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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

4th Anniversary of Start of Iraq War Winds Down, 5th Year Begins

Most of us would agree that when we set about plans for our invasion in 2003, we might not have imagined that the war would still be raging, and that so many of our men and women -- and so many of Iraq's innocent men, women and children -- would still be dying in a hot and bloody conflict five years on.

Yet, we embark on year five in a matter of minutes.

Click on 'Article Link' below tags for more...

My thoughts are with our troops tonight, with all of those in harm's way, with the innocents and with military family members and friends who surely must have had as difficult a day today as they did yesterday. For them, every day is a painful reminder of the true length and cost of war.

As candlelight vigils across the country wind down a day of remembrance and protest, what follows is a sampling of some of the day's events.

As it began, President Bush asked the nation for patience:

President Bush marked the fourth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq on Monday with a plea for patience and a stark warning against the temptation “to pack up and go home.” ... Mr. Bush’s commemoration of the anniversary, delivered beneath a portrait of Theodore Roosevelt as a Rough Rider, was notable for the sharp change in tone from his speeches in the heady, early days of the war — when it still appeared possible that a quick victory in Baghdad could be followed by a relatively swift withdrawal. In those first few months, Mr. Bush argued that he was on the way to spreading democracy throughout the Middle East through the euphoria that would surely follow the unseating of Saddam Hussein.

But on Monday Mr. Bush made no reference to democracy. In his only reference to the regional effects of the war, he cautioned, “If American forces were to step back from Baghdad before it is more secure, a contagion of violence could engulf the entire country; in time, this violence could engulf the region.” In an echo of the initial case for war, Mr. Bush warned that Iraq could become a staging ground for terrorists to plan devastating attacks on the order of 9/11.

Anniversaries of the invasion have become more politically fraught in the years since the invasion. Mr. Bush used his statement on Monday to argue that it was the responsibility of Congress to support the troops already there, and that he alone had the authority to decide the strategy and the timetable for adding or withdrawing troops. “They have a responsibility to get this bill to my desk without strings and without delay,” Mr. Bush said of the war financing package.

Also on Monday, the administration released a statement calling the House bill “unconscionable” and saying that the president would veto it if it was passed.

The Democrats countered back:

Democrats reacted harshly to the president's statement. They called it an open-ended commitment to a losing strategy. "The American people have lost confidence in President Bush's plan for a war without end in Iraq," said Pelosi. "That failed approach has been rejected by the voters in our nation, and it will be rejected by the Congress."

Democrats also sought to refute Mr. Bush's assertion that the House bill would reduce flexibility needed by the military to win the war. "There is nothing in this legislation that will be considered this week that micromanages the war," said House Majority Steny Hoyer, D-Md. No military general "will in any way be constrained from the tactics or the strategies that they deem best to employ on the ground in Iraq."

The democrats weren't the only ones countering back. Paul Rieckhoff, Iraq war veteran and exective director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America had this to say today:

On the fourth anniversary of the Iraq War, President Bush's talking points were so eerily familiar that if he didn't mention General Petraeus by name, I'd have to wonder if he accidentally gave last year's speech. The President can point to no more recent success than the twelve million Iraqis that voted in 2005, but he makes no mention of the nearly three million Iraqis now refugees of the ongoing violence. ...

All this was par for the course from a President who continues to confuse determination with stubbornness and vision with myopia. But what really stood out for me was this:

"I'm grateful to our service men and women for all they've done, and for the honor they've brought to their uniform and their country. I'm grateful to our military families for all the sacrifices they have made for our country. We also hold in our hearts the good men and women who have given their lives in this struggle. We pray for the loved ones they have left behind."

As the Walter Reed scandal made clear, our troops, veterans, and their families need a lot more than just prayer from the Commander in Chief. Hope is not a course of action. Our veterans need a plan.

At least one-third of returning troops will face a mental health problem. They need counseling. Fifteen percent of returning Iraq veterans under the age of 24 are unemployed. They need a real G.I. Bill that will pay the cost of college.

