Iraq bombingThe President of the United States recently told us that the measure of success in Iraq is a reduced level of “sectarian violence,” terms likely chosen to correspond with the fact that the US military does not count as “sectarian violence” the 27 people killed in a recent car bombing like that shown in the photo. And he is willing to accept continuing high levels of US casualties to obtain his new misleading goal.

“Either we’ll succeed, or we won’t succeed,” he said. “And the definition of success as I described is sectarian violence down. Success is not no violence. … But success is a level of violence where the people feel comfortable about living their daily lives.”

In the same speech, and without acknowledging the slightest contradiction with the goal of reducing sectarian violence, the President then explained that sectarian violence is not the problem we face in Iraq:

“For America, the decision we face in Iraq is not whether we ought to take sides in a civil war, it’s whether we stay in the fight against the same international terrorist network that attacked us on 9/11,” Bush said. “I strongly believe it’s in our national interest to stay in the fight.”

“The recent attacks are not the revenge killings that some have called a civil war,” Bush told the Associated General Contractors of America. “They are a systematic assault on the entire nation. Al-Qaida is public enemy No. 1 in Iraq.”

Aside from putting into play whether “staying in the fight” is or isn’t in our national interest, there is, of course, no reason to assume that the al Qaeda group controlled by Osama bin Ladin, operating out of Afghanistan and/or Pakistan, and responsible for attacking the US on 9/11 and other occasions is the same as or even operationally directing the group calling itself “al Qaeda in Iraq.” The Bush/Cheney Administration’s policies have probably inspired many groups around the world only too willing to call themselves “al Qaeda” but having no proven operational connection with bin Laden, let alone 9/11.

Yet the White House will continue to conflate these groups because they know that the media will not question or explain it and will rarely invite onto their news shows any expert who might point out that we are being lied to again about the link between Iraq, bin Laden and 9/11. It is imperative that the media seek out experts who can debunk this continuing falsehood. This Administration will not stop lying, because to do so would concede that they started a war on false pretenses and without any justification, and are continuing it for the same reasons; and their neocon supporters who wanted and planned this war and still cheer it on will continue the lies into the next generation.

While the nation shakes its collective head over the President’s continuing dishonesty and escalating incoherence, the US military released a report of a survey of the mental health of US troops in Iraq, the effects of extended tours and the troops’ attitudes towards the Iraqi people. FDL’s Siun highlighted this study in last night’s post.

The results are dismaying but not surprising nor unique to this war, but they should be factored into the ongoing national debate about continued funding of the US occupation. The survey finds many reasons to be concerned about our soldiers’ mental health — increased incidence of anxiety, depression and acute stress — but here I focus on the effect of the war on troop attitudes towards Iraqis. From Reuters, via the New York Times:

WASHINGTON, May 4 (Reuters) — Only 40 percent of American marines and 55 percent of soldiers in Iraq say they would report a fellow service member for killing or injuring an innocent Iraqi, a Pentagon study published Friday showed.

The study, which showed increasing rates of mental health problems for troops on extended or multiple deployments, also said well over one-third of soldiers and marines believed that torture should be allowed to gain information that could save the lives of American troops, or knowledge about insurgents.

Of the 1,320 soldiers and 447 marines who took part, about 10 percent said they had mistreated civilians through physical violence or damage to personal property. . . .

“Soldiers with high levels of anger, who had experienced high levels of combat or who screened positive for mental health symptoms, were nearly twice as likely to mistreat noncombatants,” the acting Army surgeon general, Maj. Gen. Gale S. Pollock, told reporters.

It is not news to veterans that war can brutalize some combatants, and combat with forces that are indistinguishable from ordinary civilians — the very conditions our troops face in Iraq — is particularly problematic. And we could make a further connection between this Administration’s enthusiastic embrace of torture and its relative lack of concern about civilian casualties whenever it thinks it has a “high value” target in its bomb sights. There is a sizeable chunk of the US population that believes such actions are justified and not war crimes. But my point is not to blame or excuse the troops but rather to ask what these predictable survey results mean for the national debate about continuing to fund the US occupation.

No one has satisfactorily explained how a military strategy designed to win over the civilian population of a country that we invaded and continue to occupy after five years could possibly succeed under the best of circumstances. And the conditions are far from the best. The chosen tactic of our new General is to send US troops house to house, often at night, literally breaking down gates and doors, rousting the inhabitants, interrogating them, and hauling off those suspected of trying (or wanting) to kill Americans. If this were the British entering US homes, many of us would qualify.

After breaking and entering, our troops are expected, with the help of an Iraqi interpreter, to sort out “insurgents” or “al Qaeda,” or whoever, from non-combatants in the same household. In the process, our troops are expected to treat the innocent civilians with respect — a condition already made impossible by breaking and entering into their homes and arresting their relatives — while our guys protect themselves from the likely possibility that some of the people they encounter want to kill them. How exactly is this supposed to work? And why would any decent commander who cared about those under his command ask his troops to do this?

The results of the mental health survey only highlight the absurdity of US policies, though this must be obvious to Iraqis. I seriously doubt that Iraqi civilians, who probably know more about Abu Ghraib than US cititizens, would be surprised to learn that a percentage of US troops would tolerate torturing them if they thought their own security was at risk — and the conditions ensure that it will be continuously at risk. Iraqi civilians surely understand that US forces could kill or injure them, whether carelessly or deliberately, and that there is a good chance that such incidents would not be reported, or worse, covered up as at Haditha, and hence not deterred. They know their lives are given less value, and they probably know that right wing talk show hosts like Rush Limbaugh and Glen Beck are prepping the next enlistees by indiscriminately disparaging Islamic people. Meanwhile, US politicians in both parties, who have been unable to compromise on what to do about Iraq, continue to blame the Iraqis for their inability to accommodate each other in the middle of a civil war.

The President’s war supporters continually insist that General Petraeus’ “new” strategy be given a chance to succeed — Fred Kagan has yet another op-ed in Sunday’s New York Times pleading that critics stop asking about “Plan B” and give “Plan A” a fair chance — though some Republicans are now saying that they need to have some answers by this Fall. But I haven’t seen any of the media anchors ask why it is even remotely reasonable to expect the “new” strategy to win over the Iraqi people over any period of time, no matter how long, when our own studies and the Iraqis’ own experience tell them that Americans have such little regard for their lives.

Sunday’s L.A. Times editorial page, long a supporter of the President’s “surge,” has finally rejected the President’s delusions and now argues for a [too] gradual withdrawl:

This newspaper reluctantly endorsed the U.S. troop surge as the last, best hope for stabilizing conditions so that the elected Iraqi government could assume full responsibility for its affairs. But we also warned that the troops should not be used to referee a civil war. That, regrettably, is what has happened. . . .

Having invested so much in Iraq, Americans are likely to find disengagement almost as painful as war. But the longer we delay planning for the inevitable, the worse the outcome is likely to be. The time has come to leave.

Congressional Democrats should not give in. The country has rejected this President and supports their efforts to end our occupation of Iraq. It is transparently unconscionable to ask US combat troops to risk their lives trying to fix the Administration’s egregious policy blunders. And the Pentagon’s own health and attitude surveys are warning us that leaving them there longer is only inviting things to become worse — for them and for the Iraqis. Bring them home.

AP Photo by Hadi Mizban



John has been writing for Firedoglake since 2006 or so, on whatever interests him. He has a law degree, worked as legal counsel and energy policy adviser for a state energy agency for 20 years and then as a consultant on electricity systems and markets. He's now retired, living in Massachusetts.

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