Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The bloody war continues

Can You Believe This War Is Still Going On?

By Jim Hightower,

Hightower Lowdown


* 3,300 American troops and hundreds of thousands of
Iraqis are dead.

* Rumsfeld said the Iraq attack would cost $50 billion.
The tab so far exceeds $500 billion.

* Almost two million Iraqis have fled the country and
only 30% of kids can go to school.

On Easter Morning, George W. made another of his
periodic shows of Standing With The Troops. He attended
church services in the chapel at Fort Hood in Kileen,
Texas, after which he offered to the assembled media
this pious little announcement: "I had a chance to
reflect on the great sacrifice that our military and
their families are making. I prayed for their safety. I
prayed for their strength and comfort. And I pray for
peace."

He prayed for our troops' safety? How clueless is he?
George, you have the troops stuck in another country's
vicious civil war. They're under attack from every
direction by every faction, every hour of every day,
hit by car bombs, roadside bombs, chlorine bombs, IEDs,
suicide bombs, rocket fire, mortar rounds, snipers, and
assassins. There is no safety in Iraq.

He prayed for peace? George, YOU made this war. Don't
put it on God! The ONLY reason that America is in Iraq
is because you, "Buckshot" Cheney, Rummy, and the rest
rode us into an invasion and occupation on a pack of
lies.

God didn't do this, YOU did. Praying won't get it done.
God helps those who help themselves. You have peace in
your own hands.

Yet the war goes on

Only three days after George the Pious told us about
his prayers for safety, strength, comfort, and peace,
his Pentagon chief, Robert Gates, announced that all
active-duty soldiers already in Iraq or going there
will have their tours of duty extended from 12 months
to 15. "Our forces are stretched," Gates admitted, but
he said that this added burden is "necessary" in order
to carry out Bush's latest war strategy, his "surge"
scheme. The extension order affects 100,000 soldiers.
Plus their families. Bear in mind that many of these
families have already gone through two or three tours
in Iraq.

Back at Fort Hood, where Bush prayed, families were
angry. "A year is so long apart you hardly know your
husband," said Nichol Spencer. "Now they're making it
longer?"

Theresa White said, "To a civilian, three months is 12
weeks. To an army wife, three months is the straw that
broke the camel's back."

Of course, that's three more months in hell that Bush
is committing these people to endure (this from a guy
who could not even complete an Easy Street tour of duty
stateside in the "champagne unit" of the Air National
Guard during the Vietnam War). To add insult to injury,
after saying that he had prayed for the "comfort" of
these soldiers and their families, Bush didn't even
have the courtesy to inform them in advance that the
extension was coming. "It was disrespectful," said
Mindy Shanahan, also from Fort Hood. Her husband is in
Iraq and will now be stuck there an extra three months,
assuming he survives. "We should have had at least 48
hours notice, instead of having to see this on CNN,"
she said.

Prolonging the time soldiers must spend in Iraq hides
one of the military's other little problems: Very few
Americans want to join Bush's war. Not even those young
Republicans who say they so enthusiastically support
the war are willing to bet their lives on it. So, in a
country of 300 million citizens, recruiters are
straining to meet a quota of roughly 80,000 new
soldiers a year, much less find more troops to cycle
into Bush's surge. The military has already raised the
maximum enlistment age from 35 to 42, which means that
if you and your wife had kids when you were 20 and
you're now 40, the whole family could go to war.
Wow--the Brady Bunch does Iraq!

Despite doubling the number of felons permitted to
enlist and lowering the minimum standards so more
high-school dropouts and people with low
mental-aptitude scores can be taken, the Pentagon still
is not getting enough volunteers. Even recent West
Point graduates, the Army's elite, are saying "no
thanks" to Iraq, choosing to leave active-duty service
at the highest rate in more than three decades.

Yet, the war goes on

Bush's war, now in its fifth year, has already lasted
longer than World War II. On Easter Sunday, as George
was saying his prayers, the number of American military
deaths in Iraq was approaching 3,300. And now, with his
surge, the rate of U.S. deaths is on the rise. All this
killing has prompted more eloquence from the
commander-in-chief: "Make no mistake about it. I
understand how tough it is. I talk to families who
die."

Then there are some 24,000 soldiers who haven't died
but instead have come home maimed and traumatized,
including more than 1,300 who've lost arms and/or legs,
and more than 4,600 who've suffered severe head or
brain injuries. Many of them have been sent to the
"comfort" of Walter Reed Army Medical Center, just a
short hop from Bush's hangout at the White House. There
they have been greeted with horrific conditions and
cold indifference.

When news of this scandal broke, Bush feigned surprise
and expressed obligatory outrage. But, wait, George --
you're the president, you're in charge of this
disgrace! It's your Pentagon budget (now above
half-a-trillion dollars a year) that has been lavishing
money on favored contractors while quietly snipping
away at funding for Walter Reed. A review panel
concluded last month that your Pentagon was aware of
this neglect, yet it still cut funds even as the
hospital was being inundated with thousands of severely
maimed soldiers returning from Iraq. The panel said the
hospital is now beyond repair.

