Missing the ‘real’ war story

According to Arizona Senator John McCain, life in Baghdad is pretty safe these days – so safe, he says, that he walked freely in an open air market without any fear for his safety.

On his "safe" walk through the Shorja market where 137 Iraqis died from a truck bomb in February, hundreds of combat-ready American soldiers surrounded McCain and his party while Blackhawk helicopters provided air cover. The Senator, and others, wore flak vests.

The market where McCain walked "freely" is also fortified with blast walls and "Jersey barriers" to restrict vehicle traffic.

Reporters weren’t allowed along on McCain’s "walk of safety." An Army spokesman cited "security" as a concern for limiting access by the press. Instead, the military provided photos and video afterwards. After the Senator and two Republican colleagues returned to the safety of the even-more-heavily-fortified "Green Zone," he bragged about how safe Iraq had become under the seven-week-old "troop surge."

While he spoke, roadside bombs southwest of Baghdad killed six American soldiers. They weren’t surrounded by a security cordon of troops pulled off regular duty to protect visiting VIPs. No Blackhawks circled overhead to provide extra security.

It’s a sad state of affairs when a photo op by an aspiring Presidential candidate warrants more protection than American men and women fighting in an out-of-control civil war.

That’s the reality of Iraq. All the posturing in the world by McCain and other supporters of the war can’t stop the slaughter of American troops or the deaths of thousands upon thousands of Iraqi civilians in a civil war we started and can never end.

McCain’s trip is the latest PR move by a White House desperate to cover up the truth about the monumental failures in Iraq. While Americans die on the battlefield, the Pentagon and Bush Administration invent stories about false heroism and cover up the many mistakes that show just how out of control the situation is in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

The public relations machine can’t gloss over the horrible debacle that defines American military efforts in that part of the world. From the staged rescue of Jessica Lynch at the war’s beginning to the bungled cover up of the death of former football star Pat Tillman at the hands of American soldiers in Afghanistan, our war effort staggers hopelessly from one disaster to the next.

Back home in Washington, the spin war rages out of control between the White House and Congress. A timetable for withdrawal of troops by next year faces certain veto and Democrats don’t have the votes to override. In the end they will have to give Bush the money he wants for his wars and, just to make sure the vote passes, they larded up the military spending bill with enough pork to grease the skids and balloon the federal deficit.

Whether we like it or not, and polls clearly indicate that most of us don’t, Bush holds all the cards. The Democratic leaders in both the House and Senate see an absolute funding cutoff as political suicide, even with strong public sentiment for bringing the troops home as soon as possible.

And while the stalemate in Washington continues, Bush has managed to inch up a few points in polls by unleashing a massive propaganda tsunami to sell non-existent success to a war-weary nation.

On Sunday, John McCain blamed the American media for the war’s unpopularity, claiming reporters aren’t telling the "real story" about "success in the war."

But the story McCain dished out after his claimed "walk through the safe streets of Baghdad" was far from the truth.  He lied outright, along with his two Republican comrades.

Sen. Lindsey Graham claimed "we were warmly welcomed," in the market and bragged that he "bought five rugs for five bucks."

Rep. Mike Pence, an Indiana Republican, marveled at his ability to "mix and mingle among ordinary Iraqis" and claimed the market was "like a normal market in Indiana in the summertime."

I’ve been to a few markets in Indiana in the summertime. I don’t recall seeing hundreds of troops deployed around the perimeter or cannon-laden Blackhawk helicopters hovering overhead.

But that was a few years ago. Maybe things have changed in the heartland. Perhaps Indiana has become a war zone torn apart by civil war.

I guess we in the media missed that story as well.

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