Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Good News! You Can Stop Reading This Blog!

Iraq is stabilized”: A contingent of conservatives talk radio hosts is headed to Iraq this month on a mission to report "the truth" about the war: American troops are winning, despite headlines to the contrary.

The "Truth Tour" has been pulled together by the conservative Web cast radio group Rightalk.com and Move America Forward, a non-profit conservative group backed by a Republican-linked public relations firm in California.

"The reason why we are doing it is we are sick and tired of seeing and hearing headlines by the mainstream media about our defeat in Iraq," Melanie Morgan, a talk radio host for KSFO Radio in San Francisco and co-chair of Move America Forward, said.

According to retired Col. Buzz Patterson, host of "The Buzz Cut" on Rightalk, the delegation of seven to 10 conservatives will also include two writers from the Web site FrontPage Magazine, which is published by David Horowitz and the Center for the Study of Popular Culture.

"The war is being won, if not already won, I think," Patterson, who is retired from the U.S. Air Force, said. "[Iraq] is stabilized and we want the soldiers themselves to tell the story."

Meanwhile, back in the world where the rest of us live:

War News for Monday, July 04 and Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Bring ‘em on: One Iraqi civilian wounded in roadside bomb attack on a convoy of Western security guards outside the Iranian embassy in Baghdad. “Several casualties” were transported to a hospital after a roadside bomb attack on a US patrol in southeastern Baghdad, no other details available. (Thanks zig for the link)

Bring ‘em on: Bahrain’s top envoy to Iraq wounded in attempted kidnapping in Baghdad.

Bring ‘em on: Four US Marines wounded in two suicide car bombings in Hit. Four women killed and three men wounded when gunmen ambushed a minibus carrying Baghdad airport employees to work. Two Iraqi soldiers killed and seven wounded in a roadside bomb and small arms attack in Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib district. One 13-year-old girl killed and four civilians wounded in mortar attack that missed a US base in Samarra. Two sisters killed in a mortar attack in Ramadi. US and Iraqi forces clashed with insurgents in Ramadi, no details available. (Thanks bob for the link)

Bring ‘em on: Gunmen attempted to kidnap the Pakistani Ambassador to Iraq and fired on his convoy. The Ambassador was uninjured, no word on other casualties. The Ambassador will be relocated to Amman, Jordan, out of concern for the security situation in Iraq.

Bring ‘em on: One US soldier killed and two wounded when their vehicle struck an explosive device near Baghdad.

Bring ‘em on: Leader of the Supreme Assembly for the Islamic Revolution shot dead in Baghdad drive-by shooting. US and Iraqi joint patrol targeted by a roadside bomb in the Al Amal neighborhood of Baghdad, two fatalities and one wounded reported, no word on nationality or military status of casualties.

Bring ‘em on: Japanese military base under mortar attack in Samawa, no casualties. Four mortar rounds landed on a US military base north of Najaf, no immediate reports of casualties. Eight Iraqis kidnapped by armed men as they drove to work at a US base in Baquba. Two civilians killed by a car bomb in western Baghdad. Senior member of the Kurdish Democratic Party’s Mosul branch assassinated in Mosul. Bodyguard of Nineveh province’s governor killed in Mosul. Indeterminate number of Iraqi soldiers killed and wounded in a car bombing in Fallujah. Local council member assassinated in Tal Afar.

Must be reading too much mainstream media: "Two of my soldiers have been killed in six weeks," says Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Williams, 43, the senior British commander at Abu Naji, which is home to around 1,000 soldiers. "To you Americans, that's nothing. But in the previous six months, not one British soldier was killed here. The security situation is worse than it was two, three months ago."

Williams's assessment comes at a time when the Iraqi insurgency seems to be gaining in strength and reach.

On May 30, Vice President Dick Cheney said that the war in Iraq would be won by 2009, confirming what many skeptics have long believed. No matter that Cheney later described the insurgency as being in its "last throes." The conflict is far from over, and despite some qualified successes such as the January elections, the fight against the insurgency is not going as well as the Bush administration says. That the violence has shattered even the relative peace and quiet of Al Amarah is perhaps proof that the insurgency has only spread.