It's not just Walter Reed, either. The nationwide VA
system is overwhelmed with patients and experiencing
crucial shortages in staff and facilities. As of
January, there was a backlog of 600,000 vets awaiting
care--nearly a third of whom have been waiting six
months or longer. All this on your watch, George--while
you've been demanding that war critics "support our
troops." Meanwhile, your current budget proposal
reduces funding for veterans' care in 2009 and
2010--just when the military expects that the influx of
wounded will peak.

Yet, the war goes on

Asked in January 2003 what the price tag was for the
Bushites' upcoming Iraq attack and occupation, Donny
Rumsfeld said that the budget office forecast "a number
that's something under $50 billion."

Not quite right. Iraq is now costing us $6 billion a
month (the surge will be extra), and total direct costs
through this year will top $500 billion. Included in
that is $12 billion that was airlifted in 2003 to the
interim Iraqi government in shrinkwrapped stacks of
$100 bills (the load weighed 363 tons) and promptly
disappeared. Poof...gone!

Add in such indirect costs as veterans' long-term
health care and replacement of the military hardware
consumed by the war, and the tab runs to $1.2 trillion
or more. David Leonhardt, a New York Times economic
analyst, has itemized some other things we could've
bought with that sum instead of the mess in Iraq. His
list includes:

* TEN YEARS of universal health care, covering every
American who is now without it. * DOUBLING the cancer
research budget. * GLOBAL IMMUNIZATION of the world's
children against measles, whooping cough, tetanus, TB,
polio, and diptheria. * UNIVERSAL PRESCHOOL for every
3- and 4-year-old child in America. * RECONSTRUCTION of
New Orleans. * IMPLEMENTATION of all of the 9/11
Commission's recommendations.

Yet, the war goes on

Being positive is one thing, but George W has gone from
positive to delusional. Last year, in a rhetorical
reach to claim that things were looking up in Iraq, he
offered this: "I think--tide turning. See, as I
remember--I was raised in the desert, but tides kind
of--it's easy to see the tide turn."

He might ask the Iraqi people about tide-turning
progress in his war. Outside of Baghdad's
four-square-mile fortress known as the Green Zone,
where the U.S. brass and Iraqi political elite reside,
life is miserable. Violence erupts constantly and
unpredictably, fear is everyone's companion, jobs are
scarce, going anywhere is dangerous, basic services are
practically nonexistent, and distrust, frustration, and
anger rule.

An official UN count puts last year's death toll of
innocent Iraqi civilians at 34,452--three times higher
than the U.S. had admitted. Another 36,685 were
wounded. One analysis puts the civilian death toll much
higher--a total of 655,000 since the invasion.

Some 2 million Iraqis (16% of the population) have fled
the country, including 40% of professionals (one third
of doctors fled, 2,000 have been murdered). Three
thousand people a day are fleeing--so many that Saudi
Arabia (Bush's superrich ally in his war) is building a
560-mile fence to keep them out. By the way, the U.S.
allowed only 202 Iraqi refugees into our country last
year.

Another 1.6 million Iraqis are displaced within their
country, forced from their homes by various factions in
the civil/religious war. Many of these are children.
Only 30% of Iraqi children attended school last year
(pre-war, nearly 100% percent were in school). Children
routinely witness violence and killings that are often
gruesome, including seeing family and friend die. A
recent study of 2,500 grade school children in Baghdad
found that 70% showed symptoms of trauma.

While Bush brags that his war has liberated women, in
reality there has been an explosion of violence against
them, including widespread abductions, public beatings,
rapes, "honor killings," torture, beheadings, and
public hangings. The president of the Iraqi National
Council of Women goes nowhere without a bodyguard. "I
started with 6," she said, "then I increased to 12, and
then to 20, and then to 30." One of the women in Iraq's
parliament said bluntly, "This is the worst time ever
in Iraqi women's lives."

Yet, the war goes on

Lest we forget in the foggy mist of Bush's rationales
for his war (WMDs! al Qaeda connections! Democracy for
the people!), Iraq sits atop the world's second-largest
oil reserve. The proven reserves are 112 billion
barrels, with a probable pool in excess of 400 billion
barrels. At current prices, that's about $25 trillion
worth of crude.

When certain outrageous commentators (like me)
suggested at the start of the war's build-up that an
oil grab could be involved, Rumsfeld barked to the
media, "It has nothing to do with oil, literally
nothing to do with oil." Could that have been another
Bushite lie?

Yes. Big Oil has long wanted to get its hands on Iraq's
vast reserves. In a 1998 speech, Chevron's CEO said,
"I'd love Chevron to have access." Big Oil's wish is
Bush's command, and as early as December 2002, just
before the invasion, the state department's
oil-and-energy working group was saying that Iraq
"should be opened to international oil companies as
quickly as possible after the war."

