Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Patriotism Means Taking Responsibility

An editorial from the Salt Lake Tribune

Anyone who was worried that Monday's Pioneer Park anti-war protest would embarrass either the visiting Veterans of Foreign Wars or their special guest, President Bush, can relax. For all the president was able to see or hear of the contrarian event, the protest may as well have been on Mars.

The only worrisome aspect of the well-attended protest, which doubtless drew both more supporters and more ire once it became known that Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson was among its backers, was the suggestion heard here and there that there is something wrong with protesting a president, a war or a president's policy toward a war. There isn't. And, as long as this is the kind of nation that was worth the sacrifice of VFW members, there won't be. Patriotism does not mean blind loyalty to whoever happens to be in power at the moment. Support for the troops does not mean uncritical support for the mission they have been given. Not in a democracy. Patriotism means people taking their responsibility as citizens seriously, looking at the facts, searching their hearts and deciding what course their nation should follow. Those who thoughtfully support the president and his policies, and say so, are being no more or less patriotic than those who oppose him, and say so. Support for the troops means taking responsibility for what is happening to them by insisting that they receive the best leadership, the best equipment and weaponry, the best medical care and, perhaps, a rapid end to a war that, in many patriotic minds, was ill-conceived and now risks becoming a prolonged and fruitless death trap. The need for this true form of patriotism is not less important in time of war. It is more important. Because the actual bleeding and dying is being done by a small fraction of the population, and because the rest of us are not being asked to sacrifice in any way, too many of us may be lulled into a sense that the war doesn't matter to us. But a war fought in our name, paid for by our taxes (or, more precisely these days, our national debt), endangering the lives of our fellow citizens, if not our near and dear, is the very thing that should move Americans away from apathy and toward some level of involvement. Mayor Anderson was correct to speak out for the right as he sees it. Citizenship in a free society does not just allow it. It demands it.

War News for Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Bring ‘em on: One US Marine killed by homemade bomb near Karmah.

Bring ‘em on: Five bodyguards killed and six others injured in attack on the motorcade of Iraq’s undersecretary of the Justice Ministry near Khadra northwest of Baghdad. The undersecretary was uninjured.

Bring ‘em on: One US soldier and one US Marine killed by sniper fire in Ramadi.

Bring ‘em on: Two policemen, three civilians, one insurgent killed, 24 civilians and seven police wounded, two insurgents arrested as heavily armed rebels attacked police checkpoints in western Baghdad with RPGs and automatic weapons.

Bring ‘em on: Two US soldiers killed and two injured in IED explosion Monday southwest of Samarra.

Bring ‘em on: Two Iraqi insurgents killed in attack on Iraqi soldiers and US Marines in Hit.

Deployment: The U.S. defense secretary has announced plans to deploy two additional battalions to Iraq amid rising insurgent attacks ahead of referendum on constitution. He rejected concerns that rejection of the charter by Sunnis could leave U.S. forces caught in the middle of a civil war. Rumsfeld’s comments came on a day in which 15 people including four U.S. troops were killed. At least 12 people including one U.S. soldier were killed in a suicide attack in Baqouba. Nine U.S. troops were also injured in the attack. The U.S. military has announced death of three of its troops in separate incidents.

Condemnation: A government minister has openly lambasted U.S. occupation of the country, blaming it for the upsurge in violence and rampant corruption.

Salam al-Maliki, transport minister, said the presence of U.S.-led troops was as detrimental to the country’s well-being as the devastation resulting from terror attacks.

“Corruption, terror … and occupation are taking their daily toll on the life of Iraqi citizens,” Maliki said in an interview.

He said the worsening conditions in Iraq along with the hike in terror, insurgent attacks and violence “are a product of the occupation.”

Maliki is the first government minister who publicly condemns U.S. troops, saying that they shoulder the responsibility of the chaos in the country.

Prisoners: Since the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003, the military said it has arrested more than 40,000 people. The population today at the three U.S.-run prisons -- Bucca, Abu Ghraib and Camp Cropper near the Baghdad airport, where former President Saddam Hussein and his lieutenants are being held -- is 10,600, double the number of a year ago. The average incarceration at Bucca is a year. The military attributes the surge in detentions to an increase in combat operations and the inability of the nascent Iraqi justice system to handle the crushing caseload.

Many of the freed detainees express bewilderment at why they were held; even the U.S. commander who oversees Bucca, Col. Austin Schmidt, 55, of Fairfax, estimated that one in four prisoners "perhaps were just snagged in a dragnet-type operation" or were victims of personal vendettas.

"This is like Chicago in the '30s: You don't like somebody, you drop a dime on them," Schmidt said. "And by the time the Iraqi court system figures it out, they go home. But it takes a while."

