate official Iraqi government presence, he said. One of his laundry contractors was recently kidnapped and killed and he said driving on the New Mexico highway felt good, just because he wasn't afraid of being shot. A mortar landed in his office last week, thankfully while he was at lunch. Contractors can't operate without safety and security, so his work's been stalled.

He laughed mockingly when asked about the prospects for democracy. He was sullen about the whole Iraq affair, worried that the safety of his employees couldn't be guaranteed. After about 20 minutes, he and his wife drove off, and I never caught his name.

The next day, I watched Heather Wilson speaking on TV at the Republican National Convention, propping herself up on the back of a fallen soldier, exploiting his memory for the purposes of a partisan speech. Her glossy-eyed, pompous delivery was so contrived it made me want to puke. I wondered if the sea of Republican delegates had any clue that the influence of clerics opposing the U.S. occupation is growing in Iraq, or that this “classical guerilla war,” as Gen. John Abizaid called it last year, looks to be unwinnable. Was anyone in the crowd thinking about this while they applauded like a bunch of double-chinned real estate agents at a 21st Century rally whenever folks like Heather Wilson proclaimed George W. Bush himself is winning the war on terror?

The White House and members of Congress like Rep. Wilson have hung the troops out to dry in Iraq and screwed the taxpayers here at home all at once. And that's putting it mildly. How much are we paying to Kellogg, Brown and Root to serve supplies to 35,000 troops—per day!—in an area lost to insurgents?

Fred Kaplan, the mostly informed and sensical Washington correspondent at Slate.com, made the point last week: "This is a terribly grim thing to say, but there might be no solution to the problem of Iraq." Perhaps Kaplan read a recent Associated Press dispatch that was practically ignored by the mainstream press, while the GOP Convention took center stage. Official U.S. military estimates concluded the insurgents' numbers have risen from 5,000 to 20,000 in the past year. “Despite the fact that over the past year American forces have killed or imprisoned several thousand Iraqis and so-called foreign fighters. ... enemy recruitment is easily outpacing our efforts to reduce his numbers,” explained Andrew J. Bacevich in an Aug. 30 article in American Conservative magazine, “Hour of the Generals.” Simply stated, the Bush administration's policy in Iraq is a disaster of immeasurable proportions.

Meanwhile, tonight, I'll watch the GOP convention spin more shameless baloney about securing America and supporting troops. These disdainful lies will get almost as much applause as the personal attacks launched against John Kerry—a guy who patrolled the Mekong delta when Dubya was eating a club sandwich at some Alabama country club, pretending to be in the Texas Air National Guard, which—these delegates all surely know—at any moment could have been attacked by Belize.

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