And it has Williams reconsidering the coalition presence here.

On June 2, still reeling from Brackenbury's death, Williams tells two visiting reporters that much of the violence in the province targets foreign soldiers. He openly speculates that in Maysan, the coalition ("multinational forces," or MNF, in militaryspeak) perhaps causes more violence than it prevents.

Iraqi Politics

Some progress: Fifteen Iraqi Sunni-Muslim members are preparing to join a Shi'ite-dominated parliamentary committee drafting a new constitution. It is hoped that including more Sunnis in the political process will ease the insurgency that is believed to draw much of its support from disaffected members of that minority community.

A spokesman for the umbrella Sunni-Muslim organization, National Dialogue Council, expressed relief the 15 Sunni names submitted to parliament were approved, following a lengthy delay.

In mid-June, a Sunni leader in government turned in a list of 15 candidates to join two other Sunnis on the 55-member constitution committee. But the approval process bogged down after majority Shi'ites and Kurds accused some of the men on the list of having been senior members of Saddam Hussein's Sunni-dominated Baath Party. The accused men denied the charge.

Now they just have to write it: Breaking an impasse that had threatened to delay the drafting of a new constitution, a mostly Shiite and Kurdish constitutional committee met with and formally accepted today 15 Sunni Arab politicians who had been lobbying to join the committee.

The progress on the political front came as insurgents stepped up their campaign to drive Muslim diplomats from the country. Gunmen opened fire in the morning on a car carrying the top diplomat from Bahrain, Hassan al-Ansary, injuring him, while another group of insurgents fired on a convoy carrying the top diplomat from Pakistan. No one was injured in the second attack.

The assaults came two days after the top Egyptian diplomat here was kidnapped while driving alone in western Baghdad at night. The American and Iraqi governments have been pressing Arab countries to send ambassadors to Iraq and upgrade their diplomatic ties here, a move that would help bestow legitimacy on the Iraqi government. Laith Kubba, a spokesman for the government, said at a news conference today that it was obvious the insurgents were trying to hamper any such efforts.

Revenue problems: Iraq has lost about $11.4 billion due to damage to oil sector infrastructure and lost revenue since petroleum exports resumed after the U.S.-led invasion two years ago, an Iraqi oil ministry spokesman said Sunday.

Assem Jihad told Dow Jones Newswires that there had been 300 acts of sabotage against Iraqi oil installations between June 2003 when Iraq resumed exports and May 31. He said 70 acts of sabotage took place in the first five months of 2005.

Jihad said most of the sabotage took place in the northern oil installations preventing the country from exporting around 400,000 barrels a day from its northern oil fields to the Turkish port of Ceyhan.

Daily Life in Iraq

Barbershop terror: Such is the terror in Baghdad that it is now common to see signs that say: "We apologize for not shaving beards or removing facial hair".

"I put this sign up after one of my friends in the same street was threatened. I've decided to quit shaving beards or removing facial hair to save my life, as well as those of my customers. I only cut hair, said Muhannad Ali Sahib, who owns a barbershop in the western Baghdad neighborhood of Zaiyunah.

Other barbers have turned their homes into underground barbershops.

According to an interior ministry official, at least 20 barbers have been assassinated in areas like Shaab, Bayaa, Saidiyah and Baghdad al-Jadeeda over the past two months.

Quiet killings: The night before he was shot to death outside a mosque last month, Qasim Azawi talked with his wife about leaving the neighborhood. Two fellow Sunni worshipers had been killed in previous weeks, and he was afraid.

Less than 10 hours later, he was dead, the ninth Sunni to be killed since March in Ur, a neighborhood in northeast Baghdad.

In the shifting landscape of the new Iraq, Ur, with a population more than 80 percent Shiite, is a troubling example of how lethal the sectarian divide can become. Since late March, at least 12 religious Sunnis, most of them worshipers at Ur mosques, have been killed, according to relatives of the dead and to Sheik Ahmed al-Ani, an imam from Ur who is tracking the deaths. Tallied together with an adjoining neighborhood - Shaab - the death toll is 26.