Disappearances: Salima Hasan has been looking for her husband and son since the night two months ago when men wearing Iraqi National Guard uniforms came into her home and arrested them.

Hasan, an Arab, could find no record of the two men at either the police station or the criminal court. She doesn’t know who took away her husband and son, though has her suspicions it was the Kurdish security forces.

“The whole family kept weeping,” said Hasan. “We don’t know where they came from. We are having a hard time.”

Hasan is not alone in her beliefs. Dozens of Arab and Turkoman families here allege that Kurdish peshmerga and security forces under the authority of Kurdish political parties have been arresting and illegally detaining their relatives.

They say it is part of a wider Kurdish plan to wrest control of this ethnically diverse and increasingly tense city and make it part of the Kurdish region, rolling back Saddam Hussein’s policy of emptying Kirkuk of Kurds.

A job for the NRA!: Police in Mosul have given the city’s 1.7 million people until the end of the month to surrender their ‘heavy weapons.’

“We have information that heavy weapons are in the hands of civilians in the city,” Mosul’s police chief Ahmad Khalaf said.

He said security forces in the city have been target of repeated attacks by such weapons.

Khalaf did not specify what falls under the category of ‘heavy weapons.’

However, roadside bombs, rocket propelled grenades and heavy machine guns are the weapons of choice for insurgents in the city.

1787 Redux

Bad blueprint: Iraq's new constitution, supposedly the blueprint for a democratic future, was threatening to drag the country into civil war last night.

As Shia and Kurdish factions presented the document to the National Assembly, minutes before a midnight deadline, Sunni Muslims strongly opposed to its federal structure made accusations of "betrayal" and warned of a violent sectarian backlash. A vote on the draft was later delayed for three days in the hope that the sides could come to an agreement on its wording.

The draft constitution is the principal plank of President George Bush's exit strategy from the Iraq conflict, which has made his popularity collapse among American voters.

"Intense meetings": Iraqi leaders on Wednesday tried to persuade furious Sunni Arabs to sign the draft constitution, a day before the charter goes to parliament where conservative Shiites and secularist Kurds can ensure its victory.

President Jalal Talabani and other senior Iraqi leaders were locked in intense talks with the Sunni Arab negotiators after they expressed anger over the charter with some even calling it ”illegal”.

“Intense meetings are on with some Sunni leaders and negotiators to convince them to come on board and sign the draft,” a source close to negotiations said.

Approval unlikely: Iraq's leaders conceded yesterday that they were unlikely to win Sunni Arab approval for a new constitution by tomorrow's deadline.

The ruling coalition of Shias and Kurds said the disputed text could be pushed through parliament despite warnings from Sunnis that it was a charter for civil war.

The government ruled out major changes to a draft presented to parliament on Monday and said the restive Sunni minority had to accept that Iraq would become a federal state.

"The draft that was submitted is approximately the draft that will be implemented," said a spokesman for the prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari.

1900 dead Americans for this: Secular Iraqis said on Wednesday a proposed new constitution left no room for doubt about the Islamist path the country was heading down two years after a U.S.-led invasion was supposed to produce greater freedoms.

The document presented to parliament on Monday is suffused with the language of political Islam in defining the state, and assigns a primary role to Islam as a source for legislation.

"The draft aborts the democratic process Iraqis hoped for and is a big victory for political Islam," said writer Adel Abdel-Amir. "Islamic law, not the people, has become the source of authority."

The draft says Islam is the official religion of the state and there can be no law that contradicts the "fixed principles of its rulings." The preamble says the constitution responds to "the call of our religious and national leaders and the insistence of our great religious authorities."

Unsettling: Is Iraq moving, inch by inch, towards becoming an Islamic republic? it is a prospect that is as unsettling for many Iraqis as it is for George Bush in the White House.

Under Saddam Hussein, Iraq was a centralised and largely secular state.

Now, if the Shia religious parties get their way, it will be a decentralised state with a pronounced Islamic identity.

The draft of the new constitution describes Islam as "a main source" of legislation and stipulates that no law may contradict Islamic principles.

Rule by ayatollah: Some secular Iraqi leaders complained Tuesday that the country's nearly finished constitution lays the groundwork for the possible domination of the country by Shiite Islamic clerics, and that it contains specific provisions that could sharply curtail the rights of women.

The secular leaders said the draft, which was presented to the National Assembly on Monday, contains language that not only establishes the primacy of Islam as the country's official religion, but appears to grant judges wide latitude to strike down legislation that may contravene the faith. To interpret such legislation, the constitution calls for the appointment of experts in Shariah, or Islamic law, to preside on the Supreme Federal Court.

The draft constitution, these secular Iraqis say, clears the way for religious authorities to adjudicate personal disputes like divorce and inheritance matters by allowing the establishment of religious courts, raising fears that a popularly elected Islamist-minded government could enact legislation and appoint judges who could turn the country into a theocracy.

