(A weekly compilation of news you may or may not have seen or read regarding America’s most
disastrous ridiculous war.)
President George Bush unwittingly embarrasses himself on the topic of Iraq most weeks, but this was a banner week. First, there was an unannounced Labor Day stop in the massive Marine base in Anbar Province known to Marines as Camp Cupcake, owing to its 13-mile perimeter, over 10,000 troops, and complete disconnect from the chaos that is the daily reality outside its well-guarded walls. While there, Bush hinted that he might reduce troop deployments by the end of the year — but on the same day, the AP was quoting unnamed administration officials as saying that his senior advisors have already told Bush that the
escalation surge is going swell and not to let up now. (Gen. David Petraeus is scheduled to testify before Congress on Tuesday — 9-11! Get it? — and his written report on the escalation surge is due by the end of the week.)
Then it was on to
Austria Australia, where, before meeting with OPEC APEC ministers, Bush blithely told Austrian Australian Deputy Prime Minister Mark Vaile that “we’re kickin’ ass” in Iraq. (My pet theory: Austrian Australian is not Bush’s native language, and in the awkwardness of trying to translate his remarks, he confused the subject and object. What he meant to say was “Our asses are getting kicked.” A totally understandable gaffe. The alternative, that the most powerful man in the world is living in a particularly destructive fantasy world, would be unthinkable.)
Bush was also embarrassed by a New York Times excerpt last weekend from a generally fawning new biography of him, in which the Commander-in-Chief expressed bewilderment that his administration disbanded Saddam’s army in the early days of the occupation, saying, essentially: “That wasn’t my policy. I don’t know how that happened.” The move is now widely regarded as an enormous mistake that put thousands of young Iraqi men with guns out of work and bitter toward the Americans about it — the nucleus of what became the insurgency. Thing is, Bush knew exactly what the policy was, because he ordered it — and Paul Bremer, then the US Viceroy to Iraq, promptly sent the Times the letters, memos, and documentation to prove it. Oops. (One more notch for the “fantasy world” theory.)
Petraeus’ report is expected to praise the military effort, but condemn Iraqi politicians for a lack of progress in reconciliation, signing over all Iraqi oil to American oil companies, and other “benchmarks” dear to US hearts and/or wallets. So, in its first week back after a month-long recess, what did the Iraqi Parliament do to scramble to impress the Americans with their determination to move ahead? They met for exactly 90 minutes, with only 154 of 275 members present — barely a quorum — and read into the record 10 minor noncontroversial bills, none having anything to do with American benchmarks or reconciliation. Most of their time was spent blaming each other for the country’s worsening violence (they don’t seem to share Bush or Petraeus’ view of the “success” of the
escalation surge) and complete lack of basic government services or security. It doesn’t look good. At some point American media needs to figure out that the Iraqi government is a fiction outside the Beltway and Green Zone, and barely relevant inside those places, either.
Speaking of barely relevant: Congressional Democrats, in the runup to the Petraeus report, announced that in their negotiations with Bush they were willing to settle for a “goal” rather than “timetable” for withdrawal of US troops from Iraq. (I know: Democrats, Iraq, “negotiations with Bush,” and “willing to settle,” all in the same sentence. Shocking, but true.) And Ret. Marine Gen. James Jones, who headed a special panel looking into the effort to train Iraqi security forces, testified before Congress that his panel found the Iraqi army at least two years away from being able to operate independently, and that Iraqi police forces were so corrupt and so infiltrated by insurgent militia members that they should be disbanded. Gen. Jones concluded that “We should withdraw.” His testimony was essentially ignored by both the administration and national media.
The Brits, on the other hand, did withdraw: the last British soldiers pulled out of Basra this week, leaving Southern Iraq nominally under the control of the Iraqi Army, more realistically under the control of three mutually warring fundamentalist Shiite militias, and almost certainly about to receive American troops trying to push the chaos from one neighborhood, village, and province to another.
One more note, while folks concerned with Iraq await a report that was probably written in Cheney’s office a month ago: the ACLU filed suit this week to try to obtain Pentagon estimates of Iraqi civilian deaths. After denying for years that the U.S. government tracked Iraqi civilian deaths at all (what’s another dead Iraqi?), the Pentagon finally confirmed earlier this year that it does, in fact, produce intelligence estimates of civilian casualties — but has refused to make them public, just as it has refused to make public the secret formula by which it is calculating, in defiance of every known metric, that overall violence is down in the country due to the
escalation surge. Perhaps this week they’ll let us in on the secret.