It is a quiet kind of killing, beneath the radar of car bombs and other headline-grabbing violence. But block by block, battle lines are being drawn, with religious Sunnis and Shiites lining up on opposite sides.

Women’s rights: According to local police, dozens of women have had parts of their bodies burned by religious conservatives in a string of incidents throughout the capital in recent weeks. Maj Abbas Dilemi, a senior police investigator in Baghdad, said that most of the acid attacks had occurred in the Mansour and Kadhmyia districts of the city.

"Our sources have found that many children are being used to conduct such violence. The one adult we have arrested for this crime cannot accept Iraqi women wearing Western clothes and walking without veils, alleging that it's a prohibition by God," Dilemi said.

During Saddam Hussein's regime, Iraqi women were more or less free to wear what they wanted. In the 1980s Iraq was considered one of the most Western countries in the region in terms of fashion.

The current attacks and intimidation are not confined to the capital. In the western province of Anbar, female residents have received warnings not to go out without their veils and abayas since April 2004. Five women were reported killed in the province for not following the orders of religious radicals since the war the led to Hussein's downfall ended in May 2003.

Shooting Civilians Does Not Win Their Hearts Or Minds

Criticism: Laith Kubba, a spokesman for the Iraqi government, yesterday criticized American troops for shooting and killing unarmed Iraqi civilians, citing the recent deaths of Yasser Salihee, a reporter for Knight Ridder, and Muhammad al-Sumaidaie, a cousin of Iraq's ambassador to the United Nations, Samir Sumaidaie.

The American military has said it is investigating both incidents. Knight Ridder has said that its reporter was likely shot by an American sniper.

Kubba also said Sunday, at a Baghdad press briefing, that some Iraqi security forces had been responsible for torturing and abusing prisoners.

Also on Sunday, the mother of Muhammad al-Sumaidaie gave an eyewitness account of how, she said, American Marines had entered her home on June 25 and killed her son.

Immune from arrest: The Iraqi government said it was worried about the rise in incidents of civilian deaths by US fire and that Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari will raise the issue with US officials.

"The prime minister will take up this matter at the highest level," spokesman Leith Kubba told reporters, citing the case of Yasser al-Salihy, an employee of US media group Knight Ridder.

Salihy, 30, was killed June 24 near his home in Baghdad's western Ameriyah district by purported US sniper fire, one of his colleagues said, adding that the US military has promised to investigate the incident.

Under a controversial order passed by the previous US-led occupation authority, all foreign soldiers, diplomats or contractors implicated in the killing of Iraqi civilians are immune from arrest or trial in Iraq and are subject to the jurisdiction of their native countries.

First the Italians, now the Swiss: Switzerland has asked the United States for information on the death of a Swiss man in Baghdad, who was shot after his car was stopped by US soldiers.

"A citizen with Swiss-Iraqi double nationality died during an incident (in Baghdad) last Tuesday," Foreign Ministry spokesman Ivo Sieber said.

The name of the dead man was not released.

His brother, who was travelling with him, told Swiss authorities their car had been stopped by US soldiers and that the victim died from a gunshot, Mr Sieber said.

"Force protection": Hannah Allam's moving obituary for Yasser Salihee, one of Knight Ridder's Iraqi correspondents in Baghdad, would be upsetting enough on its own if it were not for two additional considerations. The first is that Yasser Salihee joins a list of three intrepid Iraqi reporters and broadcasters killed in Baghdad last week. The second is that all three were slain by American fire. Ahmed Wael Bakri, the program director at al-Sharqiya TV, and Maha Ibrahim, a reporter for the same network, were both shot seemingly either for coming too close to American soldiers, or for misinterpreting signals or gestures from them.

These brave people were not murdered or targeted, or else slaughtered indiscriminately, as would be the case if they had been victims of the al-Qaida-Baath alliance. But it would not be entirely correct to say that their deaths were quite accidental, either. They were victims of a policy of "force protection" that mandates Americans to treat any questionable action or movement with "zero tolerance." It's a moral certainty that many more Iraqi citizens die this way than are ever reported.

