The words come from a page on the White House website, titled President Bush Visits Troops in Iraq.
You know, one of the things I try to do is put good people in place who accomplish hard jobs. And I can't think of two better leaders than [US Ambassador to Iraq] Zal Khalilzad and General Casey to lead this important effort. (Applause.) I thank you all very much for your service to our country. Your sacrifice is noble and your sacrifice is important. [I quote this because Khalilzad comes up a little later in this post]
The progress here in Iraq has been remarkable when you really think about it. The people of this country suffered under the hands of a brutal tyrant -- and thanks to the United States forces and coalition forces, the people are liberated from the clutches of Saddam Hussein. (Applause.) America is safer, the world is better off and the Iraqi people have a chance to realize the great blessings of liberty because Saddam Hussein is no longer in power.
That last paragraph's the money quote - because it's bullshit. There's been no progress and Iraq. And I can prove it...
Editor & Publisher reports that the Washington Post has obtained a cable from Khalilzad, available here (PDF), that details what life is really like for people living in Iraq.
This cable outlines, the Post reported Sunday, "the daily-worsening conditions for those who live outside the heavily guarded international zone: harassment, threats and the employees' constant fears that their neighbors will discover they work for the U.S. government."
It's actually far worse than that, as the details published below indicate, which include references to abductions, threats to women's rights, and "ethnic cleansing."
A PDF copy of the cable shows that it was sent to the SecState in Washington, D.C. from "AMEmbassy Baghdad" on June 6. The typed name at the very bottom is Khalilzad -- the name of the U.S. Ambassador, though it is not known if this means he wrote the memo or merely approved it.
"An Arab newspaper editor told us he is preparing an extensive survey of ethnic cleansing," the cable reads at one point, "Which he said is taking place in almost every Iraqi province, as political parties and their militiast (sic) are seemingly engaged in tit-for-tat reprisals all over Iraq."
According to E&P, other problems listed in the report are:
- "Personal safety depends on good relations with the 'neighborhood' governments, who barricade streets and ward off outsiders. The central government, our staff says, is not relevant; even local mukhtars have been displaced or coopted by militias. People no longer trust most neighbors."
- One embassy employee had a brother-in-law kidnapped. Another received a death threat, and then fled the country with her family.
- Iraqi staff at the embassy, beginning in March and picking up in May, report "pervasive" harassment from Islamist and/or militia groups. Cuts in power and rising fuel prices "have diminished the quality of life." Conditions vary but even upscale neighborhoods "have visibly deteriorated" and one of them is now described as a "ghost town."
- Two of the three female Iraqis in the public affairs office reported stepped-up harassment since mid-May...."some groups are pushing women to cover even their face, a step not taken in Iran even at its most conservative." One of the women is now wearing a full abaya after receiving direct threats.
- It has also become "dangerous" for men to wear shorts in public and "they no longer allow their children to play outside in shorts." People who wear jeans in public have also come under attack.
- Embassy employees are held in such low esteem their work must remain a secret and they live with constant fear that their cover will be blown. Of nine staffers, only four have told their families where they work. They all plan for their possible abductions. No one takes home their cell phones as this gives them away. One employee said criticism of the U.S. had grown so severe that most of her family believes the U.S. "is punishing populations as Saddam did."
- Since April, the "demeanor" of guards in the Green Zone has changed, becoming more "militia-like," and some are now "taunting" embassy personnel or holding up their credentials and saying loudly that they work in the embassy: "Such information is a death sentence if overheard by the wrong people." For this reason, some have asked for press instead of embassy credentials.
- "For at least six months, we have not been able to use any local staff members for translation at on-camera press events....We cannot call employees in on weekends or holidays without blowing their 'cover.'"
- "More recently, we have begun shredding documents printed out that show local staff surnames. In March, a few staff members approached us to ask what provisions would we make for them if we evacuate."
- The overall environment is one of "frayed social networks," with frequent actual or perceived insults. None of this is helped by lack of electricity. "One colleague told us he feels 'defeated' by circumstances, citing his example of being unable to help his two-year-old son who has asthma and cannot sleep in stiflng heat," which is now reaching 115 degrees.
- "Another employee tell us that life outside the Green Zone has become 'emotionally draining.' He lives in a mostly Shiite area and claims to attend a funeral 'every evening.'"
- Fuel lines have grown so long that one staffer spent 12 hours in line on his day off. "Employees all confirm that by the last week of May, they were getting one hour of power for every six hours without.....One staff member reported that a friend lives in a building that houses a new minister; within 24 hours of his appointment, her building had city power 24 hours a day."
- The cable concludes that employees' "personal fears are reinforcing divisive sectarian or ethnic channels, despite talk of reconciliation by officials."
I don't have to tell you that reports of regional ethnic cleansing are extremely disturbing. And the rampant anti-americanism is making our presence there helpful either. This whole thing has spun seriously out of control, like a controlled burn that leaps the firelane into the forest.
I should add that Khalilzad is a member of the Project for a New American Century and a signatory to the 1998 PNAC letter to Bill Clinton. One of the original neocons, the Ambassador to Iraq was once (and may still be, who knows?) a true believer. It's unlikely that he'd exaggerate the gravity of the situation.
If things are half as bad as the cable indicates, Iraq is a chaos on the level of Bosnia. We can't keep doing the same thing over and over and expect anything to change. By pretending every thing's going well, it's very likely that we're making things worse by letting them continue.
The iraqi government needs to pull local sectarian leaders into a real coalition. If not a coalition government, then a coalition party. With only a sham unity and a central government the US Embassy describes as 'not relevant', this government will fail - hell, it's already failing. As things are now, we're simply ignoring the realities on the ground while the whole thing falls apart.
In his speech from the surprise visit to Iraq, Bush told the troops, "I told you earlier we were laying the foundation of peace for generations to come, and we are, because we go with confidence knowing that liberty is the desire of every soul. When Iraq succeeds, reformers and people who desire to live in a free society will see such a hopeful example, and they'll begin to demand the same rights and the same conditions and the same hopeful society."
What Bush neglects is that liberty for themselves is the 'desire of every soul'. Even Saddam Hussein valued his own liberty, he just placed no value on anyone else's. It's not desire for liberty that's important, respect for liberty is important. And sectarian violence and ethnic cleansing are pretty good indicators of a total lack of that respect.
No matter what happens from here, I have no doubt that President Bush will be despised by history.