Senator (and Presidential candidate) John McCain toured parts of Baghdad the other day. He wasn't alone, of course. He had a few friends with him. Senator Lindsey Graham was there, too. So were Representatives Mike Pence and Rick Renzi. Oh, yeah, and they had some security with them, too - judging by descriptions, at least a full rifle company's worth of ground security, not to mention the air support.
The purpose of their visit? A demonstration that it is safe to walk the streets in parts of Baghdad. Seriously. No, this really isn't a late April Fool's gag. After the Congresscritters wrapped up their hour-long shopping trip (Graham bought five rugs for five bucks - not counting the security costs, of course), they headed back to the Green Zone for a press conference.
At the press conference, McCain was asked about comments that he had made on a radio show a few weeks earlier, saying that he could "walk freely" through certain parts of Baghdad. His response, according to the New York Times: "I just came from one," he replied sharply. "Things are better and there are encouraging signs." The poor senator appears to be confused about the definitions of simple English words, possibly as a result of spending too much time hanging around President Bush. For the record, Senator, "walk freely," is not, in typical conversational English, synonymous with "accompanied by overwhelming military force."
Representative Pence, Republican of Indiana, also had some nice things to say about the market. In a comment that undoubtedly had the entire Indiana tourism commission hiding under their desks, Pence said that the Baghdad market was, "like a normal outdoor market in Indiana in the summertime." Somebody better remind me to avoid Bloomington in the summertime.
The Congresscritters in question do get bonus points for staying on message and applying positive spin to bad situations. The message that they were trying to get across was a simple one: things in Iraq are getting better, and the media isn't reporting that part of the situation very well:
"The American people are not getting the full picture of what's happening here. They're not getting the full picture of the drop in murders, the establishment of security outposts throughout the city, the situation in Anbar province, the deployment of additional Iraqi brigades which are performing well, and other signs of progress having been made," said McCain, of Arizona.
In fairness to McCain, I don't think that the media did a very good job of reporting on his visit to the market. So far, they've reported on the visit to the market, on the reaction of local Iraqis to the visit (so far, the reactions seem split between rage and laughter), and on the resumption of sniper attacks in that area shortly after the delegation left. There's one aspect of the whole stunt that they haven't reported on, though: the implications of the visit for the American soldiers who went out there with them. Were I writing the news stories on the visit, they would have started something like this:
"On Sunday, Presidential candidate John McCain toured a Baghdad market, after first ensuring that he would be accompanied by enough cannon fodder to protect his continued livelihood."
"Sunday, four Congressional Republicans staged a political stunt in the streets of Baghdad, forcing about 100 American servicemembers to put their lives on the line as security for the partisan pep rally."
"Sunday, Lindsey Graham demonstrated that he wasn't afraid to risk his own life, or the lives of numerous American soldiers, in the pursuit of cheap rugs."
Readers are encouraged to leave further suggestions in the comments.
I might sound like I'm joking around a little with this, but the point I'm trying to make is serious, and I am, in all seriousness, outraged by these political jackasses. The American troops in Iraq put their lives on the line on a daily basis - and they spend a lot more days out there than the jerks in Congress do. I understand that Congress has an obligation to oversee things, and that there is no substitute to visiting Iraq if you want to know what is happening there. However, there is absolutely no excuse for a politician to place troops at any more risk than is absolutely necessary.
This particular trip to the market was clearly not a factfinding excursion. McCain and the three stooges he brought with him had clearly decided on what they would say about the trip before they ever got there. According to reporters who visited the market after the Republicans' courageous expedition, numerous Iraqis interviewed say that they told members of the delegation that things were still bad at the market, and that they were still very worried about the security situation there. Those inconvenient facts were, however, somehow lost during the return to the Green Zone, and had not been re-found by the time the press conference kicked off.
The American soldiers in Baghdad and throughout the rest of Iraq put their lives on the line day after day, particularly when they go outside the wire of their FOBs. They are doing their best in the middle of an incredibly bad situation, and neither their efforts nor the threats that they face day after day should not be minimized - especially not for political gain. McCain's flippant claim that he had just returned from a part of Baghdad that was safe enough for him to "walk freely" was absolutely outrageous. McCain's little stroll was made possible by a large number of American troops, every single one of whom was putting his or her body between danger and John McCain's sorry ass. His dismissal of their risk was simply unconscionable.
One more little fact for those of you who, like McCain, think that the good news is being missed by the media: 21 workers were kidnapped and killed on their way home from their Baghdad jobs the day after McCain's stroll. They worked in the market that he visited.
Ouch. That almost makes Bush's tail-hook stunt look good by comparison. At least back then I could laugh so I didn't have to cry...
It's hard to build a credible Potemkin village in this age of mass communicaiton technology. I just heard a story about this on NPR, including the interview with the guy who gave some rice to one of the people in the delegation for free - he said he wanted to show that Iraqis are nice and he was also a little scared of the 100 armed Americans at such close quarters. They wan the US out, they all think of themselves as resistance, and they chastize those groups in Iraq who kill other Iraqis instead of killing Americans. We need to get out of there ASAP.
Also what does it say about what we've done to the Iraqi economy about the fact that you can buy 5 rugs for $5?
I thought that the merchant that was interviewed on NPR gave away a carpet, not rice, but maybe I mis-heard. And I don't think that the "5 rugs for $5" says anything about the Iraqi economy, but it does say something about Iraqi fear. rb
John McCain shopping in Baghdad = Mike Dukakis driving a tank.
Perhaps I heard "rugs" as "rice"....
... they had some security with them, too - judging by descriptions, at least a full rifle company's worth of ground security, not to mention the air support.
Well, since the invasion was very probably criminal (godsdamnit, when is Bush going to be impeached?!), that means McCain et al. were accompained by the criminals. So perhaps it's unsurprising they had no "security" problems.
Whoa, there, blf -- leave the troops alone; the responsibilty for this mess rests on the President and his administration, not the grunts on the ground.
In an interview tonight, General Petreus denied that McCain had particularly heavy security, and the area was indeed rather safe. Funny, though, he said how it was not some kind of set up--why, just last week a bomb went off there, and a suicide-bomber pedestrian could just as easily have walked up to McCain, and snipers on the roofs could have caused trouble. Well, golly, that doesn't sound to me like the area is very safe; it sounds like McCain and friends were just lucky and picked a slow day.