With rose-tinted glasses surgically attached to his skull, President George Bush made a surprise photo-op … err, visit to Iraq last weekend. In a subsequent trip to Australia to bolster support for erstwhile-supported Prime Minsiter John Howard, Bush dropped a pearl of wisdom on Deputy Prime Minister Mark Vaile.
How are we doing in Iraq? “We’re kicking ass!”
And why shouldn’t Bush feel jocular these days? He has General Petraeus to hide behind, lending a shred of plausibility to the idea that we are doing anything other than failing in Iraq.
But Bush should be given some deference these days. After all, the Petraeus report is upon us, as the general testified before the Congress on Monday. So let us examine Petraeus’ big claims.
The most important claim, the one most trotted out as proof of the surge’s success, is that “sectarian” deaths are down 55 percent. And while this statistic sounds nice, it begs the question, what counts as a sectarian death?
Not even the government can agree on the definition of this supposed justification. Analysts of the National Intelligence Estimate have puzzled over how the Pentagon distinguished between combat, sectarian or criminal deaths. An anonymous military spokesman told the Washington Post that there was no significant tracking of Sunni-on-Sunni or Shiite-on-Shiite violence.
Most damning, a senior intelligence official cited in the Post made a stunning distinction. “If a bullet went through the back of the head, it’s sectarian,” the official said. “If it went through the front, it’s criminal.” That’s hardly a distinction on which to justify a war. Then again, that’s never been a priority anyway.
In fact, according to the Iraqi government, civilian casualties across Iraq have risen by 20 percent since July. While deaths fell in the Baghdad area, the country at large is still a pit of violence and, despite claims of the administration, hardly an ideal environment for reconciliation.
Among all of the negative signs coming from reality, there is a concrete number indicating the failure of the surge strategy. A joint survey by the BBC, ABC and Japanese NHK found that Iraqi citizens have deepening dissatisfaction about their security situation.
Seventy-six percent of Iraqis said local security either stayed the same or deteriorated since the start of the surge. A full 60 percent of people feel that national security has worsened. Hardly the success the American taxpayers were promised.
Even in the city of Baghdad, where attacks have seemingly decreased, quality of life is falling. The city ranked last in a survey this year of the world’s cities, sorted according to resident quality of life. And a survey by McClatchy Newspapers illustrates why.
Sunnis in Baghdad live in blast-wall-enclosed ghettos to deter attacks. Shiite militias still aim to purify mixed Shiite-Sunni neighborhoods.
Electricity is still elusive across the country, falling below Saddam-era levels; OxFam reports that only 30 percent of Iraqis have access to clean water, down from 50 in 2003.
All these factors of a deteriorating society make the words of former terrorism czar Richard A. Clarke more prescient when he said, “[Security is] not the issue. The issue is why the hell are we there in the first place? “
Ever since last winter, when the surge was initiated, Bush has told critics to quiet down and wait until September to talk about the war. Indeed, in Bush-land the only thing that matters is the perpetuation of this war, with the vague hope that we can achieve an ill-defined success at some point in the future.
As Bush himself has stated, his goal with all of his Iraq posturing in the last few weeks has had one political goal to guide it. As Bush said in Robert Draper’s book “Dead Certain,” the objective is, “To get us in a position where the presidential candidates will be comfortable about sustaining a presence.”
For Bush, the only thing that matters with regard to Iraq is proving himself right. He is playing a game with the lives of our troops and our tax dollars. Like an angered child, he refuses to accede to anything other than his own demands. Let reality be damned, Bush is going to keep this country at war because we haven’t achieved his illusory dream of victory.
Hopefully for the sake of our Republic, none of the presidential candidates will become “comfortable” with the idea of continued war.
One would hope that our leaders would be in pain over the decision to send Americans to die in foreign lands. Yet Bush believes that our continued failings in the sands of the Middle East are proof of “kicking ass.” Maybe our next president will have a stronger respect for reality.
Tom Nardi is a senior political science major from Philadelphia, Pa. He can be reached at [email protected]