Originally Published by Knight Ridder
WASHINGTON: The war in Iraq, now entering its 30th month, seemingly brings a new atrocity or source of shame every day. The American death toll is approaching 2,000, with August on track to be one of the war's deadliest months.
And let's not forget the wounded, the victims of post-traumatic stress syndrome and the tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians senselessly killed so that their nation could be 'liberated'.
Throughout this year, I have been calling for the president to bring our troops home to their families as soon as realistically possible. I have repeatedly requested hearings on Iraq troop withdrawal.
But having received no satisfactory answer, I decided to take matters into my own hands. On September 15, I am convening a hearing (modelled on the one organised by Rep John Conyers about the Downing Street Memos), where we'll hear from academics, military personnel and other experts about strategies to achieve military disengagement while still playing a constructive role in the rebuilding of Iraqi society.
The insurgents show no sign of relenting; after all, it is the US-led occupation itself that is fuelling their violent fervour. They are using more powerful weapons, and many of them have infiltrated the Iraqi security forces.
Directly contradicting Vice President Dick Cheney, who recently insisted that the insurgency was in its "last throes," an anonymous military official told the Washington Post last week that the insurgents "certainly are not going to pack up and go away, there's no doubt about it."
The Iraqi constitution is shaping up to be weaker on women's rights than even the regime of that famous egalitarian, Saddam Hussain. As the editors of The New Republic put it: "The idea that 1,800 American troops died so Iraqi women could enjoy the full blessings of religious medievalism ought to disturb the Bush administration and the American people."
Earlier this month, we learned of a November 2003 incident in which soldiers stuffed an Iraqi general in a sleeping bag, tied him up with a cord, and beat him to death. Cause of death, as announced by the military: natural causes. We've discovered over the last year that Abu Ghraib was just the tip of the torture iceberg. But not a single military higher-up has been held accountable.
This past week, however, someone was disciplined. Four-Star Gen Kevin Byrnes was relieved of his command ... for having a consensual adulterous relationship with a civilian woman, eventhough he was separated from his wife at the time. The message is clear: Sadistic interrogation techniques? Good work. Extramarital romance? Clean out your desk.
Meanwhile, President Bush breezily enjoys his vacation, largely oblivious to the fact that roughly two-thirds of the American people disapprove of his Iraq policy. And obviously ignoring the fact that a woman named Cindy Sheehan - a friend of mine from Vacaville, California - stands outside his ranch waiting to get some answers about the war that killed her 24-year-old son. The president still refuses to meet with her.
Our famously steadfast president is suddenly vacillating quite regularly. The last few weeks has seen the White House flip and then flop about whether the United States will be increasing its military commitment in Iraq or drawing down some time next year (in time, conveniently, for the 2006 midterm elections).
And there's still convincing evidence that we're preparing to have permanent military bases in Iraq. All this from the same president who built a case for re-election on the fact that John Kerry was sending 'mixed messages' on Iraq.
The White House cannot even make up its mind about what to call this war. The tried-and-true 'Global War on Terrorism' appeared to give way to 'Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism', before the president distanced himself from that phrase a week later.
How distressing that energy is being wasted on slogans and catchphrases, as if this were a marketing campaign for a new line of detergent. More statesmanship, less salesmanship, please. Everything about this war has been a ruinous debacle: the way we got into it, the way we've conducted it, the refusal of a plan for disengagement, the high price - in dollars and lives - we've paid for it. It must end as soon as possible. There is only one solution: bring the troops home.