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Benchmarks, Timelines and Lies

Like a Soldier

by STEPHEN FLEISCHMAN

When you’re wounded and left on Afghanistan’s plains,
And the women come out to cut up what remains,
Jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains

An’ go to your Gawd like a soldier.

Kipling

Rudyard Kipling knew what he was talking about when he wrote that verse. As a chronicler of the British Empire in its declining years, he foreshadowed the coming of America’s Empire in his advice to the British soldier. But we know that a better way to support our troops is to bring them home now. Who would want to be the last soldier to die in the Iraq war?

It seems that the Bush Administration is beginning to admit what we have known for some time-that the war in Iraq is already lost. So should we continue to "blow out our brains" as the British did on Afghanistan’s plains, or should we cut and run as we did in Vietnam, although a bit too late.

The Bush war party is being gored by the horns of a dilemma. Some members of the establishment are calling for a reduction of forces, maybe 30 thousand or so, to ward off stinging defeat in the upcoming Congressional elections. Other factions in the Administration, mainly the neo-cons, are calling for the addition of more troops to do what some say should have been done in the first place-send in overwhelming force and do what Colin Powell so graphically described in the first Gulf War, "surround the enemy, cut it off and kill it." Unfortunately for him (and for us) he didn’t take his own advice and went along with the Rumsfeld concept of doing this war "on the cheap".

Not quite so cheap, as it turned out. The theft of 18 billion dollars, here and there, doesn’t seem like much compared with the 1 trillion or 2 trillion the war has cost our hardy taxpayers thus far, depending on who’s calculating the damage. How many school lunches or health insurance policies would that buy?

When will we get out of Iraq? Not until we’re kicked out, it seems. This is getting more and more like déjà vu all over again. Bush has given up his mantra "stay the course" but he has not quit his other bright saying, "When the Iraqis stand up, we’ll stand down". The estimates change almost daily. "Now the Iraqis are standing upnow they’re standing down now they’re being decimated by the insurgents well, some of them are standing up, noI mean standing down

Meanwhile, judging from the nightly news clips, our troops seem to be running around in circles in the most dangerous place in the world-busting into people’s houses, intimidating children, terrorizing women, and harassing their men, killing some of them, looking for terrorists and insurgents. A great way to win the hearts and minds of the people; a cliché they still talk about. But the resistance goes on, the way it did in Algiers when Algeria finally dumped the French.

"Take up the White Man’s burden–Send forth the best ye breed " said Kipling. That’s what Bush thought he was doing when he sent young men like Cindy Sheehan’s son, Casey, into battle in Iraq in order to bring freedom and free enterprise (not for the Iraqis but for Halliburton, Bechtel and Boeing) into this Saddam-ized country.

Now that Bush’s military adventurism is falling apart, the news of it is busting out all over. Even the popular German news magazine, Der Spiegel, heralded the US loss of the Iraq War, this week, under a banner headline "Power and Lies".

Now, even Republicans are beginning to speak up. Pennsylvania Congressman Curt Weldon, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, once a hawk, is now asking for a timetable to bring the troops home. Other dissident Republicans are following suit. Rep. Christopher Shays of Connecticut favors a timeline for troop withdrawals, New Jersey’s Tom Kean, Jr., running for the Senate called for Rumsfeld’s resignation and said Bush had made "horrendous mistakes", Pat Tiberi of Ohio called for new leadership at the Pentagon, Sen. Lindsey Graham called Iraq "a mess", and so it goes. They all want to put some distance between George Bush and their candidacy. A looming election has magical powers.

To distract his right-wing constituency from the truth, Bush has given the so-called Iraqi government a "timeline for benchmarks"-a series of tasks for establishing security that they must complete in a period of time before the occupying troops can leave. Another gimmick. If they haven’t been able to accomplish these tasks before having a timeline, they’re not going to be any better off with one.

What are we going to think of next? Major General J.D. Thurman, senior commander of US forces in Baghdad came up with a good answer-do what’s right for the country. Right now, the Iraqis are so splintered, it would be harder to get them back together again than it would be to get Humpty Dumpty back on the wall. So why not let them fight it out and if they decide to split into three regions, Sunni, Shia and Kurds, so be it.

Meanwhile, the resistance grows. Everyone waits expectantly for that tipping point when Grand Ayatollah al Sistani tips his turban and the Shia join the Sunni insurgency against the occupiers-the end of the beginning.

If it can be said that Osama bin Laden was the "Gunga Din" of 9/11 (carrying water for al Qaeda), there will come a time when George W. Bush will have to say to Osama, "You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din".

STEPHEN FLEISCHMAN, television writer-director-producer, spent thirty years in Network News at CBS and ABC, starting in 1953. In 1959, he participated in the formation of the renowned Murrow-Friendly "CBS Reports" series. In 1983, Fleischman won the prestigious Columbia University-Dupont Television Journalism Award. In 2004, he wrote his memoir. See: www.ARedintheHouse.com, E-mail: stevefl@comcast.ne