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February 20, 2007

Setting the Record Straight

Roy Meachum

In some papers, including the Frederick News-Post, headline writers described Saturday's U.S. Senate vote as a loss for those who opposed expansion of the Iraq war.

By any measure, 56-34 votes in their favor can hardly be described as failure; what the headlines really mean is that war opponents did not get the 60-40 tilt that would have ruled out further floor debate on the Iraqi conflict itself. Seven Republicans broke party lines.

Over on the Capitol's other side, the identical non-binding expression that amounted to lack of confidence in the White House sailed through, 227-197. Obviously, some Republicans sided with the majority, despite the administration's desperate efforts to make them toe the party line. The count by party when all members are in their benches stands at 234-201 with Democrats in the majority.

GOP presidential wannabe John McCain described the proposed measure as "insulting to the public and the soldiers." Mr. McCain obviously slept through last year's elections and chooses to ignore polls. As in November's voting, the "public" registers - in all attempts to measure sentiments - as firmly opposed to the mess this nation was shoved into.

Right-wing attempts to compare the current Middle East disaster with World War II and Korea are way off the mark. In both instances, America responded to attacks, at Pearl Harbor and by world communism, on a valued ally. There was no such provocation in 2003.

We were offered lame explanations: Saddam Hussein's discredited link to al-Qaeda, his possession of weapons of mass destruction that never existed, and finally, the lamest of all, Washington's self-pronounced crusade to spread democracy among Muslim nations, starting with Iraq.

Although carved from Syria by the French to encourage widespread support, Lebanon never really achieved government by the people, but by Christian and separated Islamic factions. When its non-Muslim residents followed Western Europe into practicing birth control, to limit family sizes, their Sunni, Shiite and Druze neighbors didn't bother. Christians wound up with fewer numbers, a lower percentage of population than when America pressured the decolonization of the region.

As a result, those Marianite Roman Catholic elements of the country that had been converted by the French, under Louis Napoleon, find themselves besieged by Hezbollah Shiia extremists. Drawing support from Sunnis, they continue to hold on. But for how long?

The next likely candidate to adopt democracy has floundered in dictatorships since 1952 when the British pawn King Farouk boarded his yacht at Alexandria, Egypt, never to return. In his place rose military dictators that included future rulers Gamal Nasser and Anwar Sadat. Hosni Mubarak has followed their lead by stifling dissidence and brutally smothering any outbreaks of democracy.

Something there is about Islam that discourages individualism in favor of following established political leaders.

In many mosques, preachers cannot climb all the way to what we call the pulpit; they are stopped on the stairs before reaching the top platform, which is reserved for Allah. Similarly, earthly power is limited; to question authority is eventually to criticize The One God, which is what Allah means in English. And that way lays blasphemy.

This is fundamental about Islam and helps explain why democracy has virtually no chance to succeed in Muslim countries.

My pre-invasion warnings about undertaking the conquest of Iraq were founded on concern that American troops would be embroiled in what I called "urban warfare," which is what's happening right now. I also expressed doubts that a nation divided by Shiite, Kurdish and Sunni factions could ever be united. And a unified Iraq was the indispensable condition for the success of any U.S. intervention.

After months of U.N. inspection teams trying to find massive weapons, and coming up empty-handed, the proposition that they existed was already highly unlikely four years back. But the teams were multi-national and staffed chiefly by Western Europeans, and, therefore, not trusted by Washington.

At that time, the administration was slavishly dedicated to its own world-view and anyone who differed was accused of comforting terrorists. Because of Paris' reluctance to provide troops for the Iraq invasion, French fries disappeared from Capitol Hill menus. Their replacements, American fries, have now in turn vanished. Congressional diners are slathering French fries with catsup once more.

Pointing these facts out is an important part of setting the record straight. In other words, George W. Bush forced this country into an impossible situation. His one seemingly clear-cut success in the region has now blown up in his face.

What appeared to be a quick victory against the Taliban collapsed; the extremists' return to south Afghanistan has been strenuously fought, but mostly by our European allies. Only recently has an American been awarded command of coalition forces in a country that has become, under our aegis, once again the world's leading source for heroin. Money meant to encourage alternate crops has been swallowed by military needs.

The present toll of American lives passed 3,100 this past weekend; the numbers of those wounded and mutilated cannot be accurately estimated. Among Iraqis, one study projects the casualty count topped 600,000; other sources quote 100,000. As usual the true figure almost certainly lies somewhere between.

One thing emerges very clearly: for each man, woman and child lost to the maws of war, the United States absorbs the blame. Even when U.S. forces are not involved, Americans have the responsibility. During the last four years we have maintained the Iraqi "watch." We are the supreme arbiter in that part of the world. Therefore no one else can share the burden, or guilt.

Meanwhile, the White House and cronies are trying very hard to make the case Iran has been behind the prolongation of the fighting. We are hearing an echo of the earlier charges that the insurgents were mostly foreigners; that's the way during the domestic civil rights conflict that any unpleasant business would be laid at the feet of out-of-towners. All local blacks were hailed as "good" in support of segregation. The reality proved otherwise.

Headed for another anniversary of the March 19, 2003, invasion I can find neither favorable signs nor omens that promise hope.

My sole comfort: Grandson Christopher Meachum went to the Middle East killing fields and returned intact. He's now out of the Army and removed from harm's way. But thousands his age still face the juggernaut that keeps on taking lives, American and Iraqi.

As I tried to point out before U.S. tanks rolled across the Kuwaiti border, right-wing ideologues welcome the shedding of Arab blood. The rest of the world sighs and cries for what is happening to families and people of good will caught in the middle of missiles and bombs.

We are fighting and our youth dying for one more lost cause, and nobody in this administration seems to give a damn!


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