Cross posted from West Virginia Blue.
Pro-Iraq war Republican Rep. Shelley Moore Capito spent a day in Iraq and now she’s an expert.
Rep. Shelley Moore Capito has just returned from an unpublicized trip to Iraq and Kuwait.
Though Capito, R-W.Va., had to tread around mostly in full military armor in 116-degree heat, she said the visit helped reinforce her confidence in U.S. efforts there.
She flew into Baghdad earlier this week accompanied by a Republican delegation of Reps. John McHugh, N.Y.; Frank LoBiondo, N.J.; Douglas Lamborn, Colo.; and Gus Bilirakis, Fla.
After arriving in Baghdad, she then went to Fallujah and back to Baghdad.
“We wanted to get a firsthand sense of how things are going,” said Capito in a telephone interview just hours after her return to the U.S. on Thursday. “We talked with leadership and the troops on the ground. My overwhelming impression initially was how proud I am of the men and women in uniform.”
She was mostly impressed with the turnaround of Fallujah, a city 43 miles west of Baghdad and notorious for a 2004 attack on four American contractors who were dragged from their cars, beaten, set on fire, pulled along the streets and hung from a bridge.
“Seven or eight months ago, we wouldn’t have been able to come here,” Capito said. “The level of violence has decreased dramatically. It’s very encouraging, but I still realize it’s a very dangerous situation.”
The U.S. delegation met with Fallujah city government officials. They acknowledged that while the violent atmosphere has lessened, progress remains needed for the political system.
Author, Daily Kossack and Iraq war veteran The Angry Rakkasan wrote a diary about Congressional delegations going to Iraq for the “fact finding” tour:
This is how it happens: A desperate Republican goes to Iraq looking for something-anything-to justify the continuing presence of American troops there. The Republican stays for a week (give or take), and then returns home as if he or she were Moses coming back from Mount Sinai, carrying to the American people stone tablets engraved with The Ultimate Truth About Iraq.
And of course, this Ultimate Truth About Iraq is learned by the Republican in the chow hall, on the secure base, with the hand-picked soldiers sitting at the table.
This is what Senator Jim Webb rightly called the “dog and pony show.” For those who don’t know, that’s an old military expression used to describe how troops are often forced to put on a “show” for visiting politicians or VIPs to convey just how swell everything is going on the front lines.
Politicians or VIPs who’ve served in a combat zone know this. Sadly, the rest visit the troops in a state of blissful ignorance.
The story does not say what day she was in Iraq, just that it was earlier this week. Somehow in reporting she saw “progress,” Capito and the Daily Mail reporter Jake Stump forgot to mention this happened also this week perhaps on the day she was there:
Hospital officials in northwestern Iraq have told TIME that the death toll from Tuesday’s blasts in Qahataniya may exceed 300, making the multiple suicide bombings the deadliest terrorist operation in the country since the fall of Saddam Hussein. One hospital is saying that there are at least 500 bodies and that 375 people are injured. That report, however, cannot yet be verified.
Since then, the massive “surge” of U.S. and Iraqi troops in and around Baghdad has made the Iraqi capital safer than before from such bombings – but terrorist groups have stepped up attacks elsewhere. There have been a number of attacks in northern Iraq, which had enjoyed a long spell of peace before the start of the “surge.”
Tuesday’s bombings were also a reminder that even successful U.S. military operations can have a short shelf life – a sobering thought for Bush Administration officials and independent analysts who have recently been talking up the successes of the “surge.” After all, the area around Qahataniya was the scene of a major anti-insurgent operation barely two years ago. In the fall of 2005, some 8,000 American and Iraqi troops flushed a terrorist group out of the nearby town of Tal Afar in an operation that was a precursor to the “clear, hold and build” strategy that underpins the current “surge.” A few months later, President Bush cited Tal Afar as a success story for the U.S. enterprise in Iraq.
There have been several attacks in and around Tal Afar since then; last March, two truck bombs killed more than 100 people in a Shi’ite neighborhood in the town. The bombings in Qahataniya were a deadly reminder that the terrorists have not gone very far away.
And she failed to mention this:
BAGHDAD, Iraq — Despite U.S. claims that violence is down in the Iraqi capital, U.S. military officers offer a bleak picture of Iraq’s future, saying they’ve yet to see any signs of reconciliation between Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims.
Without reconciliation, the military officers say, any decline in violence would be temporary, and bloodshed could return to previous levels when the U.S. military cuts back its campaign against insurgents.
The downbeat assessment comes despite a buildup of U.S. troops that began five months ago and has seen U.S. casualties reach the highest sustained levels since the United States invaded Iraq nearly 4 1/2 years ago.
U.S. officials say civilian casualties in Baghdad are down by half. But they wouldn’t provide specific numbers, and statistics gathered by McClatchy Newspapers don’t support the claim.
The number of car bombings in July actually was 5% higher than the number recorded last December, the statistics show, and the number of civilians killed in explosions is about the same.
Daily Mail reporter Jake Stump. He’s still under the illusion that Gen. David Patraeus is going to write the report.
Army Gen. David Petraeus, top commander in Iraq, informed Capito that areas of the country have undergone vast improvements. Petraeus is slated to give Congress a report next month that addresses whether the troop surge strategy is working. The general has stated that it could take until the summer of 2009 to attain security in Iraq.
The report is really going to be written by the White House. Dan Froomkin of the White House Watch at WashingtonPost.com:
The “Petraeus Report” — the supposedly trustworthy mid-September reckoning of military and political progress in Iraq by Army Gen. David H. Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker — is instead looking more like a White House con job in the making.
The Bush administration has been trying for months to restore its credibility on Iraq (as well as stall for time) by focusing on Petraeus — President Bush’s “main man” in Iraq — and his report to Congress. But now it turns out it that White House aides will actually write the “Petraeus Report,” not the general himself.
But it does appear as if Capito now knows what it is like to suffer. She had to wear a helmet and body armor in the 116 degree heat for a little while and “endured” a 14-hour flight from Kuwait back home.
But maybe her suffering was much worse:
Capito said she gave soldiers opportunities to spill their concerns or frustrations over the war, but none complained.
Or maybe they know that Capito doesn’t listen. Maybe they know that whatever the reality is in Iraq, she’s going to say she has “concerns” and then keep voting to keep them occupying Iraq in the middle of a civil war forever.
We need a Congressional representative who is smart enough not to fall for the “dog and pony shows.” We need a Congressional representative who listens.