A smiley face for Iraq

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff says things are going "very, very well." Does anyone still believe him?

Topics: War Room, Iraq, John Murtha, D-Pa., Middle East,

On “Meet the Press” Sunday, Tim Russert asked the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to describe how things were going in Iraq. “I’d say they’re going well,” Gen. Peter Pace responded. “I wouldn’t put a great big smiley face on it, but I would say they’re going very, very well from everything you look at.”

Pace listed a couple of those “everythings” — Iraqis are forming their own government, and there are more Iraqi battalions in the field now than there were a year ago — but then made it clear that he was referring to the entirety of Iraq. “No matter where you look — at their military, their police, their society — things are much better this year than they were last,” Pace said.

Really?

It’s true that the Iraqis are trying to form a government; amid what the Associated Press calls a “dangerous leadership vacuum,” the Iraqi parliament will convene for the first time this month as Sunni and Kurdish leaders try to persuade the Shiite prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, to give up hopes for a new term. And it’s true that there are more Iraqi battalions in the field than there used to be, but the United States considers fewer of them — which is to say, not a single one of them — capable of fighting without help from U.S. troops.

And what about some of the things that Pace didn’t include in his list? Say, an insurgency that remains robust and sectarian violence that continues? The AP offers this depressing rundown of violence in Iraq on Monday alone: Six dead and 23 wounded in a bomb attack on a police patrol in a market in Baquba; two dead and three injured in a bombing aimed at police in a northern Baghdad neighborhood; two dead and three injured in a suicide car bombing of an Interior Ministry compound in eastern Baghdad; seven injured in a car bombing of a police patrol in downtown Baghdad; six injured in two bombings in Baghdad’s Dora neighborhood; an explosion at a Shiite mosque in northern Baghdad; four bodies of gunshot victims found dumped around Baghdad; three Shiite Turkmen killed in a drive-by shooting near Kirkuk; one killed and three injured in a car bombing in Mahmoudiya.



And the U.S. death toll just hit 2,300.

Pace said if Americans think the war is going badly, it’s just because not enough “goodness” from Iraq is getting to the TV screens back home. Rep. Jack Murtha has a slightly different view. Asked on “Face the Nation” to respond to Pace’s just-short-of-a-smiley-face characterization, Murtha delivered this blunt Marine-to-Marine response:

“Why would I believe him?”

Murtha said the Bush administration has lost all credibility on Iraq. “First of all, they said it will take 40,000 troops to settle this thing right after the invasion. Then they said there’s no insurgency. They’re ‘dead-enders,’ is what the secretary of defense said. On and on and on, the mischaracterization of the war. They said there’s nuclear weapons. There are no nuclear weapons there. There are no biological weapons there. No al-Qaida connection. So why would I believe the chairman of the joint chiefs when he says things are going well?”

“Sixty percent unemployment. The Iraqis want us out of there. Eighty percent of the Iraqis want us out of there. Oil production below prewar level. Water production, only 30 percent of the people getting water. Now our troops are being fed well and being taken care of. They’re doing everything they can do militarily. But they’re in a situation where they’re caught in a civil war. And there’s two participants fighting for survival and fighting for supremacy inside that country, and that’s my definition of a civil war.”

Asked if he really meant that he no longer trusted the assessment from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Murtha said: “That’s exactly right. Why would I believe him with all the misstatements and mischaracterizations they’ve made over the last two years? And the public is way ahead of what’s going on in Washington. They no longer believe. The troops themselves, 70 percent of the troops said, ‘We want to come home within a year.’ The only solution to this is redeploy. Let me tell you, the only people who want us in Iraq is Iran and al-Qaida.”

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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