Can an Iraqi Vote Absentee?

While we’re all congratulating ourselves on the relatively smooth provincial elections that took place in Iraq on Saturday, let’s keep in mind a few important details:

  • About 1 Million Iraqis Killed
  • 4.5 Million Displaced
  • 1-2 Million Widows
  • 5 Million Orphans
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From the New York Times:

According to data compiled by Andrew Tyndall, a television consultant who monitors the three network evening newscasts, coverage of Iraq has been “massively scaled back this year.” Almost halfway into 2008, the three newscasts have shown 181 weekday minutes of Iraq coverage, compared with 1,157 minutes for all of 2007. The “CBS Evening News” has devoted the fewest minutes to Iraq, 51, versus 55 minutes on ABC’s “World News” and 74 minutes on “NBC Nightly News.” (The average evening newscast is 22 minutes long.)

CBS News no longer stations a single full-time correspondent in Iraq, where some 150,000 United States troops are deployed.

Tell me how again how wearing a flag lapel pin will makes our soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq feel less forgotten? Tell me again how it’s unpatriotic for The News Hour with Jim Lehrer or Nightline to silently scroll through, or read aloud. the name of dead servicemen and women? Tell me again the reason why the Department of Defense refuses to release pictures of the flag-draped coffins of our servicemen and women?

We feel sick too.

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The Neverending Story

Tonight I attended one of the final installments of Vanderbilt’s Iraq War Series, a screening of No End in Sight. This caps off an intense week of politically-themed viewing. Fortunately, I squeezed in a few episodes of the British version of Creature Comforts, so I’m not just completely depressed.

No End in Sight was a very different animal from Bush’s War. There was some overlapping footage. Both were bleak. But No End in Sight focused on how some very bad decision-making in the early days of the war led to an occupation that has been much more difficult than it might’ve been. The cast of characters was slightly different, too, as this documentary focused much more on the people who actually have been involved in the occupation and reconstruction efforts.

Considering the news out of the Green Zone this week and the abundance of films that have come out of Iraq in the past five years, I think it’s still a difficult argument to make that anything construed as negative ignores everything that’s positive. There have been positive developments in Iraq, and I’m optimistic that we won’t be there for John McCain’s 100 years. But I’m also optimistic that another generation has lost its stomach for war, which we should all come to view as much less necessary than Dick Cheney, with his One Percent Doctrine. But my optimism doesn’t mean there’s an end in sight. And the movie didn’t seem to share my optimism.

You can catch the final installment of the Iraq War Series on Sunday night at 7:00 p.m. at Sarratt, where they’ll be screening In the Valley of Elah.

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Fred Kaplan, writing in Slate, incisively addresses a fundamental question I ask repeatedly: What the hell does “victory” constitute in Iraq? He discovers that the goalposts have moved repeatedly throughout the war. Most frustratingly, he concludes that in their current position, the goalposts are so far down the field as to make winning essentially impossible.

Republican hawks, like the neoconservative establishment that swarms like vultures in the upper echelons of the Bush administration, probably are drooling at McCain’s hints at 100 years of occupation and permanent military bases. There is a strain of foreign policy enthusiasts that equates our military with our democracy overseas. This idea should concern all Americans.

But Bush’s war should especially concern Democrats. Frustrated anti-war types who think we’re not withdrawing quickly enough should get ready for an infinite Indian summer. Obama’s “judgment” about going into Iraq might have been courageous and sound, but his track record in the Senate reveals just how unstable the ground in “on the ground” really is. And though Clinton reassures us that, as president, she never would’ve taken us into Iraq, she did, in fact, with her vote, do just that. And she, too, with subsequent votes, has had difficulty backing away from the fire that her 9/11 patriotic pyromania caused her to help spark.

Because the Bush administration has been so undefining, so abstract, about its vision for what it is on the ground that would allow us to consider reducing and ultimately removing our military presence from Iraq, Democrats and paleoconservative Republicans are going to find the hawkish mouthpieces in as much of an uproar as the conservative judicial establishment was when Bush nominated Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court. These are the same people who cry out in patriotic pain when our military spending doesn’t increase fast enough to overtake our WWII levels and pushes us to outspending every other country in the world on defense combined.

