In his book The Secret Way To War, Mark Danner credits his father with teaching him “how to read the newspaper … skeptically, always skeptically”. And he adds, “… the essence of being a real citizen [lies] in an unflagging determination to ask questions, and to demand answers.” The minimal coverage of The Downing Street Memo in this country is a source of consternation to Danner: The obvious conclusion to be drawn from publication of the memo is that the decision to go to war was made early on and all that remained was to “justify” the war by “fixing” the “intelligence and facts around the policy” as the memo indicates.
To its everlasting discredit, in the run-up to the war, most of our media seemed to care more about protecting their privileged entrée to the halls of power than about preserving their professional integrity. “The fourth estate” faltered when it failed to ask difficult questions and began serving simply as a stenographic pool for the administration. Given the duplicity and secrecy that is the hallmark of this White House, our media, when its reportage was not downright corrupt, was too often a superficial mouthpiece dispensing tip-of-the-iceberg news. Over the past six years, as events spiraled out of control on the war-front and partisan battles raged on the home-front, an intransigent president, a complacent press and a go-along Republican-dominated Congress left the country with few good options for “the way forward”.
Most disturbing of all, many of the same distortions and mindless rhetoric still dominate presidential speeches and press conferences. And supporters in the media and Congress continue to enable failed policies and ludicrous scenarios: Iran is said to be “meddling” in Iraq, while the US from way across the world is considered a legitimate player. We can’t take out Al Qaeda bases across the Afghanistan border in Pakistan, Carl Rove explained the other day, because we shouldn’t invade a sovereign nation – – a remark provoking loud laughter from his audience. And apparently Joe Lieberman thinks his pontifications about how his colleagues just don’t ‘get it’ still carry weight instead of being insulting and intellectually lame.
Senator Lieberman tells us Iraq is making progress and that congressional efforts to constrain the war effort are “unfair and untimely” because there are signs “the surge” is working and didn’t Iraqis show up in great numbers to elect a “unity government”? Never mind that a slate of several hundred candidates precluded voters from having any real sense of whom they were voting for. Never mind that members of the parliament arrive and depart as their approval or dissatisfaction dictates. And simply ignore the fact no centralized authority seems capable of cobbling together an army or police force willing or able to defuse the daily mayhem or even identify exactly who is causing it.
Likewise our troops are faced with a similar problem – – exactly who are the bad guys? The president likes to say that it’s all about Al Qaeda. And our presence in Iraq has certainly served not only as a recruiting tool for the organization but allowed them to find sectors of safety they never enjoyed during Saddam Hussein’s reign. The fact is, however, there are so many disparate factions in the country it is almost impossible to identify and deal with them except in those areas that are distinctly one denomination or another. There are disputes between Sunnis and Shiites, concern among Kurds, incursions by Iranians, Al Qaeda inroads and disagreements within the various ethnic and religious groups themselves.
Our military is tasked with training an Iraqi army and security forces but to what purpose? Will these units disarm the militias that protect local constituencies? Will they arrest militants who may be friends and relatives? Do they want to participate in a central government or are they more inclined to develop regional affiliations? Is there anyone in the field or in the administration who really understands what lasting impact our Middle East policy will have? The president insists that the function of Congress is to fund the troops, not to question or influence policy – – a comment that underscores his attempt to make the Executive Branch of government answerable to no-one but itself.
Congress will always fund the troops as long as they are in harm’s way. But one thing it could and should do is stop funding the obscenity called an embassy that is being constructed outside Baghdad. It is a huge and hugely expensive undertaking as well as an indication that this administration never had any intention of leaving Iraq no matter how that country’s fortunes evolved. And it cannot help but further inflame Arab militants who have maintained all along that our goal was to overtake and re-configure the Muslim world.
Surely our elected representatives should be actively engaged in developing policies that define our national character and shape our destiny, not hamstrung by an administration that makes up laws as it goes along and thinks Congress should opt out of the decision-making process. It is beyond imagining that our hard-won rights, our sense of ourselves and our constitutional form of government could be so ravaged in such a short period of time by people so profoundly unworthy of the positions with which they have been entrusted.
The American people have a right to expect honest answers from their government, should refuse to accept ‘facts’ manipulated to support policy and demand that leaders take their responsibilities seriously. Each of us is a lot more influential than we sometimes think even if it isn’t easy being an independent lobbyist.

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