I have been very reliably assured that the British commander, Gen. Michael Jackson, has privately told his American counterparts that if they go on in this manner they will risk losing Iraq. I am not one of those Brits who likes to bang on too much about the superiority of English tact and restraint over Yankee brashness. And, though it is true that British-held Basra has got its pulse back much sooner than Baghdad, and is displaying other vital signs as well, the task of keeping order in a Shi'a majority city is clearly an easier one. Nonetheless, there must be something to Jackson's belief that soldiering also involves a degree of visible fraternization and a willingness to go on the streets with Iraqi police and civilians, rather than gesture at them from inside a space-suit or armored vehicle, and then shoot them dead if they don't get it right the first time.

Interesting News But I’d Wait On The Party

Syrians vs Iraqi insurgents: Syrian security forces clashed early Monday in the hills overlooking Damascus with men believed to be militants connected to Iraq's insurgency, the official Syrian news agency SANA reported.

Some of the militants were believed to have been former bodyguards for Saddam Hussein, the report said, but it gave no further details and did not say how it was known who they were or where they might have escaped to afterward.

The predawn firefight on scenic Qassioun Mountain left one police officer dead and several others wounded, the report said. It was the second clash in as many days between the Syrian authorities and people believed to be militants, perhaps from the same group.

On Sunday, border guards and security agents fought with a group along the Lebanese-Syrian border, leaving one of the suspected militants and two guards dead. More than 34 militants were later arrested in what appeared to be a sweep of the area, the news agency reported.

Foreign fighters vs. Iraqi insurgents: American troops on the Syrian border are enjoying a battle they have long waited to see - a clash between foreign al-Qa'eda fighters and Iraqi insurgents.

Tribal leaders in Husaybah are attacking followers of Abu Musab Zarqawi, the Jordanian-born terrorist who established the town as an entry point for al-Qa'eda jihadists being smuggled into the country.

The reason, the US military believes, is frustration at the heavy-handed approach of the foreigners, who have kidnapped and assassinated local leaders and imposed a strict Islamic code.

The Negroponte Option

Deeply concerned: The British government said it was "deeply concerned" by reports published of abuse of detainees being held in Iraqi police cells.

The Observer newspaper said it had photographic evidence, from post-mortem and hospital examinations, of torture of alleged terror suspects by Iraqi security units.

Allegations of abuse covered burning, strangulation, sexual abuse, hanging by the arms, the breaking of limbs and -- in one case -- the use of an electric drill for a knee-capping.

The newspaper alleged that British aid intended for the Iraqi Police Service had been diverted to commando units accused of human rights abuses, including torture and extra-judicial killings.

It also reported claims that a network of secret detention centers has been set up, which have remained inaccessible to human rights organisations.

But it’s all Saddam’s fault. Or Clinton’s. Not that there’s any difference: Iraq's government acknowledged that some of its new security forces could be resorting to the sort of torture and abuses of detainees seen under Saddam Hussein as they struggle to put down Sunni insurgents.

Responding to reports alleging the widespread use of irregular arrests and of violence against prisoners by Iraqi police and other security units, a government spokesman blamed it in part on the brutalizing of Iraqi society under Saddam and said ministers were addressing the problem.

"These things happen. We know that," Laith Kubba said in a news briefing after a report in Britain's Observer newspaper detailed allegations of death squads and secret torture centers.

Six months ago, New York-based Human Rights Watch documented what it called "routine and commonplace" abuse by Iraqi forces.

The United States and Britain have voiced concern. Both have been embarrassed by killings and abuse of Iraqis by their own forces after they had justified invasion partly on the grounds of Saddam's oppression of Iraqis.

This Should Turn Things Around

Good news and smiling pictures: As President Bush concluded his address to the nation Tuesday evening, after imploring Americans yet again for their patience and resolve in the war in Iraq, he turned to a new device to make his case.

A patriotic Web site.

