Since returning, it feels like I'm listening to the same record I've been listening to for a year, only with the volume turned up. Donald Rumsfeld, the American Secretary of Defense, says U.S. is winning the war and that the media are focusing too much on bad news. I know this because the press releases from the American Forces Information Network tell me so:
Progress in Iraq Takes Back Seat to Violence in Media, Rumsfeld Says
By Petty Officer 3rd Class John R. Guardiano, USN
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, June 26, 2005 – The “solid progress” being made in Iraq seldom gets the same level of media attention as terrorist killings and beheadings there, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said today...
...The secretary said the American people can be optimistic about a good outcome in Iraq, but the optimism must be tempered with an understanding of reality. “We have to recognize that it's a tough, tough, tough world, and there are going to be bumps in the road between now and then,” he said.
“Bumps in the road”? Just earlier today, presumably before the Iraqi journalist was killed, an Iraqi member of parliament was killed in a car bomb attack. I can't even begin to tell you how many Iraqis have been killed in the weeks I was away. And how many more Iraqis, journalists or otherwise, will die because the Americans can't tell who's friend or foe? Those aren't “bumps in the road.” Those are signs that you went off the road without a map a long time ago.
Where do you even begin combatting the head-in-the-sandism, brazen propaganda and revisionism of the above release. (By the way, it's about the fourth or fifth one I've received in the last few days touting the same theme, apparently in concert with President Bush's push to let Americans know that everything is going hunky-dory.)
News flash: Iraq is a disaster. I've been back one day, and the airport road was the worst I've ever seen it. We had to go around a fire-fight between mujahideen and Americans while Iraqi forces sat in the shade of date palms on the side of the road, their rifles resting across their laps. My driver pointed to a group of men in a white pickup next to me. “They are mujahideen,” he said. “They are watching the Americans.” Indeed, they were, and so intently that they paid no attention to me in the car next to them. We detoured around two possible car bombs that had been cordoned off while Iraqis cautiously approached.
Rumsfeld's assessment of “good progress” on the constitution is not accurate, as the committee to draw it up still hasn't completely agreed on how the Sunnis will take part.
When I was in Ramadi, I found the morale to be lower than expected. It wasn't rock-bottom among the Marines of the 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, but it wasn't great. Most of the ones I talked to weren't confident they were doing anything worthwhile, and were instead focused on getting home alive. If a few Iraqis had to die to make that happen, well, war is hell.
I'm not sure who's winning this war, the Americans or the insurgents. But I know who is losing it: the Iraqi people. Those bumps in the road are their graves.
I had to read that story about the airport road a few times to make sure it was as awful and bizarre as it reads...and it is.