Anger and joy: A new draft constitution that would transform Iraq into a loose federal union sparked celebrations Tuesday in the streets of the Shiite south and an angry rally in the Sunni Arab heartland, where some chanted for the return of Saddam Hussein.

U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, called instrumental by all sides in prodding the constitution toward completion, defended it against complaints that it gave Islamic law too much power, particularly over women. Khalilzad said the draft was "right for Iraq at the present time."

Fragmentation: If the draft constitution becomes reality, the new Iraq would be a vastly different place: a multicultural, democratic oasis where torture victims can sue their oppressors, free speech is protected and women gain a big role in government.

But Iraq also would become a decentralized, even fragmented, land in a volatile region, where neighbors such as Iran could easily exploit such weakness.

Key parts of the draft - on the role of private militias, the control of oil money and even Islam's impact on women's rights - could sow the seeds of conflict or, as a worst case, civil war.

Such fears lie at the heart of complaints by Sunni Arabs, who angrily rejected the draft Monday night, prompting parliament to suspend a vote to give time for passions to cool.

Rejection: Iraq's Sunni Arabs stand staunchly against a new constitution, making it more likely the Shia- and Kurdish-backed document will have to be rammed through parliament over Sunni opposition later this week.

As part of a growing campaign against a charter they argue devolves too much power to the regions, Sunni leaders held strident news conferences in Baghdad while demonstrations went on elsewhere on Wednesday. "We reject federalism in the central and southern regions. We reject it because it has no basis other than sectarianism," Adnan al-Dulaimi, head of an umbrella group called the National Conference for the Sunni People of Iraq, told reporters. "Every Iraqi must stand in the way of all those who want to deepen sectarianism in Iraq."

Bush Administration Framing Techniques

Despicable: For one of the most obvious examples yet of how the White House is trying to frame the debate over the war in Iraq -- casting any opponent of the war as weak, cowardly and unpatriotic -- check out this response from spokesman Trent Duffy to a reporter's question in yesterday's abbreviated press gaggle:

"Q Is the White House concerned about the protests that are planned in Salt Lake City today?

"Mr. Duffy: The President addressed that directly. He can understand that people don't share his view that we must win the war on terror, and we cannot retreat and cut and run from terrorists, but he just has a different view."

Loathsome: Meeting briefly with reporters Monday aboard Air Force One, Trent Duffy, a White House spokesman subbing for Scott McClellan, said that President Bush believes that those who want the U.S. to begin to change course in Iraq do not want America to win the overall "war on terror." Duffy spoke on a day when a surprisingly large antiwar protest met the president during his stay in Salt Lake City, Utah, where he addressed a Veterans of Foreign Wars convention. Speaking to reporters, Duffy said that Bush "can understand that people don't share his view that we must win the war on terror, and we cannot retreat and cut and run from terrorists, but he just has a different view. He believes it would be a fundamental mistake right now for us to cut and run in the face of terrorism, because if we've learned anything, especially from the 9/11 Commission Report, it is that to continue to retreat after the Cole, after Beirut and Somalia is to only empower terrorists and to give them more recruiting tools as they try to identify ways to harm Americans.”


Mrs. Orlando’s feelings merit respect: Nearly 600 white wooden crosses in perfectly straight rows stretch down the narrow road leading to President Bush's ranch, a sea of names in the grassy ditch. Lt. Seth Dvorin. Sgt. David W. Johnson. Daniel Torres. Casey Sheehan. Hundreds of anti-war demonstrators have spent time at the memorial the past two weeks, pausing to wipe away tears or place an American flag by a cross as they walk slowly down the road. To some relatives of the fallen U.S. soldiers, however, it isn't a tribute to heroes but a political statement by liberal groups with whom they disagree. Sherry Orlando, a spokeswoman at Fort Campbell, Ky., said she doesn't want her husband, who was killed in Iraq in 2003, to be used "for someone's political agenda."

But I wonder what she thinks about this: Unlike earlier wars, nearly all Arlington National Cemetery gravestones for troops killed in Iraq or Afghanistan are inscribed with the slogan-like operation names the Pentagon selected to promote public support for the conflicts. Families of fallen soldiers and Marines are being told they have the option to have the government-furnished headstones engraved with "Operation Enduring Freedom" or "Operation Iraqi Freedom" at no extra charge, whether they are buried in Arlington or elsewhere. A mock-up shown to many families includes the operation names.

