Back In The News
Well, the war is back in the news and there has been plenty of coverage this past week because Moqtada al Sadr sent his Mahdi Army out into the streets of Basra, ending a truce that has been in effect for many months. He's recalled his troops, at least for the present, and offered a new truce, but with conditions. While one can't be sure at present whether he did so to avoid having to face the US military (the Iraqi army was sent to take back the city) or because he accomplished what he had set out to do, which was to let the current Iraqi government know he was still a force to be reckoned with.
Either/or, the American public was once again reminded what a complicated mess this illegal and misbegotten war is. And that means, as this NY Times article points out, the candidates for president are once again talking about the war.
The fierce fighting — and the threat that it could undo a long-term truce that has greatly helped to reduce the level of violence in Iraq — thrust the war back into the headlines and the public consciousness just as it had been receding behind a tide of economic concerns. And it raised anew a host of politically charged questions about whether the current strategy is succeeding, how capable the Iraqis are of defending themselves and what the potential impact would be of any American troop withdrawals.
Mr. McCain, of Arizona, said he was encouraged that Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki’s government had sent its troops to reclaim Basra from the Shiite militias. “I think it’s a sign of the strength of his government,” Mr. McCain said Friday at a stop in Las Vegas. “I think it’s going to be a tough fight. We know that these militias are well entrenched there. I hope they will succeed and succeed quickly.”
The Democrats, who are calling for phased troop withdrawals, are beginning to point to the fighting in Basra as evidence that the American troop buildup has failed to provide stability and political reconciliation — particularly if the fighting leads one militia, the Mahdi Army, to pull out of its cease-fire; that could lead to a new spate of sectarian violence across the country. Some are saying the fighting strengthens their case for troop withdrawals.
The irony, of course, is that Sen. McCain had just returned from his trip to Iraq when the fighting broke out. Given the reported drubbing the Iraqi army took and the defections by that army, Sen. McCain's comments appear totally out of touch with reality.
The two Democratic candidates have responded intelligently by noting that even after the surge the Iraqi government and its institutions still can't do the job, and probably won't try too hard as long as the US back-up (especially our fighter planes) is available. And both are getting the word out that the current administration policy, which Sen. McCain wants to continue, is to keep the troop levels high both because the plan is working and the government is making great strides and because if we don't, the the country will fall into civil war because the government isn't making great strides.
As a result of the new coverage, the American public is once again reminded that we are at war, that Americans and Iraqis are dying and being maimed, and that the end is nowhere in sight. As Armando Acuna, the Public Editor of the SacBee put it in his article, which was obviously written before the full impact of the Basra story was known, this is what the job of the press is.
There is a notion that once the presidential election is in full swing in the fall, Iraq will once again rise as news topic No. 1.
Let's hope so. As it is now, unless you are a family member or close friend of someone serving in Iraq, the deaths of 4,000 Americans, the wounding of 30,000 others and the deaths of at least 81,000 Iraqi civilians aren't having much of an impact.
There's enough shame in that for everyone to share.