''You can go there to learn about private efforts in your own community,'' Bush said, after promoting the Web site. ''At this time when we celebrate our freedom, let us stand with the men and women who defend us all.''

Before he was sworn into office, the president swore off e-mail out of a concern for his privacy. And aides have said Bush isn't known to frequent many Internet sites. (Hey, he can come to this one any time. I’m sure we’ll all give him exactly the amount of respect he deserves.)

The Defense Department first launched the site Nov. 19, hoping to create an electronic wave of support for those fighting in Iraq. But a quick perusal of the site Tuesday evening shows that many features are not available, including messages back from the troops.

Still, the Web site features a red, white and blue mix of gadgetry that allows someone to send an en masse e-mail to the troops. Or an ''America Supports You'' logo can be ordered to be affixed on a baseball hat, a water bottle or a T-shirt.

The technology resembles the Bush campaign's Internet site from last year's presidential race. Like the Bush 2004 Web site, the pages are chock-full of good news and smiling pictures. And dissenting views on the war are not allowed.

Gee, if only the Truth Squad had known about this they could have saved themselves a trip…

US Political and Military News

Specific benchmarks: President Bush is facing an early legal deadline to deliver what he has been most resistant to providing: a set of specific benchmarks for measuring progress toward military and political stability in Iraq.

Under a little-noticed provision of the defense spending bill passed by Congress in May, Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld has until July 11 to send Capitol Hill a "comprehensive set of performance indicators and measures of stability and security" two years after the fall of Saddam Hussein.

A Pentagon spokeswoman, responding to my inquiry, said last week, "We are working toward completing the report by the due date."

If and when it comes in, it could do much more than the president's Tuesday night speech at Fort Bragg to provide a factual basis for judging how close we may be to reaching our goals in Iraq. Yeah, key words – if and when…

Changing assumptions: The Pentagon's most senior planners are challenging the longstanding strategy that requires the armed forces to be prepared to fight two major wars at a time. Instead, they are weighing whether to shape the military to mount one conventional campaign while devoting more resources to defending American territory and antiterrorism efforts.

The consideration of these profound changes are at the center of the current top-to-bottom review of Pentagon strategy, as ordered by Congress every four years, and will determine the future size of the military as well as the fate of hundreds of billions of dollars in new weapons.

The intense debate reflects a growing recognition that the current burden of maintaining forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, along with the other demands of the global campaign against terrorism, may force a change in the assumptions that have been the foundation of all military planning.

Recruitment woes: Maybe figuring that it is mostly worried moms keeping their kids home, the army, after its fourth straight month of recruitment shortfalls, has begun broadcasting a new series of TV ads. They feature young people telling their folks about the education benefits—up to $70,000 for college or $65,000 to repay student loans—and the chance to serve a worthy cause.

Kathy Allwein of Lebanon, Pennsylvania, found herself having that exact conversation with her younger son in 2002. Tony Allwein, now 24, graduated from Catholic school in 1999 and attended the Pennsylvania College of Technology, a public technical affiliate of Penn State, for three years, where he studied computer programming. He was putting himself through with student loans, and Kathy Allwein says the debt was a big factor in his decision to drop out and, soon after, join the army.

"That recruiter sat in our living room and promised the whole family that these loans would be taken care of in full," Kathy says, her voice steely. "In his contract it was stated that they would take care of them." In Iraq, Tony served as a rear gunner on a convoy, for a month or two lacking much needed body armor. His active duty ends in November 2006 and he is eligible to be called back for four years after that. And just last month, his family found out that his loans would not be repaid by the U.S. government. Not one cent.”

Hey, if they can nail this demographic and the College Republicans…:On most weekends during the Nextel Cup season, as Nascar's premier racing series travels from city to city, a marketing company hired by the United States Army follows, setting up shop outside the racetrack with a free interactive display that attracts thousands of fans.

The displays at Nascar events are generating as many as 1,000 to 2,000 leads for potential new recruits on each racing weekend, said Guy Morgan of Keystone Marketing Company, which operates the display. That amounts to nearly 40,000 leads a year, Nickerson said.