Nadia and Robert McCaffrey, whose son Patrick was killed in Iraq in June 2004, said "Operation Iraqi Freedom" ended up on his government-supplied headstone in Oceanside, Calif., without family approval. "I was a little taken aback," Robert McCaffrey said, describing his reaction when he first saw the operation name on Patrick's tombstone. "They certainly didn't ask my wife; they didn't ask me." He said Patrick's widow told him she had not been asked either. "In one way, I feel it's taking advantage to a small degree," McCaffrey said. "Patrick did not want to be there, that is a definite fact." The owner of the company that has been making gravestones for Arlington and other national cemeteries for nearly two decades is uncomfortable, too. "It just seems a little brazen that that's put on stones," said Jeff Martell, owner of Granite Industries of Vermont. "It seems like it might be connected to politics."


Unhealed wounds: Every time the wound begins to heal at Ray and Diane Maida's house, something comes along to rub salt into it.

First came news that their son, Mark Maida, a 22-year-old Army sergeant, was killed in Iraq by a roadside bomb on May 26. Then, a week after his death, the Army gave only hours' notice that the body would be arriving at Gen. Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee, forcing the grieving family into a frantic scramble to retrieve it for a funeral two days later.

Letters and packages to Mark from home arrived for a time almost daily, marked "Return to sender." Then a slow trickle of possessions arrived from Iraq and his unit's base at Fort Irwin, Calif. To top it off, despite repeated efforts, Army officials failed to provide details of Mark's death. More than two months later, the Maidas finally got the details of his death, not from the Army, but from the Washington Post.

"It's just been one wound after another," Diane said. "And just about the time you think you're on the upswing, then you get shut down again with another incident."

For the Maidas, pain from the loss of their son has been compounded by countless snafus. Ray said an Army official even admitted, unofficially, that the Army lacked a proper protocol for dealing with the families of dead soldiers.

It's part and parcel of what Ray sees as a pervading ineptitude in conducting the war and the military's inability to protect its troops.

"They can take a $1 million missile and put it up some Iraqi's ass and they can't tell me what time my son's coming in?" Ray fumed. "This is why my son's dead, this total incompetence."

A Resource

The Project on Defense Alternatives has just added one thousand full-text links to its public access Internet Library pages. These links lead to online documents, reports, and articles published in 2005 by more than 200 official and NGO sources. Our libraries include:

>> Terrorism, counter-terrorism, homeland security: http://www.comw.org/tct

>> Defense Strategy Review: http://www.comw.org/qdr

>> Chinese Military Power: http://www.comw.org/cmp

>> Revolution in Military Affairs: http://www.comw.org/rma

>> Occupation Distress: http://www.comw.org/od

>> War Report (Iraq & Afghanistan): http://www.comw.org/warreport

The sites also contain more than 4,000 document links from pervious updates. I hope you find them useful for research, reference, and teaching. If so, please share the URLs with others.

>> Also see: PDA publications index: http://www.comw.org/pda/pub-list.html

>> And: PDA Military, War, & Peace Bookmarks: http://www.comw.org/pda/milbkmrk.html

Sincerely, Carl Conetta Project on Defense Alternatives 186 Hampshire Street Cambridge MA 02139 USA

Many thanks to Mr. Conetta for sharing this valuable resource.

Made Me Laugh

The intellectual: So this summer, the President is reading Salt: A World History. That is, when he gets done with Alexander II: The Last Great Tsar. Or maybe he's first reading The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History. I'm not sure of the order, but I am surprised. Not even I, a bona fide Ph.D. nerd addicted to books with footnotes, read tomes like this on vacation. My 400-page summer books are by Lisa Scottoline.

So am I impressed? Well, not really. Apparently the media was not either; of major papers, only the L.A. Times covered the booklist as straight news. Makes you wonder if the mainstream outlets are catching on, finally, and that they saw the administration's attempt to portray Bush as an intellectual as what it was: a big lie, the deliberate seeding of misinformation.

It's not the first or only "big lie," of course, to come out of this administration. When you google "big lie" you get 500,000 results, and if you refine your search with "Bush" and "Iraq," you get 110,000 results. Nearly a quarter of recent discourse about the "big lie" concerns Bush's Iraq fiasco, and surely a few tens of thousands more also cover Bush administration lies about global warming, private Social Security accounts, the deficit, James "Jeff Gannon" Guckert, Valerie Plame, Terry Schiavo, Intelligent Design, and just about every other issue that has come before it. (And, yes, some of the discourse accuses liberals of using varieties of the "big lie" to attack Bush -- in particular labeling the truthful accusation that Bush has been deceptive as a "big lie" itself!)

"How many members of the Bush administration does it take to change a light bulb?


