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Rah-rah rhetoric fading as reality of Iraq sets in

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WASHINGTON — Last year at this time, as one of the stranger years for our nation came to a close, America was poised at the edge of uncertainty. The administration was consumed with thoughts of war, but the confused American people were being drawn into something they little understood.

We know now the first results of the Bush administration's "great adventure" and the war in Iraq. The relatively easy military victory was crowned by confusion and lack of planning for the reconstruction; a virtual civil war, unguessed-at here in our confident inner sanctums, began bloodying American troops. Finally, Saddam Hussein was captured and became the new reason for the war.

But what is the reality of Iraq, as opposed to the consistent unreality, so like Vietnam, that our administration imposes upon us? Let us review some of the recent articles on the war, which paint a quite different picture from the White House's sketches of "democratization" and "freedom":

The Washington Post reported on Dec. 28 in great detail how the United States, rather than pushing forward, is actually backing away from its ambitious initiatives to transform the Iraqi economy, political system and security forces, because of both attacks on American troops and an accelerated timetable for getting out. Privatization of state-owned businesses, the demand that the Iraqis write a constitution before transfer of sovereignty, and the dismantling of militias in favor of a national army have all been scrapped.

The Washington Times reported on Dec. 22 that "the Coalition Provisional Authority in charge of Iraq has failed to institute a smoothly run bureaucracy, resulting in cash shortages and delays in starting reconstruction programs." The paper quotes Pentagon sources as saying that the American CPA, which should be running the country under the charge of Ambassador L. Paul Bremer, has two cultures, civilian and military, and "there's no mechanism for top-level decisions to be translated to . . . action. Thus, there is a gap between strategy intent and tactical execution."

The Washington Post reported on Dec. 29 the extent to which American soldiers, who enlisted according to time schedules and contractual obligations, are now among thousands "forbidden to leave military service under the Army's 'stop-loss' orders, intended to stanch the seepage of troops."

The New York Times accompanied that with an editorial on the same day warning that "the Bush administration is pushing America's peacetime armed forces toward their limits. Washington will not be able to sustain the mismatch between unrealistic White House ambitions and finite Pentagon means much longer without long-term damage to our military strength."

The Washington Post reported on Dec. 23 that Paul Bremer "yesterday told the White House that his efforts to broker a compromise on the transfer of power with Iraq's disparate leaders were progressing, but slowly."

The Washington Times headlined a story on Dec. 22 with: "Washington Turf War Stalls Iraqi Reconstruction: State, Defense Departments Vie Over Who Will Oversee Contracts."

The New York Times on Dec. 29 headlined a front-page story about Halliburton contracts and "The Struggle to Manage Costs," showing how constant underestimates by Halliburton, formerly headed by Vice President Dick Cheney, are costing American taxpayers scads of money.

The New York Times on Dec. 18 ran a front-page story on the "Post-9/11 Web of U.S. Prisons" run by the Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency. "It is a secretive universe . . . made up of large and small facilities scattered throughout the world that have sprouted up to handle the hundreds of suspected terrorists of al-Qaida, Taliban warlords and former officials of the Iraqi government."

Finally, The New York Times on Dec. 23 featured an article on how the U.S. government's "public relations drive to build a favorable impression abroad — particularly among Muslim nations — is a shambles, according to Republican and Democratic lawmakers, State Department officials and independent experts." One congressional staff member called it "a complete and utter disaster."

Now, who would have guessed that?

Universal Press Syndicate