It's all about the numbers. Or, perhaps, it should be. President George W. Bush is seeking to send another 21,500 American troops into Baghdad, hoping to stem violence there and allow the Iraqi government to gain a foothold. He is seeking an additional $538 million (on top of the $38 billion already spent) to keep current economic programs going, and he wants $1.2 billion to cover new initiatives.
Those are large numbers, numbers being sold as necessary to maintain America's commitment to the Iraqi people, spread democracy, save his legacy and so on.
Big numbers and big goals -- but reality demands that a full accounting be offered, that the other side of the ledger be tallied.
Between 55,000 and 62,000 Iraqi civilians killed, according to Iraqi Body Count. (A Johns Hopkins study last year put the number at more than 10 times this.)
More than 3,100 American soldiers killed.
Nearly 400 civilian contractors killed.
Nearly 50,000 American "non-mortal casualties."
More than 250 coalition deaths.
Nearly $370 billion to pay for the war.
Tens of thousands protesters (or as many as 500,000 depending on the estimates) march in Washington at the end of January to protest the war.
71% of Americans disapproving of the job the president is doing in
57% opposing the sending of additional troops to Iraq.
Nearly 2 million Iraqis fleeing war to neighboring Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.
About 1.7 million internal refugees.
It's numbers like these that throw the scales off balance, though you wouldn't know it from the president's attitude. He remains committed to his basic argument, that it Iraq is too important for the United States to lose, that American troops must remain mired in the midst of a festering civil war because to not do so will lead to defeat.
But as Josh Marshall, of Talking Points Memo blog (talkingpointsmemo.com), points out, the issue is not victory or defeat. It is failure.
Playing off an op-ed in the New York Times by Edward Luttwick, in which the longtime hawk advocates what he calls disengagement (leaving most American troops in Iraq to "hole up within safe and mostly remote bases in Iraq -- to support the elected government, deter foreign invasion, dissuade visible foreign intrusions, and strike at any large concentration of jihadis should it emerge"), Marshall makes the point that the president's war in Iraq has failed. The president, however, refuses to admit this, refuses even to use the word failure.
Instead, he talks of defeat, as in defeat is unacceptable. This spin of phrase has the entire discussion on its head.
"[G]etting our policy in order is ... being stymied because the political opponents of the war aren't willing to say that, yes, the policy has failed," Marshall says. "Not 'defeated.' To be 'defeated' you need to have some other party 'defeat' you. This is just a failure. But whichever it is, that bogey is being used by the White House to scare off the opposition."
So while the Democrats debate whether to set a date for withdrawal and both parties haggle over the wording of a toothless resolution, Americans and Iraqis continue to die and the nation slides further into the abyss.
That's what the Washington march in January was all about.
The New York Times quoted one protester from Louisiana, Tassi McKee, an Air Force staff sergeant, who wants to see her fellow servicemen and women brought home.
"I believe this has become a civil war, and we are being hurt and making matters worse by staying in the middle of it," Sgt. McKee told the Times.
The Record (Bergen County, N.J.) talked with one woman who was attending her first protest, Kath Heytink, a graphic designer from Fair Lawn, who put into words what I think most of us are feeling.
"I'm fed up," she told the paper. "I just can't deal with the president not listening to the people, won't listen to the Congress. I'm so upset and aggravated and I had to do something."
Hank Kalet is a poet and managing editor of the South Brunswick Post and The Cranbury Press. Email email@example.com. See his blog, Channel Surfing, at www.kaletblog.com.
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