"1. One to deny that a light bulb needs to be changed;

"2. One to attack the patriotism of anyone who says the light bulb needs to be changed;

"3. One to blame Clinton for burning out the light bulb;

"4. One to tell the nations of the world that they are either for changing the light bulb or for eternal darkness;

"5. One to give a billion dollar no-bid contract to Halliburton for the new light bulb;

"6. One to arrange a photograph of Bush, dressed as a janitor, standing on a step ladder under the banner 'Bulb Accomplished';

"7. One administration insider to resign and in detail reveal how Bush was literally 'in the dark' the whole time;

"8. One to viciously smear No. 7;

"9. One surrogate to campaign on TV and at rallies on how George Bush has had a strong light-bulb-changing policy all along;

"10. And finally, one to confuse Americans about the difference between screwing a light bulb and screwing the country."

Fresh analysis from Gallup:

The latest quarterly average for Iraq shows that 50% say it was a mistake to send troops (the most recent single measure on this indicator, from an Aug. 5-7 Gallup Poll, shows 54% saying the war was a mistake).

In the comparable quarter for the Vietnam War (the third quarter of the war’s third year — that is, the third quarter of 1967), Gallup found 41% saying the conflict was a mistake. It was not until the third quarter of the fourth year of the Vietnam War (August-September 1968) that a majority of Americans said the war was a mistake. In short, it took longer for a majority of Americans to view the Vietnam War as a mistake than has been the case for Iraq.

A President less popular than Nixon and a war less popular than Vietnam. That’s quite a combo.


Interview with a former soldier: Q: Is there anything you would like to add that you feel is not being covered by the media?

A: First of all, when I was in Iraq, the news they showed, which probably won't come too much as a surprise -- they show FOX news. That's all the coverage the military in Iraq gets.

We hear from the President and we hear from people in the military how we're going to stay the course and we're making headway, and this is so important, and we're there for all these great reasons. But then you don't hear mainstream voices from veterans who have been there, and seen what it's like, who have come back and are against it...

Some policy expert gets a lot more credit just because they're better educated. The mainstream media doesn't seem interested in covering a veteran's perspective or an Iraqi's perspective.

You never hear from an average Iraqi about how they feel about it, and I think that's terrible. They're the ones whose county is being invaded. They're the ones who are having the most casualties. Something like 100,000 Iraqis have died in the war, yet you never hear from them. Like they're not even worthy to being talked to at all!

People in Washington talk about people in the military as if all they live for is the military and this country. And we can't even talk about an exit strategy because it'll make the troops over there feel like we don't support them ... They're normal people, just like anyone else. They have families. They're probably either going to college or have a career that they're working on. And they have just as many questions and doubts about what's going on in Iraq -- and especially if they're there, or their family members are there. They're just not over there to serve the interests of the U.S. They have a whole separate life besides the military.

They talk about us in abstract terms -- we're all these people who are serving our country. Most of the people who are over there, they're not thinking so much about, 'Well, I have to stay here so the Iraqi people can have a democratic society.' They're like, 'I have to do my job so that I stay alive, and the people around me also stay alive, and then we can go back home to our families.' That's why they're there -- to protect the real people they are close to.

Eyewitness account: When the shelling subsided, U.S. commanders ordered their marines to storm the city. They searched Haditha quarter by quarter, house by houses and arrested scores of young men and even women and prevented us from holding the afternoon Friday prayers.

In one bloody incident I saw the marines killing two unarmed inhabitants. One of them was in his bed in the Sheikh Hadid district, where Sumaidi was born. The second was killed as he strolled in his garden.

More residents began falling. In our area only the marines killed five people, all of them unarmed and had nothing to do with the insurgents.

For us, those killed by the U.S. are martyrs. The convoy of Iraqi martyrs is growing and innocent blood keeps flowing from the Iraqi artery the U.S. has torn.

Sumaidi, other senior Iraqi officials and the world have said nothing about the five innocent people U.S. troops killed in our neighborhood. The world knows about the victims and Sumaidi and his government know who the murderer is. But no one utters a world of protest.

Still there are many who would like us to stand behind the government and give the U.S. and its marines a chance.

We would have rallied behind Sumaidi and his government if they had stood up to denounce the U.S. occupation and U.S. military’s random and barbaric killing of innocent people.

What does the world expect from us? What does the government expect from us? Do they want us to thank the U.S. for sending its marines, Apache helicopters and F16s to destroy our houses, kill our children, detain our women and break our bones?

We have set our own standards on how to deal with them.

Opinion: Back in May when ABC News openly justified the media's refusal to cover the Iraq War, I thought it couldn't get worse. Then, a few months later, I saw that it could, as the Washington Post began trying to intimidate Democratic politicians and prevent them from standing up to voice opposition to the war. I figured that was rock bottom, but in recent days, we've seen that yes, the braindead insulated elitists in the Beltway media have found an even lower road to take than even this.

In the last 48 hours, we've seen the "objective" mainstream media now openly attacking people who oppose the Iraq War. Mind you, these aren't the editorialists or the opinion pundits, these are the people who are supposed to be telling the objective truth -- and instead they are literally attacking war critics.

