You Can’t Please Some People

Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr called for an anti-American occupation rally in Baghdad yesterday, which was the fourth anniversary of the coalition takeover of Baghdad.

The ever-accommodating Associated Press emphasized that the rally was a celebration of the fall of Baghdad. The first sentence: “Tens of thousands draped themselves in Iraqi flags and marched peacefully through the streets of two Shiite holy cities Monday to mark the fourth anniversary of Baghdad’s fall.” There are variations on this article drizzled about the web; this one doesn’t mention the anti-American aspect of the demonstration until the third paragraph. If you want to study how the AP has revised this story today, go to The Huffington Post and check out the “compare other versions” feature.

Then compare the Associated Press story to how other news bureaus reported it. For example, the Chicago Tribune headlined its article “Sadr stokes anti-U.S. fervor / Thousands head to rally; 10 GIs killed.”

Calling the United States the “great evil,” powerful Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr on Sunday ordered his militiamen to redouble their effort to oppose American troops and argued that Iraq’s army and police force should join him in defeating “your archenemy.”

The cleric’s verbal assault came as the U.S. military announced that 10 American soldiers were killed over the weekend, including six Sunday in attacks north and south of Baghdad. At least 69 Iraqis also were killed or found dead across Iraq.

Even so, the comparatively mild Associated Press story drew the wrath of the rightie blog Newsbusters.

The Associated Press reported rallies celebrating the fourth anniversary of the liberation of Iraq from Saddam Hussein — without ever mentioning Saddam Hussein. Lauren Frayer’s article makes it sound like the American forces deposed a city, not a dictator: “Tens of thousands marched through the streets of two Shiite holy cities Monday to mark the fourth anniversary of Baghdad’s fall.” Nowhere in the article is Saddam even mentioned. The headline was also “Rally marks anniversary of Baghdad’s fall.”

Like I said — there’s no pleasing some people. If one were trying to be accurate, calling yesterday the “anniversary of the fall of Baghdad” should be perfectly acceptable, since it’s a bit hard to pin down exactly when the Iraqi dictator was officially deposed. Taking a capital city doesn’t automatically depose a dictator. Hussein still had some protection and influence in part of Iraq for a few more days, maybe weeks, even though his attempts to rally support for his dictatorship didn’t go anywhere. I would argue that he wasn’t officially deposed until July 2003, when the Iraqi interim council began meeting. But that’s a meaningless technicality, IMO.

Anyway — how ’bout that surge, huh?

The New York Times reports that the “new security push” is changing patterns of violence, and reducing it in some places, but the “push” doesn’t seem to be reducing violence overall. We’re just moving it around, in other words. And the rate of American deaths has gone up. See the BooMan and Paul Kiel for commentary.

See also yesterday’s Frank Rich column, “Sunday in the Market With McCain.”

It can’t be lost on those dwindling die-hards, particularly those on the 2008 ballot, that if defending the indefensible can reduce even a politician of Mr. McCain’s heroic stature to that of Dukakis-in-the-tank, they have nowhere to go but down. They’ll cut and run soon enough. For starters, just watch as Mr. McCain’s G.O.P. presidential rivals add more caveats to their support for the administration’s Iraq policy. Already, in a Tuesday interview on “Good Morning America,” Mitt Romney inched toward concrete “timetables and milestones” for Iraq, with the nonsensical proviso they shouldn’t be published “for the enemy.”

As if to confirm we’re in the last throes, President Bush threw any remaining caution to the winds during his news conference in the Rose Garden that same morning. Almost everything he said was patently misleading or an outright lie, a sure sign of a leader so entombed in his bunker (he couldn’t even emerge for the Washington Nationals’ ceremonial first pitch last week) that he feels he has nothing left to lose.

Incredibly, he chided his adversaries on the Hill for going on vacation just as he was heading off for his own vacation in Crawford. Then he attacked Congress for taking 57 days to “pass emergency funds for our troops” even though the previous, Republican-led Congress took 119 days on the same bill in 2006. He ridiculed the House bill for “pork and other spending that has nothing to do with the war,” though last year’s war-spending bill was also larded with unrelated pork, from Congressional efforts to add agricultural subsidies to the president’s own request for money for bird-flu preparation.

Mr. Bush’s claim that military equipment would be shortchanged if he couldn’t sign a spending bill by mid-April was contradicted by not one but two government agencies. A Government Accountability Office report faulted poor Pentagon planning for endemic existing equipment shortages in the National Guard. The Congressional Research Service found that the Pentagon could pay for the war until well into July. Since by that point we’ll already be on the threshold of our own commanders’ late-summer deadline for judging the surge, what’s the crisis?

The president then ratcheted up his habitual exploitation of the suffering of the troops and their families — a button he had pushed five days earlier when making his six-weeks-tardy visit to pose for photos at scandal-ridden Walter Reed. “Congress’s failure to fund our troops on the front lines will mean that some of our military families could wait longer for their loved ones to return from the front lines,” he said. “And others could see their loved ones headed back to the war sooner than they need to.”

His own failures had already foreordained exactly these grim results. Only the day before this news conference, the Pentagon said that the first unit tossed into the Baghdad surge would stay in Iraq a full year rather than the expected nine months, and that three other units had been ordered back there without the usual yearlong stay at home. By week’s end, we would learn the story of the suspected friendly-fire death of 18-year-old Pvt. Matthew Zeimer, just two hours after assuming his first combat post. He had been among those who had been shipped to war with a vastly stripped-down training regimen, 10 days instead of four weeks, forced by the relentless need for new troops in Iraq.

Most of the United States is no longer talking about whether to withdraw military from Iraq, but when. The real debate these days — everywhere but in the White House, anyway — is whether to withdraw all military personnel from Iraq or leave some sort of non-combat personnel to advise and train Iraqi security forces. I say that anyone who wants to carry out the second option had better get behind pulling combat troops out asap. I suspect the longer we’ve got combat troops patrolling the streets in Iraq the more likely it is that, someday, Iraqis will chuck us out of their country entirely.

Update: See also —

Juan Cole (at Salon) “John McCain’s Iraq Problem

Mark Benjamin (at Salon) “Injured troops shipped back into battle

3 thoughts on “You Can’t Please Some People

  1. Thanks for another thought-provoking posting Barbara. I’m coming around to the opinion that a precipitous withdrawal from Iraq would cause too much of a disasterous power vacuum. I am also coming to the conclusion that what Rep. Murtha has been suggesting for a couple of years now is particularly prescient. We should redeploy and secure the borders. I’m troubled by the fact that given free reign, more innocent Iraqis will be killed in the internecine struggle, but to think we can stop the violence between the factions now is fantastically delusional. We need to step out of the fray and started negotiating with the warring factions to work towards some sort of stability. I just listened to a clip of Rep. Jane Harman saying that the ‘combat’ mission has failed and we need to change the mission. I think she’s ‘spot-on’.
    I worry as well that many Iraqis will feel, “just like the Americans; they come in here and create this chaos and then leave us to die trying to clean it up”. There is so little that is good or positive that can come out of this occupation now. High time that we grasp onto anything that might mitigate this disaster and hold on tight.

  2. If we leave troops in Iraq when most troops leave, we really need to have smarter-than-Bush&Co people who will take over in making the decisions which guide and protect those left-behind troops. Katrina was such a wake-up about the pervasive incompetency of the Bush decision-makers.

  3. It’s bad enough that the president, vice- president, too many Senators and Reps have a sort of myopic rigidity when it comes to the Iraq Invasion, but when our sources of information, the media, have the same affliction we’re all in danger of catching the same disease. Makes me think of the Trojan Horse story.

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