Tomgram: Michael Schwartz, How to Disintegrate a City

Once again last week, the President and his men surged into the headlines, announcing that we had just zipped past yet another of those Iraqi “turning points.” Or, as George W. Bush put it while speaking at the Pentagon (and perhaps dreaming of the days back in 2005 when he could still happily mention “victory” 15 times and “progress” 28 times in a speech about Iraq): “The surge is working. And as a return on our success in Iraq, we’ve begun bringing some of our troops home. The surge has done more than turn the situation in Iraq around — it has opened the door to a major strategic victory in the broader war on terror.”

A few years ago, of course, the Bush administration was still “turning corners” (around which, invariably, would be an unexpected group of insurgents armed with RPGs and IEDs). Now, in a change of linguistic pace, the corners have vanished (perhaps because we haven’t liked who’s lurking there) and we’re opening doors instead. If history is any guide, behind the President’s “door” will prove to be not the lady but the tiger.

In the meantime, our surly Vice President has just surged past the American people. In an interview in Oman with ABC’s Martha Raddatz, there was this pungent exchange:

“Q: …Two-thirds of Americans say [the Iraq War]’s not worth fighting, and they’re looking at the value gain versus the cost in American lives, certainly, and Iraqi lives.”THE VICE PRESIDENT: So?”

Perhaps the most revealing imagery of the week, however, came from the President’s candidate for the Oval Office in January 2009. On completing a visit to “Iraq,” Senator John McCain issued a ringing statement on the war that began this way: “Today in Iraq, America and our allies stand on the precipice of winning a major victory against radical Islamic extremism.” The “precipice of victory” and, next perhaps, the “abyss of victory”?

Go back two years and that word “precipice” was a commonplace in Washington as a rattled Bush administration faced a sectarian civil war in Iraq. Now, as any independent or foreign journalist would tell you (though the American press has generally been more upbeat), the Iraqis are living in that abyss, down which Sen. McCain evidently stares and sees victory. They are living in a hell, a country so thoroughly dismantled that the brave British journalist Patrick Cockburn recently claimed “Iraq” was now little more than a “geographical expression.”

Click here to read more of this dispatch.


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