Friday, January 18, 2008

What They Call "Progress" in Iraq

By Joe Conason

Wednesday 16 January 2008

As America marks the first anniversary of the troop escalation in Iraq, at least one thing has become clear. Although the "surge" is failing as policy, it seems to be succeeding as propaganda. Even as George W. Bush continues to bump and scrape along the bottom of public approval, significantly more people now believe we are "winning" the war.

What winning really means and whether that vague impression can be sustained are questions that the war's proponents would prefer not to answer for the moment. Their objective during this election year is simply to reduce public pressure for withdrawal, which is still the choice of an overwhelming majority of voters.

So long as the surge appears to be working, political space is created for the Republican candidates who support the war—especially Sen. John McCain, the hawk's hawk, who said recently that he might keep U.S. soldiers in Iraq for "a hundred years." Although that remark was not well received in the Arab world, Arabs may take comfort in the fact that no matter how determined the Arizona senator is to fulfill that threat, he is unlikely to do so since he is already over 70 years old.

But the revival of McCain's moribund candidacy over the past few weeks would have been impossible without the media's endorsement of "progress" in Iraq. Indeed, war propaganda itself has surged lately on the strength of casualty statistics from December 2007.

Consider the work of William Kristol, who played an important role in selling the war as editor of The Weekly Standard and on the Fox News Channel. From his new perch on The New York Times Op-Ed page—proof that being hideously wrong is no obstacle to scaling the heights of American punditry—he proclaims that "we have been able to turn around the situation in Iraq" and achieve "real success."

According to Kristol, who once mocked concerns about religious strife in Iraq as "pop sociology," the drop in violence last month marked the lowest overall number of deaths for both civilians and military forces since the war began in March 2003. Declining casualties for a month or two means progress, which, in turn, means that the war must continue, and that the president's policy is correct.

What has fallen far more sharply than the casualty statistics in Iraq is the standard for success there, as defined by neoconservatives like Mr. Kristol. In the original promotional literature produced by these individuals and their associates, and recited by the president, this war was supposed to remake the Middle East into a showcase for democracy, with ruinous consequences for our terrorist enemies and cheaper oil for us—and all for free because the Iraqi petroleum industry would cover all the costs.

When that happy future never arrived, to put it mildly, the war's proponents scrambled to reduce expectations. So in announcing the surge, the president set forth a series of benchmarks for progress in Iraq that was supposed to result from our increased troop presence. The objective was not a temporary reduction of sectarian killing, but real movement toward reconciliation of the contending factions, including the passage of laws on sharing oil revenues and political power among the Sunni, Shia, Kurds and other ethnic communities. President Bush declared the escalation would create space for the Iraqis to act on behalf of their own country.

Even those minimized objectives have yet to be met. The oil-sharing statute is stalled in the Iraqi parliament, while Kurdish regional authorities make their own separate deals with foreign oil companies. The Sunni militia organizations that we have armed to fight al-Qaida have been rejected by the Shiite central government. The statute passed by the Iraqi parliament last week to reduce sanctions against former members of the Baath Party, a statute that was supposed to mollify the Sunni leaders, appears only to have alienated them further because they consider it fraudulent.

Worst of all, despite the undoubted courage and commitment of our troops, violence in Iraq has increased since the new year began. Killings of civilians by car bombs and snipers averaged more than 50 per day during the first two weeks of January, and U.S. military deaths are averaging slightly more than one per day, or nearly 50 percent higher than last month.

At that level, if American troops stayed for 10 more years, let alone a century, as Sen. McCain suggests, our casualties would double. What would winning mean then?

Joe Conason writes for the New York Observer.


grabmyattention said...

I don't understand. What part of the war is IVAW against, exactly?

JD said...

Very simply:

Here are 10 reasons we oppose this war:

1. The Iraq war is based on lies and deception.
The Bush Administration planned for an attack against Iraq before September 11th, 2001. They used the false pretense of an imminent nuclear, chemical and biological weapons threat to deceive Congress into rationalizing this unnecessary conflict. They hide our casualties of war by banning the filming of our fallen's caskets when they arrive home, and when they refuse to allow the media into Walter Reed Hospital and other Veterans Administration facilities which are overflowing with maimed and traumatized veterans.
For further reading:

2. The Iraq war violates international law.
The United States assaulted and occupied Iraq without the consent of the UN Security Council. In doing so they violated the same body of laws they accused Iraq of breaching.
For further reading:

3. Corporate profiteering is driving the war in Iraq.
From privately contracted soldiers and linguists to no-bid reconstruction contracts and multinational oil negotiations, those who benefit the most in this conflict are those who suffer the least. The United States has chosen a path that directly contradicts President Eisenhower's farewell warning regarding the military industrial complex. As long as those in power are not held accountable, they will continue...
For further reading:

4. Overwhelming civilian casualties are a daily occurrence in Iraq.
Despite attempts in training and technological sophistication, large-scale civilian death is both a direct and indirect result of United States aggression in Iraq. Even the most conservative estimates of Iraqi civilian deaths number over 100,000. Currently over 100 civilians die every day in Baghdad alone.For further reading:,2763,1338749,00.html

5. Soldiers have the right to refuse illegal war.
All in service to this country swear an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, both foreign and domestic. However, they are prosecuted if they object to serve in a war they see as illegal under our Constitution. As such, our brothers and sisters are paying the price for political incompetence, forced to fight in a war instead of having been sufficiently trained to carry out the task of nation-building.
For further reading:

6. Service members are facing serious health consequences due to our Government's negligence.
Many of our troops have already been deployed to Iraq for two, three, and even four tours of duty averaging eleven months each. Combat stress, exhaustion, and bearing witness to the horrors of war contribute to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a serious set of symptoms that can lead to depression, illness, violent behavior, and even suicide. Additionally, depleted uranium, Lariam, insufficient body armor and infectious diseases are just a few of the health risks which accompany an immorally planned and incompetently executed war. Finally, upon a soldier's release, the Veterans Administration is far too under-funded to fully deal with the magnitude of veterans in need.
For further reading:

7. The war in Iraq is tearing our families apart.
The use of stop-loss on active duty troops and the unnecessarily lengthy and repeat active tours by Guard and Reserve troops place enough strain on our military families, even without being forced to sacrifice their loved ones for this ongoing political experiment in the Middle East.
For further reading:,13319,FL_loss_092704,00.html

8. The Iraq war is robbing us of funding sorely needed here at home.
$5.8 billion per month is spent on a war which could have aided the victims of Hurricane Katrina, gone to impoverished schools, the construction of hospitals and health care systems, tax cut initiatives, and a host of domestic programs that have all been gutted in the wake of the war in Iraq.
For further reading:

9. The war dehumanizes Iraqis and denies them their right to self-determination.
Iraqis are subjected to humiliating and violent checkpoints, searches and home raids on a daily basis. The current Iraqi government is in place solely because of the U.S. military occupation. The Iraqi government doesn’t have the popular support of the Iraqi people, nor does it have power or authority. For many Iraqis the current government is seen as a puppet regime for the U.S. occupation. It is undemocratic and in violation of Iraq’s own right to self-governance.
For further reading:
10. Our military is being exhausted by repeated deployments, involuntary extensions, and activations of the Reserve and National Guard.
The majority of troops in Iraq right now are there for at least their second tour. Deployments to Iraq are becoming longer and many of our service members are facing involuntary extensions and recalls to active duty. Longstanding policies to limit the duration and frequency of deployments for our part-time National Guard troops are now being overturned to allow for repeated, back-to-back tours in Iraq. These repeated, extended combat tours are taking a huge toll on our troops, their families, and their communities.