A good friend noted recently how little we hear of Iraq and Afghanistan in the news anymore, and further noted the deafening silence regarding those ongoing wars from what he described as "dishwater left-leaning political activists" whose disengagement from the issue, according to him, makes them full of something I can't repeat in print. That bogus disengagement, he asserts, stems from the fact that Obama is in office now, so everything must be OK. It isn't, of course, but it is hard to miss the fact that we haven't heard much about the wars, or the protesters, since a couple of Januarys ago.
It's hard to argue against his point, and worse, the sense of being made of dishwater myself is difficult to avoid. I've written about the deadly messes in Iraq and Afghanistan several times in the last year or so, but it is nothing compared to the focus I had on those two conflicts going back to 2002. Back then, and until 2009, I wrote three books on those two wars, discussed them in detail in this space on a weekly basis, joined political campaigns based solely on the candidate's stance on those conflicts, and went to dozens of public protests all over the country.
Why did my coverage of these conflicts get dialed back? There are several reasons, most of which sound like excuses. Obama's new administration brought forth a torrent of issues that also deserved coverage - the Sotomayor nomination, the retirement of Justice Stevens, the rescue of Detroit's auto industry, health care reform, and the eruption of right-wing insanity both in Congress and out in the streets, to name only a few - but in the end, my own attention has most definitely wandered from two wars that deserve much more attention.
Other reporters, like Truthout's own Dahr Jamail have certainly not stepped back from covering these conflicts. Jamail, who went to Iraq to see and report what was happening from the ground, has consistently reminded us that the mayhem and bloodshed continue unabated. In an article from last month, he noted:
It is highly unlikely that the US government will allow a truly sovereign Iraq, unfettered by US troops either within its borders or monitoring it from abroad, anytime soon. The Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) between the Iraqi and US governments indicate an ongoing US presence past both the August 2010 deadline to remove all combat troops, and the 2011 deadline to remove the remaining troops.
According to all variations of the SOFA the US uses to provide a legal mandate for its nearly 1,000 bases across the planet, technically, no US base in any foreign country is "permanent." Thus, the US bases in Japan, South Korea and Germany that have existed for decades are not "permanent." Technically. Most analysts agree that the US plans to maintain at least five "enduring" bases in Iraq.
You don't see stuff like that in "mainstream" news reporting, but it is a fact nonetheless. Even without the heroic work of people like Jamail, all you need to do is scan the wire reports buried in the avalanche of information that is available to everyone online, but is rarely passed up the food chain for general public consumption. This, for example, is what happened in Iraq on Monday:
Reuters: A roadside bomb targeting a police patrol seriously wounded three policemen in Falluja, 50 km (35 miles) west of Baghdad, police said.
Reuters: A sticky bomb attached to the car of a member of a local council wounded him in southwestern Baghdad, police said.... A roadside bomb wounded two people, including a policeman, in the Amil district of southwestern Baghdad, police said.
Reuters: A roadside bomb planted close to a gas station killed two people and wounded three in Yusufiya, 20 km (12 miles) south of Baghdad, police said.
Reuters: Roadside bombs planted around the houses of two policemen exploded before daybreak, killing one and wounding three other people, including one policeman's son, in Ramadi, 100 km (60 miles) west of Baghdad, police said.
Reuters: A bomb attached to a car killed the driver and wounded five bystanders in the Mansour district of western Baghdad on Sunday, police said.
Reuters: A roadside bomb wounded three people in the Saidiya district of southern Baghdad Sunday night, police said.
Reuters: A roadside bomb targeting a US military patrol wounded two Iraqi civilians in Taji, 20 km (12 miles) north of Baghdad, Sunday night, police said.
This was Afghanistan on Monday:
The Washington Post: The CIA is using new, smaller missiles and advanced surveillance techniques to minimize civilian casualties in its targeted killings of suspected insurgents in Pakistan's tribal areas, according to current and former officials in the United States and Pakistan.
The New York Times: Small bands of elite American Special Operations forces have been operating with increased intensity for several weeks in Kandahar, southern Afghanistan's largest city, picking up or picking off insurgent leaders to weaken the Taliban in advance of major operations, senior administration and military officials say.
