Tom DeLay, setting us straight on Iraq

It's like Houston, he says -- and you can ask anyone who's been there.

By Tim Grieve

Published June 22, 2005 4:53PM (EDT)

From the "What Planet Is He On?" department, Tom DeLay has weighed in on how things really are in Iraq. And it turns out that Iraq is like ... Iraq is like ... well, it turns out that Iraq is a lot like Texas, actually.

"You know, if Houston, Texas, was held to the same standard as Iraq is held to, nobody'd go to Houston, because all this reporting coming out of the local press in Houston [would be about] violence, murders, robberies, deaths on the highways," DeLay says in an interview reported in today's Houston Chronicle. It's the media's fault, of course. People should just go to Iraq, DeLay says, and they'd see what's really happening there. "Everybody that comes from Iraq is amazed at the difference of what they see on the ground and what they see on the television."

And you know, he's right about that -- but only if what he means by what people see on the television is what people see George W. Bush, Dick Cheney & Co. say on the television. Bush says that he's "pleased with the progress" in Iraq. Cheney says we're seeing the "last throes" of the insurgency. Condoleezza Rice says U.S. troops are dealing with just "a few terrorists and so-called insurgents who are plying their wares in a way that gets a lot of attention."

What do people just back from Iraq say? Here's Sen. Joe Biden, a Democrat just back from a fact-finding tour: "The disconnect between the administration's rhetoric and the reality on the ground has opened not just a credibility gap but a credibility chasm." Rep. Curt Weldon, a Republican just back from Iraq, says that the administration is misleading Americans about its success in training Iraqi security forces. "We can't come back to America and have our people being convinced that the Iraqi troops are prepared to take over when they're not," Weldon says. "That's only going to cause our people back home to say, 'Bring them home now,' and really, we're not ready to bring them home right now."

Leslie Gelb, the former journalist and Pentagon official who is now head of the Council on Foreign Relations, has returned from Iraq to describe a ''gap" between what he heard on the ground and the "totally unrealistic optimism" coming from the Bush administration. "The information seeps in, and you wonder," Gelb said. "You wonder if you really know what's going on, because essentially what you have are the statistics. It reminds me so of the Vietnam days."

And what about those still in Iraq? Over the last several weeks, we've seen newspaper reports quoting officer after officer in Iraq predicting that it will take years to beat back the insurgency, years to train Iraqi security forces. And on a conference call with reporters yesterday, the senior U.S. operational commander in Iraq contradicted the sunny picture painted by the likes of Cheney and DeLay. Far from saying that the insurgency is in its "last throes," Army Lt. Gen. John R. Vines said the opposition the U.S. faces is "relatively static" in size -- and that he expects it to remain so for the next several months.

If his prediction is right -- which is to say, if Cheney and DeLay are wrong -- then U.S. soldiers will continue to be killed for a while at a rate of about 80 a month. We've never much liked Houston, but we hear that it's a nicer place than that.

Tim Grieve

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

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