"If all of our programs were doing as well as our racing program was, we wouldn't have a recruiting problem," Lt. Col. Mike Jones, the National Guard deputy division chief for recruiting and retention, said during a telephone interview. "Obviously, you have to do more than one type of outreach program to be successful in any business. Nascar alone will not fix our total recruiting needs. What Nascar does, it hits that segment of the population that is very pro-military service."

Many Nascar fans drape themselves in the flag, and the sport boasts a long, close relationship with the military. High-ranking officers frequently attend races and are taken behind the scenes, receiving applause when introduced to the drivers at the prerace meetings. Before almost every race, there is a military fly-over during the national anthem.

Suck it up, old soldiers: As the violence in Iraq persists, so has pressure to maintain the number of American boots on the ground. This is a problem, since lately, the Army hasn't come close to meeting its recruitment goals.

So, as Correspondent Scott Pelley first reported last fall, it's been drawing from a pool of semi-retired soldiers called the Individual Ready Reserve, and it's a sign that it needs able (and not so able) bodies to fill the gap.

Many of the men and women being mobilized in the Ready Reserve (9,000 so far) are not very happy about it. In fact, of those who were supposed to report to duty in April, nine out of 10 of them either applied for an exemption, or didn't respond at all.

But if old soldiers never die, as the saying goes, the Army isn't letting them fade away.

Whoa – an honest Republican?: U.S. Senator Chuck Hagel, a Nebraska Republican, said the Bush administration must adjust its policies in Iraq and set standards to determine progress.

``People need to have some kind of measurement standard in Iraq,'' Hagel said on the NBC's ``Meet the Press.'' ``So that we don't drift and just every now and then get a new speech saying, `Well, we're doing fine and just stay the course.' Stay the course is not a policy.''

Interview with Chuck Hagel

Q: You're one of a growing number of Republicans who have lately accused President Bush of botching the war in Iraq.

A: If someone says I am a disloyal Republican because I am not supporting my party, let them say it. War is bigger than politics.

Q: You, John McCain and John Kerry are the only current U.S. senators who served in Vietnam.

A: I got to Vietnam in December of 1967, and I was wounded twice with my brother Tom, who was with me. I still have some shrapnel in my chest that the doctors never took out. The second time my face was burned pretty bad, and I had both eardrums blown out.

Q: How would you compare the situation in Iraq with the one in Vietnam?

A: Congress was absent during the Vietnam War, and they didn't ask the tough questions, and consequently we lost 58,000 Americans and lost a war and humiliated this nation. It took a generation to get over it. As long as I am here as a U.S. senator, I am going to do whatever I can to make sure that isn't going to happen.

Q: What do you suggest that the president do?

A: For starters, we don't have enough troops. But I don't think the answer to increasing manpower is to pursue some of the things the Pentagon is doing, such as doubling and tripling bonuses for those in the military. Kids do not serve their country because they are in it to make money.


Comment: The occupation's sectarian discourse has acquired a hold as powerful as the WMD fiction that prepared the public for war. Iraqis are portrayed as a people who can't wait to kill each other once left to their own devices. In fact, the occupation is the main architect of institutionalised sectarian and ethnic divisions; its removal would act as a catalyst for Iraqis to resolve some of their differences politically. Only a few days ago the national assembly members who had signed the anti-occupation statement met representatives of the Foundation Congress (a group of 60 religious and secular organisations) and the al-Sadr movement and issued a joint call for the rapid withdrawal of the occupation forces according to an internationally guaranteed timetable.

There is now broad agreement in Iraq to build a non-sectarian, democratic Iraq that guarantees Kurdish national rights. The occupation is making the achievement of these goals more difficult.

Every day the occupation increases tension and makes people's lives worse, fuelling the violence. Creating a client regime in Baghdad, backed by permanent bases, is the route that US strategists followed in Vietnam. As in Vietnam, popular resistance in Iraq and the wider Middle East will not go away but will grow stronger, until it eventually unites to force a US-British withdrawal.

How many more Iraqis, Americans and Britons have to die before Bush and Blair admit the occupation is the problem and not part of any democratic solution in Iraq?

