Monday, October 30, 2006

Is There an Honest Answer in the House?

It has been said that politics is the art of preventing people from taking part in affairs that properly concern them.

One way this happens is by raising the “disgust” factor so high by smearing one’s opponent that voters simply turn off the entire process.

Another is to deliberately lie – and lie and lie in the hope that the “base” will either forget what used to be the position or will simply shrug off the lie as part of the dirty business of political elections.

And then there are those who listen for something to be said about the real issues of the day – and hearing nothing, see no reason to vote because no candidate speaks to their concerns.

These are not new faults in the system, but this year with a debilitating war going on, with more working men and women and their children existing without health insurance, with more than half a trillion dollars consumed for military purposes, there is greater peril for the future if the public opts not to vote in large numbers.

What remains unfathomable is the state of denial among the very top echelons of the administration when the subject is Iraq. In the old days before video cameras and satellite transmissions, politicians could get away with gaffs by saying the reporter misquoted or made a mistake when taking notes. But today, with instant electronic feeds?

On October 29, President Bush was quoted saying “We’ve never been ‘stay the course’.” In fact, the networks – even the comedy channel – quickly trotted out well over a dozen instances that phrase was used. In fact, just two days earlier, on Air Force Two, Vice President Cheney remarked to reporters “the United States’ ability to stay the course and get the job done is a very, very important piece of business.”

The administration keeps talking about Iraq as a fully sovereign nation with a government elected by the Iraqi people. Yet again on October 29, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki told reporters: “I am now prime minister and overall commander of the armed forces, yet I cannot move a single company without coalition approval because of the U.N. mandate.” This is a sovereign government in a fully sovereign state?

The coalition forces complain the Iraqis are not measuring up to the task of providing security, forcing the coalition forces to step in and do the house-to-house, neighborhood-by-neighborhood, patrols. Yet U.S. forces have launched operations with Iraqi counterparts without informing al-Maliki. On October 27, the Iraqi prime minister was so frustrated that he told reporters: “If anyone is responsible for the poor security situation in Iraq, it is the coalition.”

Closer to home, the war is having ever more serious effects on the nation. Pentagon statistics for 2002-2004 reveal abnormally high divorce rates for Army officers – from 2% to 6% at the end of that period. Suicide rates are also rising, from 60 to 67 to 83 between 2003-2005. Yet senior Pentagon officials insist the Army – which numbers about 504,000 – is not overly stressed or stretched. Nor are the Marines.

If so, why have some 75,000 Army troops had their term of service extended under “stop-loss” since 2003? And why have the Reserve and the National Guard been so heavily used – and in some cases misused – as when units are given substandard or incomplete training for the missions they were sent to do in Iraq?

Why have standards been adjusted downward in terms of increased waivers for violations of law, for lower academic achievement? Why has the maximum enlistment age been raised twice in six months?

And why are there 35,000 civilian contractors working under contract for the Pentagon in Iraq and Air Force and Navy personnel diverted to jobs normally done by Army troops? Since the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, 59 Navy and 28 air force personnel have died in Iraq.

As hard as things were under Saddam Hussein, at least there was some stability, enough predictability to visit friends and relatives and to celebrate the rituals of ordinary life. No more.

Maybe what is needed more than honest answers – both for Iraqis and for the U.S. public – are honest questions?

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