The New York Times: Twelve trucks, most of them carrying fuel to a NATO base in eastern Afghanistan, were burned by an angry crowd early Sunday less than 30 miles from Kabul, according to local officials and NATO reports. The attack was thought to be in retribution for two raids by a joint Afghan-American force over the weekend, Afghan officials said.
AFP: Twin bomb blasts killed two people on Monday in an attack targeting police in the southern city of Kandahar, which is increasingly the focus of the Taliban's fight against Kabul.
Once again, all that was from one single day. So, yeah, it's not over over there. Not by a long chalk, and despite the whistling silence, it's not over over here, either. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan affect every living American well beyond the impact of the flesh-and-blood conflicts we occasionally see on TV. The issue of who is still getting rich off those wars, how our society has been wired to blindly support a permanent state of war, and why we hear so little about these all-consuming matters, remain deeply pressing and of deadly importance.
Jamail is not the only reporter focusing on this. This Thursday, a teach-in will be taking place on Capitol Hill to focus specifically on Iraq, Afghanistan and the issues that surround them. The moderator will be Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) and the panelists will include Chris Hedges, author of "War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning"; Jeremy Scahill, author of "Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army," and former Army colonel and current political activist Ann Wright.
I spoke with David Swanson, a writer and political analyst who is one of the organizers of the event and also a panelist, about the purpose of Thursday's teach-in.
"An immediate legislative goal is to increase the number of representatives in the House who vote No on borrowing another $33 billion from our children to escalate a hopeless, counterproductive, criminal and evil war with no end in sight," says Swanson. "One purpose of raising the number of No votes is the one that Congress members and most paid activists understand: pressuring the president. But another purpose that many in Washington find hard to fathom is building a caucus of war resisters who eventually gain a majority and deny a president war funding rather than persuading him he doesn't want it. So one line of thought for teaching and discussing is that of war powers and the best arrangement of powers among the branches of government. We hope also to establish what some of the reliable facts are on what is happening in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Palestine and the rest of the region. Is the resistance fueled by the occupation? Can a war be ended by escalating it? What is the cost to the rule of law? What is the cost to our safety? What is the cost to our wallets, and what are we trading away in terms of jobs or green energy? Above all, what is the human cost for both the victims and the perpetrators? And how can we end these wars?
"The question of whether Congress exists to influence the president or to govern the nation," continued Swanson, "has a real impact on what people lobby Congress to do. If the purpose of voting No on the funding for the escalation is to persuade the president of something, then a toothless, unenforceable bill asking the president to draw up a plan to exit Afghanistan someday but not requiring that he stick to it seems equally good or maybe even better, since it directs the president what to do. If, on the other hand, the purpose is to move in the direction of actually ending the war in the first branch of our government, regardless of the president, then No votes on the funding are far and away the top priority. And if you think presidents, like all politicians, answer to real threats more than toothless persuasion, then a growing movement to cut off the money is the best rhetorical device as well. In that case, a weaker amendment that could offer representatives an excuse for voting Yes on the funding ('I voted for an exit timetable, so I'm antiwar') seems counterproductive - although it would be valuable if brought up the week after the funding vote."
Asked why the panelists who are to participate in the event were chosen, Swanson replied, "The original organizers asked me to participate and to find more speakers; Hedges, Scahill and Wright were among those they wanted, and all proved to be available. Hedges is one of the most skillful writers or speakers I've seen at providing a broad understanding of the critical points in large and complicated discussions. He, like Scahill and Wright, does not bend the truth to please any party or even a Party. Scahill is one of the best investigative journalists we have, and he has an amazing grasp for how a story is being told, or not told, and how it ought to be told. And Ann Wright is the greatest living combination of fearless civil resistance and amiable diplomacy. She could ask you to surrender to a life in prison but leave you smiling. I'm afraid that comes pretty close to the skill set most needed on Capitol Hill."
Lend this event your ear if you are able. Swanson, Scahill, Hedges and Wright, along with Kucinich, have not relented in their coverage and criticism of America's ongoing war, and they deserve all of our attention. The lack of attention paid recently to Iraq and Afghanistan by the "mainstream" media, and by independent journalists like myself, has been disgraceful and must change.
As the last line in the film "Jarhead" succinctly puts it, "We are still in the desert."