Take MSNBC's Nora O'Donnell. In an interview with former FBI agent Coleen Rowley (now a candidate for Congress), O'Donnell claimed that Rowley "had decided to align [herself] with anti-war extremists" because Rowley visited Cindy Sheehan's supporters in Crawford. Or, take the Washington Post's Mike Allen. He said those who oppose the war are "PETA, hippies, Naderites" -- again, a blatant effort to paint those who oppose the war as fringe, even though polls show a majority of Americans oppose the war. These nauseating examples need to be put into a context. They follow the media's open pushing of the Iraq War before the invasion and refusal to question what they knew were pre-war lies. They also come as polls show Americans oppose the war, want an exit strategy, and believe the entire mess is endangering U.S. national security. And they come even as Iraq War veterans themselves say they understand that criticism of the war is not criticism of U.S. troops.

All of that should lead any honest person to conclude one thing: other than a few truth-telling reporters, the Beltway media -- spurred on by the elitist, bipartisan foreign policy establishment that doesn't want to admit it was wrong -- actually wants the war to continue, no matter how many American casualties mount, no matter what the ramifications for U.S. national security, no matter what the consequencs for our country over the long-term.

Opinion: Who died and left Cindy Sheehan in charge?

Not her son, Casey. When he was killed in Iraq, he left only a bereaved, bereft mother. We put her in charge — the press, the politicians, the people. We put her in charge not just of her own message and her mission, which is all she had asked for, but we cranked up her voice to equal volume with the man she's calling out: POTUS himself, George W. Bush. "We" are the TV bloviators who prefer talking-head chatter to the shoe-leather work of reporting; the only shoe leather some of them use on the job is walking from the limo to the makeup chair. "We" are the craven pols who let some mater dolorosa do their dirty work of challenging the Bush administration's war policy and deliver the message that something is wrong in Baghdad and Crawford and Washington. And "we" are all those Americans who like their information celebritized, who want news to be cast like a movie, with stock characters: the determined leader, the foreign villain, the "mom." We take a Cindy Sheehan, who has an honest argument to make for herself and people who may hear her and agree, and we punish her for speaking out by investing her with the mantle of omniscience. Buck Henry's line from "To Die For," the brilliant film satirizing television, is: "You're not anybody in America if you're not on TV." Sheehan's mauled image shows the nasty truth we also believe, that "if you're on TV, you must be somebody" — the alpha and omega of wisdom. It's why Tom Cruise, movie star, thought it was perfectly fine to show up on TV as Tom Cruise, mental health advisor to the nation. So Sheehan, who just knows that she's against the war because her boy died there and she doesn't want that to happen to anyone else, gets the celeb treatment, iconized into single-name fame a la Madonna. She's attacked when she tries to fit the enormous role we wrote for her and when she doesn't manage to pull it off. We either hang on her words or hang her for them. The grilling she gets — about foreign policy, about regional strategies — from the nattering nabobs of numbskullery on toxic TV turn her into a straw woman.

Comment: The rationale for the Iraq war has changed so many times that the real reason remains murky. The figures on numbers of Iraqis trained to fight (and someday replace U.S. troops) have jumped up and down like a yo-yo. The markers for when U.S. troops can draw down — when Iraqi democracy grows, when Iraqi forces mature, when we run out of reserve units — are vague. In essence, the president is asking the public to have faith and suspend disbelief. But when so many past rationales for the Iraq war have been junked, a faith-based approach to its future won't keep the American public on board. If a majority of Americans lose trust in Bush's handling of this war, the pressure will grow for a speedy U.S. exit. I don't think we can leave Iraq yet, lest Iraq become the terrorist base it wasn't before. Yet the polls indicate that Americans won't support a continued presence in Iraq unless they are given more facts about where we are headed. That is the nerve that Cindy Sheehan hit, this need for — and true believers' fear of — the facts. By the way, many of Sheehan's detractors accused me of hiding the fact that the president had already met Sheehan. That fact is irrelevant to the situation now. Sheehan met Bush a year ago, when she was part of a larger group and still in shock over her son's death. Iraq hadn't sunk to its current state, nor was the public yet so eager for honest answers about the war. "I was in shock after my son died," Bone says. "Now I am angry. "Tell us what it is going to take to win, Mr. Bush." The president has decided not to talk to Cindy Sheehan. But we all need an answer to the question posed by Sherry Bone.

Comment: President Bush's visit to Utah yesterday offered a great example of the White House's version of highly stylized Japanese Kabuki theater.

Although the speech Bush gave was largely an amalgam of previous addresses, White House reporters were urged to note the extraordinary significance of the president -- for the first time anyone can remember -- actually acknowledging the number of soldiers who have died in Iraq.