Special report: Driving a government van and wearing green trousers, khaki shirt and tie, garrison cap and black patent leather shoes buffed until you could see your face in them, Maj Woodcock rang the doorbell of No 74, a pale green wood-clad house with a pretty little garden, and changed the lives of Holly Charette's parents for ever.

Earlier that day their daughter, Lance Corporal Charette, 21, had been sitting in the back of a 7-tonne truck with other marines on their way back from a checkpoint outside Fallujah. They had been searching Iraqi women on a road into the city and it was the end of another long, hot day in Iraq. Dusk was falling and none of the Humvees assigned to protect the poorly armoured truck noticed the car as it approached. Seconds later the suicide bomber rammed his explosive-packed car into the side of the truck. Holly and three other female marines were killed and seven injured in the most deadly attack on women soldiers since the beginning of the Iraq war.

Maj Woodcock's face creased as he recalled breaking the news. "They took it pretty hard. It's the worst possible news you can give to any parent."

Opinion: Time was, when a president of either party had something to say to the public, he would do it from the Oval Office or a homier part of the White House. FDR's fireside chats set the standard for the latter approach. But these were men who didn't need props or amen corners; men who could rely on their command of the language and facts to get the message across.

For those very reasons, the major networks were reluctant to cover Tuesday's speech live, especially in light of the fact that the jump soldiers chosen to make up the audience were hand-picked by their commanders. It doesn't take much imagination to figure out what the selection criteria were.

But it's well they did cover it, because it showed the country that this administration has nothing new to offer in terms of prosecuting a war that should never have been started. It was the same old cliche-ridden, Bushian boilerplate, and the soldiers sat through it in silence, except for a sudden outburst of applause when Bush vowed to "stay in the fight until the fight is won."

And guess what? Even that was contrived. As the major networks reported, and The New York Times predictably did not report, that applause was cued by a White House official on stage.

Some things never change. And this administration's addiction to dishonesty is one of them.

Opinion: The Army can't find enough recruits. Could there be a clearer expression of Americans' disenchantment with the war in Iraq?

This is democracy where it matters. No one should doubt that young Americans would willingly go to war if they believed in it. But this is a war of choice that began with fabrications and has been marked by blunders at the highest level -- blunders that have resulted in many lives lost. Over two years, the aims of this war have shifted like dunes in the desert. President Bush, moreover, has told Americans they need not make any sacrifices; to the contrary, he has pursued tax cuts. This is not inspiring. This is deceptive and dishonorable. Yet the Army expects young idealists to sign up anyway, for hazardous duty in a treacherous country, where the violence shows no signs of letting up and the generals show no signs of knowing what to do about it.

It's no surprise that the idealists are staying away. Certainly, the sons and daughters of the unimpeachably idealistic neoconservatives who prayed for the war and brayed for what they stupidly supposed was victory back in 2003 are staying as far away from it as they possibly can.

Editorials: The Seattle Times on Sunday launched an unusual project, a series of editorials on Iraq that will run five consecutive days.

"Nothing about this is easy," it explained. "Americans too often are asked to support our government through support of our military men and women. In these editorials, we attempt to separate the vivid emotions of war from policy and ask where the policy is taking us."

Meanwhile, a newspaper far to the south with a less liberal reputation, the Huntsville (Ala.) Times, came out Sunday for a "realistic plan" to get out, while the Dallas Morning News ripped the U.S. invasion as "not wise" but said we must stand firm for now.

In the first installment of its editorial series on Sunday, the Seattle Times declared flatly, "The time has come to begin planning an exit from Iraq. We are not wanted there, and we have no legitimate national interest in staying.

"Our original war aim, the toppling of Saddam Hussein, has been achieved. It is now apparent that we are not even close to achieving the add-on mission of creating a democratic, law-abiding Iraqi state in which Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds share power.

"Why are we there? The average American cannot clearly explain it. That may be the most telling comment of all.”

Casualty Report

Local story: Orfordville, WI, soldier injured in helicopter crash in Iraq recovering from his injuries.