In 2004 Bush & Company drafted a secret legislative
proposal to deliver this national treasure to the oil
giants. This February, the proposal was introduced to
the Iraqi parliament, and now the Bushites, oil
lobbyists, and a handful of Iraqi pols are urgently
trying to pass it.

This law would transform Iraq's oil reserves from a
nationally owned resource to a privatization model,
opening two thirds of the known oil fields (and all
fields discovered in the future) to control by Big Oil.
Instead of having Iraq's parliament make the major
decisions over oil, an unelected authority called the
Federal Oil and Gas Council would take charge. And
guess who would have seats on the council? The major
oil corporations!

This autocratic group would then decide who gets the
contracts to extract the nation's oil. That means Big
Oil would be approving its own bids! Also, the
corporations would not have to hire Iraqis, reinvest
profits in Iraq, or share new technologies. Foreign
interests would even be allowed to divvy up the
territory now, hold their pieces of the action until
after the current civil war settles down, and then move
in to grab profits.

Yet, the war goes on

If you think that maybe our selfannointed "war
president" is in over his head, ponder this bit of
strategic insight from George: "No question that the
enemy has tried to spread sectarian violence. They use
violence as a tool to do that."

Uh, yeah...and it seems to be working. Bush's surge
strategy is intended to concentrate our forces in
Baghdad to rid the capital of violence. But since the
surge began, residents have not noticed any lull in the
carnage, instead experiencing a record number of car
bombings. On April 12, the Green Zone itself got a
wake-up call when a suicide bomber detonated himself in
the parliament's cafeteria, killing three lawmakers and
five others.

Meanwhile, knowing that the U.S. surge was coming and
would last for only a few months, the deadly Shiite
militias based in Baghdad have simply stood down to
wait out Bush. With U.S. and Iraqi forces surging in
Baghdad, the bloodshed has spread to the countryside.
In late March, for example, two massive truck bombs
ripped through the town market in Tal Afar, killing 48.
In response, Shiite militia went on a revenge spree
against Sunni residents, killing some 60 of them.

Then there's the Kurdish zone in the north, which had
been rather calm...until now. The Iraqi constitution
cobbled together by the Bushites a couple of years ago
contains a provision requiring a referendum on the
future of the region's capital city, Kirkuk. Now,
because two sides want to control this wealthy city, a
new front has opened in the Iraq war.

On one side are the Kurds, who have set up their own
essentially autonomous government in the north and have
well-armed, battleseasoned militias ready to fight for
the land they claim as their own. Opposing them are the
Arabs, who were moved into the Kurdish zone by Saddam
Hussein years ago but now consider it to be theirs.
They are also heavily armed and--follow the bouncing
ball here--they are backed by the government of
neighboring Turkey, which is fighting a Kurdish
independence movement inside its own borders.

Literally underlying this explosive ethnic imbroglio is
one of the world's largest oil reserves, which means
Big Oil also has a keen interest in "winning"--whatever
that involves. To add to the nasty potential, Iran
cares very much about this fight and has deployed
security forces to the border it shares with the
Kurdish zone.

The government in Baghdad, under enormous pressure (aka
blackmail) from Kurdish legislators, has just decided
to back the Kurds' claim--and the Arab side in Kirkuk
is already setting off bombs in Kurdish neighborhoods.

Yet, the war goes on

In a tragi-comic bit of presidential posturing, Bush
assembled a dozen or so veterans, soldiers, and family
members in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White
House for a media show on March 23. With these human
"stage props" lined up behind him, George lashed out at
congressional Democrats for passing a bill requiring
withdrawal from Iraq next year. Without even a smile of
irony, Bush called the Democrats' effort "an act of
political theater."

Well, this particular withdrawal bill won't get the job
done, but it's a reflection of the broad public demand
to stop this horrible folly. Roughly two thirds of
Americans want out of Iraq by next year, and 54%
support a cutoff of funds for Bush's surge. Even the
troops in Iraq want a withdrawal, for only 35% of those
polled by Military Timeslast December said that they
approve of George W's handling of the war.

Still, some progressives despair. They say that last
year's elections were a clear mandate for withdrawal,
but the Democrats have been weak and the killing
continues, so what's the use? That's right on the
facts, but totally wrong on the attitude. We made great
strides last year, and we've changed the national
debate on the war. Yes, Bush and Cheney are boneheads,
and the Democratic leadership has Jello in its spine,
but what did you expect? Popular movements have always
had to muster the tenacity to overcome
disappointments-- and ours is no different. Come
on--we've got 'em on the run! Far from being down, take
energy from the gains we've made--and keep pushing on.
No one is going to stop the war but us.

From "The Hightower Lowdown," edited by Jim Hightower
and Phillip Frazer, May 2007. Jim Hightower is a
national radio commentator, writer, public speaker, and
author of "Thieves In High Places: They've Stolen Our
Country And It's Time to Take It Back."
(c) 2007 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.

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