March 5, 2006
Unavoidable Realities in Iraq

By Steve Chapman

There is good news in Iraq: The chaos of recent days has not led to all-out civil war. At least not yet.

Never mind that one of the major Shiite religious shrines was blown up on Feb. 22. Never mind that some 500 Iraqis have died in the ensuing frenzy of sectarian violence. Never mind that if this is not civil war, it's not very far from it. In Iraq, the Bush administration has learned to set the bar low: Avoiding the worst possible outcome now passes for success.

For nearly three years, Americans have been told that we are making progress in bringing stability and democratic government to Iraq. But that state of affairs, like the horizon, keeps receding as we approach. Lately, the carnage has been waxing, not waning. Last month, for example, Iraq suffered 39 "multiple fatality bombings." The previous February, there were 18.

But the administration feigns nonchalance about events that once would have been considered disastrous. After the Shiite shrine was destroyed, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said, "Obviously, it's a blow, but whenever someone tries to tear them apart, [Iraqis] find a way to get back together," as if she were talking about a family tiff over Thanksgiving dinner.

Where in the world does she get the idea that Iraqis are finding ways to get together? They had an election three months ago, and not only have the various groups failed to form a government, they show no sign of being able to form one in this century. Religious and ethnic divisions have made the creation of a parliamentary coalition a puzzle that no one has been able to solve.

Rice may be optimistic, but Americans find it hard to justify the loss of American lives in a war we don't seem to know how to win, no matter how many insurgents we kill. In the latest poll, only 30 percent approve of how President Bush is handling Iraq.

Conservative commentators, who once identified themselves as the authentic voice of the people, are now blaming a weak-kneed citizenry for lacking the will to pay any price. But it's no surprise that Americans would not endorse a costly war for purposes that now turn out to be bogus.

In the months leading up to the Iraq invasion, no one in the administration ever prepared them for the possibility -- which was fully foreseeable -- that we would encounter a widespread insurgency, incur thousands of casualties, spend hundreds of billions of dollars and be bogged down three years later with no end in sight.

Public acceptance was based on the assumption that the war would be cheap, quick and triumphant. Of course, Americans also thought back then that the invasion was necessary to get Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. If you tell people they're getting a hot fudge sundae and you give them raw cauliflower instead, you can hardly blame them for objecting.

War supporters can no longer pretend to represent the silent majority of Americans. So in the face of popular disenchantment, they now claim to be speaking for the men and women fighting in Iraq. The conservative group Progress for America has begun airing TV ads asserting that "American troops overwhelmingly support the mission President Bush has given them."

In this view, Americans have turned against the war only because the news media have denied them the truth about everything our military is achieving in Iraq -- and anyone opposing the war is guilty of betraying the troops.

But that claim turns out to be fraudulent. A new poll by Zogby International finds that 29 percent of those serving in Iraq think the United States should leave "immediately," and 51 percent favor a pullout within the next six months. Fewer than one in four of our soldiers agrees that we should remain as long as necessary.

More than 40 percent of those carrying out the mission President Bush has given them say they are not sure what that mission is. Amazingly, the people with an up-close view of Iraq see things pretty much the same way as those forced to rely on the defeatist news media.

The news media, however, didn't make up the American casualties, the Iraqi casualties, the persistence of the insurgency, the stalemate over forming a new government, or the other unforeseen products of the administration's policies. In this debate, war supporters are at odds not so much with critics as they are with reality.

Copyright 2006 Creators Syndicate

Steve Chapman

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