Yes, after months of painstakingly avoiding specific mention of the extent of American casualties in the war, Bush somewhat startlingly had this to say yesterday:

"We have lost 1,864 members of our Armed Forces in Operation Iraqi Freedom, and 223 in Operation Enduring Freedom. Each of these men and women left grieving families and loved ones back home. Each of these heroes left a legacy that will allow generations of their fellow Americans to enjoy the blessings of liberty. And each of these Americans have brought the hope of freedom to millions who have not known it."

Bush's tone was matter-of-fact. He didn't spend a lot of time expressing his sympathy for the dead or their families. His speech included no new plans to stem the loss. In fact, Bush went on to invoke the dead soldiers as reason to stay the course in Iraq -- a policy that will inevitably create many more of them:

"We owe them something. We will finish the task that they gave their lives for. We will honor their sacrifice by staying on the offensive against the terrorists, and building strong allies in Afghanistan and Iraq that will help us win and fight -- fight and win the war on terror."

Bush critics have never suggested that the president was literally not aware of the number of dead -- after all, it's in the paper every morning.

But in this era of meticulous, artful and deliberate crafting of each and every presidential pronouncement, the unprecedented insertion of hard numbers obviously was meant to signify something.

And indeed, after the speech, White House officials spun it as hugely significant evidence that -- in spite of his refusal to meet with grieving mother Cindy Sheehan -- the president is sensitive to the sacrifices imposed by his policies.

Comment: Confronting increasing protests against the war, with an opposition campaign coalescing around the mother of a dead soldier, Cindy Sheehan, the president offered his own, rare personal accounting of the war's casualties before an audience well acquainted with sacrifice. "We have lost 1,864 members of our armed forces in Operation Iraqi Freedom, and 223 in Operation Enduring Freedom," Bush told the veterans. "Each of these men and women left grieving families and loved ones back home." As he has during critical junctures of the war in Iraq, the president this week and next week will surround himself with members of the military and war veterans most likely to support what Bush has framed as "the war on terror." And once again, a wartime president facing declining public support for the war is invoking "the lessons of Sept. 11."

Opinion: It took President Bush a long time to break his summer vacation and acknowledge the pain that the families of fallen soldiers are feeling as the death toll in Iraq continues to climb. When he did, in a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Utah this week, he said exactly the wrong thing. In an address that repeatedly invoked Sept. 11 - the day that terrorists who had no discernable connection whatsoever to Iraq attacked targets on American soil - Mr. Bush offered a new reason for staying the course: to keep faith with the men and women who have already died in the war.

"We owe them something," Mr. Bush said. "We will finish the task that they gave their lives for." It was, as the mother of one fallen National Guardsman said, an argument that "makes no sense." No one wants young men and women to die just because others have already made the ultimate sacrifice. The families of the dead do not want that, any more than they want to see more soldiers die because politicians cannot bear to admit that they sent American forces to war by mistake.

Opinion: For political reasons, the president has a history of silence on America's war dead. But he finally mentioned them on Monday because it became politically useful to use them as a rationale for war - now that all the other rationales have gone up in smoke.

"We owe them something," he told veterans in Salt Lake City (even though his administration tried to shortchange the veterans agency by $1.5 billion). "We will finish the task that they gave their lives for."

What twisted logic: with no W.M.D., no link to 9/11 and no democracy, now we have to keep killing people and have our kids killed because so many of our kids have been killed already? Talk about a vicious circle: the killing keeps justifying itself.

Opinion: History will deal with George W. Bush and the neoconservatives who misled a mighty nation into a flawed war that is draining the finest military in the world, diverting Guard and reserve forces that should be on the front line of homeland defense, shredding international alliances that prevailed in two world wars and the Cold War, accumulating staggering deficits, misdirecting revenue from education to rebuilding Iraqi buildings we've blown up, and weakening America's national security.

But what will history say about an opposition party that stands silent while all this goes on? My generation of Democrats jumped on the hot stove of Vietnam and now, with its members in positions of responsibility, it is afraid of jumping on any political stove. In their leaders, the American people look for strength, determination and self-confidence, but they also look for courage, wisdom, judgment and, in times of moral crisis, the willingness to say: "I was wrong."

To stay silent during such a crisis, and particularly to harbor the thought that the administration's misfortune is the Democrats' fortune, is cowardly. In 2008 I want a leader who is willing now to say: "I made a mistake, and for my mistake I am going to Iraq and accompanying the next planeload of flag-draped coffins back to Dover Air Force Base. And I am going to ask forgiveness for my mistake from every parent who will talk to me."

Comment: The focus on Sheehan's personal loss is indeed problematic. Bereavement, in and of itself, confers neither knowledge nor insight - only a particular sensibility that might lead to both and a compelling personal narrative through which to articulate them. To define her as a mournful mother, while ignoring that she is a politically conscious, media-savvy campaigner, which she has been for quite some time, does neither her nor her cause any favours.