Over 200,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have already sought health care at a veterans' hospital. They need hospitals that are adequately funded. But instead of addressing these problems, the President offered only his "Greatest Hits" - asking the American people for patience but not a shared sacrifice, offering new packaging for the war effort but not a new plan, and giving lip service to troops and veterans but not real support.

Rieckhoff's group has a 31-point legislative plan that's worthy of everyone's attention. Take a look at it, print it out, and start making calls to your representatives and senators in support of this comprehensive veterans' care agenda.

Speaking of the Walter Reed scandal, more news arrived today:

An Army contract to privatize maintenance at Walter Reed Medical Center was delayed more than three years amid bureaucratic bickering and legal squabbles that led to staff shortages and a hospital in disarray as the number of severely wounded soldiers was rising rapidly.

Documents from the investigative and auditing arm of Congress map a trail of bid, rebid, protests, and appeals between 2003, when Walter Reed was first selected for outsourcing, and 2006, when a five-year, $120 million contract was finally awarded. The disputes involved hospital management, the Pentagon, Congress, and IAP Worldwide Services Inc., which has powerful political connections and is the only private bidder to handle maintenance, security, public works, and management of military personnel.

While medical care was not directly affected, needed repairs went undone as the nonmedical staff shrank from almost 300 to fewer than 50 in the last year and hospital officials were unable to find enough skilled replacements.

Meanwhile protests for and against the war marked the day, as this VOA report from Washington, D.C., noted:

Debbie Argel Bastian is with an organization called Move America Forward that backs President Bush and his policy of sending in more troops to quell sectarian violence in Baghdad.

Bastian's son Derek, an Air Force captain, was killed in Iraq two years ago. "People are tired of undermining the troops," said Debbie Argel Bastian. "So we are going to speak loud and clear and we are going to keep this campaign going as long as it takes. We are going to send the message to our troops that we love them, we care about them and we will not abandon them."

On Monday, Move America Forward launched what the group calls its "Win in Iraq" campaign with a new commercial it says will run on television channels throughout the United States. "The choice is clear, we win in Iraq [sound of explosion] or we face the terrorists here in America." The commercial is highly likely to be controversial since it ends with a nuclear explosion over an American city.

Protestors on the opposite side of the political fence, meanwhile, held candlelight vigils across the nation:

Here's one from snowy Milford, CT:

But what of the war itself? Where do we stand today?

CBS News correspondent Allen Pizzey reports that four years on, few Iraqis feel there is anything to be thankful for, and many U.S. troops who hoped to be home long ago now feel as if they're trying to catch up. Col. Ray Celeste, U.S. Marine Corps, told Pizzey: "I think we gave the insurgents a window of opportunity and they have taken it. They have kind of got us in a hole and we're trying to get out of it right now."

While Mr. Bush did not mention anything he would have done differently in leading the U.S. war effort, earlier Monday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice conceded the administration's focus on Baghdad, politically at least, may have been a miscalculation. "We might have looked to a more localized, decentralized approach to reconstruction," she told The Early Show co-anchor Hannah Storm. ...

In the opening days of the war, General David Petraeus asked the still unanswered question: "Tell me how this ends." Now the top commander in Iraq, Petraeus may not be able to answer his own question, reports CBS News national security correspondent David Martin. The American military simply doesn't have much control over what Frederic Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute says it will take to end this war. "It ends with a political solution," says Kagan. "It ends with the Sunni and the Shia and the Kurds coming to an agreement about how Iraq is going to be governed."

CBS News' Katie Couric rattled off the barest of numbers:

You'll find many more stats I've collected from various news reports far and wide in The War List: OEF/OIF Statistics (alas, this list will continue to be updated).

And finally, I came across and have been drawn to this video memorial recently on YouTube:

In honor of a friend I lost who loved life, music (especially The Cult) and his Country. He and other friends who have passed away would've loved it if I honored our Country, Veterans, their familes and friends with an animated gift.

May they all rest in peace.

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