Thursday, April 26, 2007

Seeing Blood-Red

“I am in blood stepped in so far that that should I wade no more, returning were as tedious as go o’er.”
Macbeth Act III

General David Petraeus, field commander of all coalition forces in Iraq, is in Washington to brief members of the House and the Senate in closed sessions on the current state of the Bush “surge” in Iraq. The increase of nearly 30,000, achieved largely through extending existing deployments by three months and accelerating new deployments, was originally targeted at the volatile Baghdad neighborhoods and al-Anbar province, but has had to be extended to Dayala province as well. The increase in troops will set a new baseline of 160,000-165,000 U.S. troops on the ground. General Petraeus will assure the Congress that these should be enough if they are in the right places and do more than simply squeeze one place and have the opposition pop up elsewhere.

Perhaps not coincidentally, John McCain picked today to announce formally that he is running for president in 2008. Earlier this month, at the Virginia Military Institute, McCain laid out his position on the wars in Iraq, in Afghanistan, and in dozens of other countries across the globe in the so-called war on terror. McCain broke no new ground in his VMI remarks, nor did he at today’s official campaign kick-off in New Hampshire. He reaffirmed support of the “surge” tactic announced by President Bush January 10 in a prime time nationally televised presidential speech. And McCain did get some free coverage because his position on the surge was a natural follow-on to stories about General Petraeus who was picked specifically to go to Iraq and implement the policy.

General Petraeus had another job to do: convince the Congress to pass a supplemental appropriations measure that has no complicating provisions such as timelines for the beginning of troop withdrawals. Bush, other administration officials and spokespersons, and McCain have all been attacking the new Democratic majorities in Congress for “interfering” with the president’s powers and prerogatives as commander-in-chief. As Congress nears final passage of the FY2007 supplemental appropriation request submitted by the president in early February, the frequency and the stridency of the attacks by the war hawks in and out of government have increased. And while there is every reason to expect Bush to redeem his threat to veto this legislation when it reaches his desk, the very fact that he has been forced to employ his second veto demonstrates the extent to which political power is flowing from the White House to the Capitol. Moreover, the impetus for the power shift is a renewed bipartisan commitment to “due diligence” by Congress in exercising its responsibilities, a sharp contrast to the vast power void that had developed under the dome of the Capitol over the past six years.

Unfortunately for McCain, Bush, and the Washington hawks, the rhetorical blood-letting in the U.S. has mirrored the real bloodletting for coalition troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and for scores of families caught in one of the numerous “fronts” that the administration has opened. Consider that fourteen weeks have passed since the president’s announcement and then look at the costs.

In Iraq:
317 U.S. soldiers killed, bringing the total since March 20, 2003 through April 24 to 3,333;
18 coalition troops killed, 16 of whom were British, bringing allied fatalities to 270 and total coalition losses to 3,603 since March 2003;
Iraqi security forces count 576 soldiers and police killed in violence; and
5,406 – at least – Iraqi civilians killed, including 60 on the very day President Bush announced the “surge.”

Iraq Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki reportedly was “not pleased” with the UN Assistance Mission Iraq (UNAMI) when, using Iraqi government figures, it estimated that nearly 35,000 Iraqis died violently in 2006. The Iraqis stopped distributing statistics about violent deaths, thus leaving a statistical hole in UNAMI’s first quarter 2007 report.

In Afghanistan:
24 U.S. soldiers killed, bringing the U.S. total since October 7, 2001 to 381;
23 coalition troops killed, 10 of whom were Canadian, bringing allied fatalities to 182
and total coalition losses to 563 ;
3,900 – at least – Afghans killed in 2006 alone.

Although Iraq and Afghanistan understandably are the Pentagon’s main foci, military spokespersons do not hesitate to point out that the U.S. has forces in 130 countries around the world. But because few of these are involved in countering insurgencies or in other combat-related activities, less information is routinely reported in the U.S. media than in European equivalents.

So death piles on death almost unnoticed in places like Mogadishu, Somalia, where Ethiopian forces supporting the Transitional government are battling the fundamentalist (and therefore “al-Qaeda-affiliated”) Islamic Courts movement which itself had seized power in south and central Somalia from U.S.-backed war lords. The new continental security organization, the African Union, continues to try to assemble a third peacekeeping contingent, relieving the Ethiopians of the stigma of “occupying power.” The sharp spike in fighting in Mogadishu just in April has already killed an estimated 1,250 Somalis, a figure that continues to climb daily and is coming to resemble the bloody course of events in Iraq.

Even more bloody – and bloody-minded – “front” in the U.S. global war on terror are the 200,000 killed and the 2.5 million refugees living in camps in Darfur, Chad, and the Central African Republic. Sudan’s leaders finally have agreed to allow as many as 3,500 non-military UN personnel to join the overwhelmed 7,000 African Union “peacekeeping” troops in a support role. But Khartoum still refuses to accept the third section of the UN Security Council resolution: to accept a larger (17,000 – 20,000) armed, regular UN peacekeeping contingent in the tri-border region.

Only unreconstructed war hawks still believe a military solution in Iraq and Afghanistan remain possible. But with an estimated 20,000 Iraqis active in death squads, insurgent groups, and “al-Qaeda-in Iraq”; with an unknown number of Taliban fighters in Afghanistan and Osama bin Laden in Pakistan; with money supplied to all the factions for weapons, explosives, and ammunition; and with the acknowledgment that the presence of foreign occupiers is part of the problem, to remain in situ without setting an end date to the presence of this significant contributor to the mayhem that is also the enabling catalyst of the bloodletting that has been endemic to Islam for centuries.

In Act V of Macbeth, the last act, Lady Macbeth’s psyche has become overwhelmed by the enormity of the regicide and other bloodletting she helped set in motion but for which she has remained defiantly unrepentant. So complete is her breakdown that even her senses betray her: “What, will these hands ne’er be clean?...Here’s the smell of the blood still. All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand.”

George Bush, Dick Cheney, and their advisors have cost more lives in a war they chose than were lost on September 11, 2001. Yet like Lady Macbeth, they are trapped in a recurring nightmare into which the entire country has been dragged. Congress must end this nightmare by ending war funding. Once that is done, we might then be able to say with Lady Macbeth’s doctor: “God, God forgive us all.”

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