Indeed, those who focus on Sheehan's woes, whether they support or attack her, miss the point entirely. Had she come to Crawford at Easter, she would most likely have gone unnoticed. The reason she has struck a chord is not because of the sorrow that is personal to her but because of the frustration she shares with the rest of the country over Iraq. That is also why the right have attacked her so ferociously and so personally.

But unlike the Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry in his swift boat, Sheehan will not be blown off course quite so easily. The public mood in America is shifting consistently and decisively against the war and Bush's handling of it. Gallup has commissioned eight polls asking whether it was worth going to war since the beginning of the year: every time at least half have said no. For the first time, most people believe the invasion of Iraq has made the US more vulnerable to further attacks. The number of those who want all the troops withdrawn remains a minority at 33% - but that is double what it was two years ago, and still growing.

The reason Sheehan has become such a lightning rod is because that mood has found only inadequate and inconsistent expression in Congress. It has been left to her to articulate an escalating political demand that is in desperate need of political representation. This marks not only a profound dislocation between the political class and political culture but a short circuit in the democratic process. The mainstream has effectively been marginalised.

Editorial: President Bush’s sunny declaration on Monday that Baghdad's leaders were "defying the terrorists and pessimists by completing work on a democratic constitution" was unfortunate not only for its timing but for its willfulness. Just hours after Bush's speech, Iraqi leaders announced (again) that they were unable to agree on a draft constitution. Just as disturbing, however, is the continuing disconnect between the president's perspective and Iraq's reality. In his speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Bush again conflated Al Qaeda and Iraq, neglecting to note that Al Qaeda put down roots in Iraq only after the invasion or that Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with 9/11 or Osama bin Laden. His description of Iraq's constitutional negotiations — "a difficult process that involves debate and compromise" — understates the depth of animosity in Iraq. On Monday, representatives submitted an incomplete draft to the National Assembly because of continued disagreement on basic issues such as the strength of a central government and the role of Islam.

The United States has 138,000 troops in Iraq; Bush said Monday that they'd come home when Iraqis "can defend their freedom" by taking more of the fight to the enemy. But he was silent on when that might be.

Opinion: Now Feingold has become the first senator to put a specific date next to his call for a road map designed to complete the undefined US mission in Iraq. That is an oversimplification. Feingold is a notoriously precise speaker, and it's worth letting him make his own case.

A great many conflicting signals have been coming out of the military and the Bush administration about the war in recent weeks -- specifically the duration of our involvement and the size of our deployment over time.

In what he acknowledged was an effort to ''jump start" a national discussion, Feingold proposed setting a specific goal for bringing US forces home. His suggested date: the end of next year. Equally important is his call for a detailed road map to that moment. Feingold emphasizes that his suggested date should not be put in concrete, that there could be factors or events that make it sooner or even a bit later.

This is the kind of discussion that Bush has avoided. But it is now going on all around him -- among some of our allies, within the military, and at the catalytic encampment of critics near his Texas ranch that has hit a nerve with a frustrated public.

Opinion: One of the oddest features of our strange, strange war in Iraq is that we're still trying to figure out the mission. Oil? Religious zealotry? Revenge? Glory? What?

Some critics say President Bush has failed to define just what it is we're trying to do there, but he and his handlers have defined it over and over. The trouble is, just about everyone understands by now that they've been lying all along. So media questioners twist themselves into pretzels trying to figure out some polite way of asking them to tell the truth, just once.

Each time Bush and the other members of his political rat pack alter their talking points they immediately spread the word to all those in the administration allowed to speak. And one element of the new instructions is to excise the latest excuse that's been exposed as bogus. Instead of admitting they were mistaken or not telling the truth, they just make the old excuse inoperable. We're supposed to erase it from our memory banks the same way they erase it from their latest explanation. Among reasons no longer operable are the specter of mushroom clouds, smallpox and nerve gas, plus the fact that Saddam Hussein gassed his own people (during the reign of Bush One). The al-Qaida-connections excuse receded for awhile, but it's back on the list because these days some of the people attacking our troops are in fact al-Qaida-connected. What's not mentioned is that they joined the cause only after we invaded Iraq, leaving a long trail of dead, disabled, homeless, unemployed residents who were supposed to thank us.

Casualty Reports

Local story: White Bear Lake, MN, soldier killed in truck rollover in Mosul.

Local story: Martinsville, MD, soldier killed in roadside explosion near Samarra.

Local story: Rosedale, MD, soldier killed in ambush west of Baghdad.

Local story: Long Island, NY, soldier killed in Mosul.

Local story: Two East Tennessee soldiers killed and two wounded in Iraq.

Local story: Sacramento, CA, soldier killed when a roadside bomb hit his military vehicle near Samarra.


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