Sunday, December 31, 2006


Observations On Iraq And Afghanistan From A Guy Who's Just Done His Fourth USO Tour In The Region

Al Franken speaks. You listen:

When Laura Bush complained the other day that the media don't cover the "good news" stories in Iraq, I found it literally incredible that anyone in this administration could continue to blame the media for Americans souring on this fiasco... Yet many Bush administration supporters (talk about "dead-enders") still bash the media for not reporting about the many Army and Marine units that bring school supplies to children around Iraq. They may not realize that, as has been widely reported, Iraqi principals beg journalists not to cover these stories for fear of their schools being targeted by insurgents. Perhaps, as I suspect, their ignorance is one of partisan convenience.
Ignorance or partisanship: Which is worse? But I digress:
I'm writing this on a C-17 cargo plane as I leave Iraqi airspace on the way to Afghanistan. This is my fourth USO tour in the region, and I always try to learn as much as possible while focusing on my primary mission -- telling a few jokes to, and spending some time with, the men and women in uniform who are away from their families and face incredible danger every day. One thing I've learned on this trip is that many, if not most, of the troops share in that frustration and anger toward the media and what they see as its focus on the negative aspects of the war. Their feelings are understandable. Every day, our troops get up and work with tremendous dedication and courage to roll the boulder a little further up the mountain. There are literally hundreds of thousands of positive stories to tell. These are the micro-stories of this war. Just a few I've encountered myself: A medic treats a 12-year-old Iraqi boy in Baghdad. Progress is made on a sewage system in Ramadi. A JAG officer works with Iraqi judges to build a provincial judicial system in Tikrit. But the journalists in Iraq have a responsibility to the American people to report the macro-story. The 12-year-old boy had been caught in the crossfire as troops struggled to maintain order during another spasm of sectarian violence. The (depressed) infantryman who told me about the sewage system had lost friends while working out of a small combat operating base in town. The JAG officer confided that he believes we made a mistake invading Iraq in the first place, but that if we left now, the violence in the already chaotic country would explode. The truth of the matter is that the Bush administration has made enormous and tragic mistakes at every stage of this debacle. It overplayed the threat from Iraq and undersold the price, in lives and resources, of a war. It failed to plan for a post-invasion Iraq, ignored the threat of an insurgency and allowed a shoddy reconstruction rife with fraud, abuse and sheer amateurism to sabotage our efforts to put the pieces back together. Worst of all, it has failed to admit to its mistakes or adjust to emerging realities along the way, leaving us in what now seems to be a no-win situation.
That pretty much sums it up.

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