Ultimately, I think Obama’s vision of engaging the world and returning to non-cowboy diplomacy with a rich diplomatic establishment could be the most refreshing restart of the 21st century for America. Using the State Department rather than the Department of Defense for strengthening democracies around the world would return us to a position of advocating our values without doing it at gunpoint. And while he does this, he’s actually going to go after terrorists, which would be a nice change of pace. Remember Osama bin Laden?

But even Obama is going to have to stare down the post-Cheney neoconservative bullies with tremendous courage. The Rush Limbaughs and Bill Kristols and Sean Hannitys of the world have tasted blood, and like sharks, they love it and are ready to frenzy. For these men, violence and aggression are so much the means that one is left to wonder whether they are also the end.

For those who, like me, would prefer to dismantle the military industrial complex (without sacrificing our national security) to honor Eisenhower, I present a short listing of resources worth a look as we pursue alternative pathways to peace:

Unfortunately, the anti-war movement always seems to draw from anti-establishment crowds (ANSWER, anyone?) that have no interest in ever engaging with mainstream Americans. If you know of any other credible organizations that specifically advocate forcefully for a reduction in our defense spending, please let me know.

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Bush’s War

I just finished watching the second installment of Frontline’s two-part series Bush’s War. It was a captivating look inside the personalities of the main players who mapped the path to war and then orchestrated the way it has taken place. Curiously, there was very little discussion of the cost of war, to America, to Iraq, or to any members of the coalition of the willing. But what was revealed was a nearly paranoid amount of in-fighting and a paranoia-inducing revelation of just how much power is wielded by the Cheney-led cabal surrounding Bush. Another point of curiosity: Bush himself was not even really a lead actor.

One striking thing was the number of players who participated in the series. Colin Powell, L. Paul Bremer, John Yoo all played themselves. Any number of supporting members of the CIA and various branches of the military and federal government were involved. It was extraordinarily thoroughly sourced, with primary sources and carefully selected media footage galore. Considering the principals involved, it can hardly be described as a leftist smear job.

In some ways, the series might just as easily have been called “Bush’s Legacy.” I mean, honestly, when all is said and done, what else will there be? I count the Iraq war as the most significant piece of the Bush legacy by a long shot, and it has, in some ways, subsumed Afghanistan. After that, Justices Roberts and Alito, certainly. And after that, what? No Child Left Behind? The Ownership Society was never realized in a way that will live up to the New Deal, the Great Society, or other such presidential domestic agendas. The Department of Homeland Security, while a major overhaul of federal bureaucracy, under Bush has generated a string of failures. His immigration policy has been left in tatters. His goal of simplifying the tax code has gone nowhere. His attempt to reform Social Security was an abject failure. I guess there’s a prescription drug benefit, but it’s got so many strings attached that it’s not likely to be a lasting piece of our federal healthcare system in its current form.

The Frontline piece accurately depicts Bush’s war, and I hope it gives future administrations greater pause before rushing to war for any purpose whatsoever. This is Bush’s war, but, as the conclusion of the series notes, it will soon be passed on to someone new. Bush’s legacy, on the other hand, is his alone. But, hey, at least he isn’t embroiled in any sex scandals!

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John McStake

The last thing my friend who is supporting John McCain yelled to me on Sunday afternoon as I hopped into the car and headed for the airport was, “Did you hear he’s in Iraq?” The twinkle in his eye emphasized the implication in his words – John McCain has the foreign policy experience to be president and he’s not afraid to show it.

I can’t help but wonder what my friend thinks now after hearing of McCain’s monumental foreign policy blunder.

Speaking to reporters in Amman, the Jordanian capital, McCain said he and two Senate colleagues traveling with him continue to be concerned about Iranian operatives “taking al-Qaeda into Iran, training them and sending them back.”

Pressed to elaborate, McCain said it was “common knowledge and has been reported in the media that al-Qaeda is going back into Iran and receiving training and are coming back into Iraq from Iran, that’s well known. And it’s unfortunate.” A few moments later, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, standing just behind McCain, stepped forward and whispered in the presidential candidate’s ear. McCain then said: “I’m sorry, the Iranians are training extremists, not al-Qaeda.”

Iran is ruled by Shites and Al Qaeda is a Sunni Muslim extremist group. Shites and Sunnis don’t like each other very much. Haven’t for years.

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