There was a time when I had every intention of voting for John McCain in 2008. It might have begun as early as 2000, in fact. The recent news item about the presidential candidate’s recent trip to Iraq, to make a point about the effectiveness of the War in Iraq, has shot that to hell.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not sad about ruling him out. I’m actually pleased that my decision has been made slightly easier so early in the race. But I am getting ahead of myself.
In case you aren’t familiar with the story, McCain, accompanied by Sen. Lindsay Graham of South Carolina, visited one of Baghdad’s oldest marketplaces last weekend, and told reporters that he felt much better about the effectiveness of the Bush administration’s troop surge because he felt so safe on the street.
He went on to describe the scene as being “like a normal outdoor market in Indiana in the summer time.”
McCain then criticized the media for not giving Americans the “full picture” of the Iraqi situation:
“Things are better and there are encouraging signs. I’ve been here … many times over the years. Never have I been able to drive from the airport, never have I been able go out into the city as I was today.”
Ironically, McCain probably would rather the media not have provided a “full picture” of the visit itself! Then again, what’s good for the goose….
While it’s true that McCain was able to walk the streets of Iraq as he never has before, the marketplace he visited was located within the city’s “green zone,” a heavily-secured area. When outside of that zone, he was accompanied by about 100 armed soldiers, about 20 of whom went with him inside the safe portion of the city. McCain was outfitted in what appeared to be a bulletproof vest, and was being protected from the sky by three Blackhawk helicopters and two Apache gunships.
I think even I would feel safe walking the streets with that much protection around me. Maybe not.
It is unimaginable to me that people could look at the level of protection McCain’s visit required and believe that the media is intentionally downplaying the success in Iraq. When a presidential candidate tours the streets in an entourage of that much military might, then claims that the visit is proof of the safety and success of the security implementation, it should be an insult to our intelligence.
That certainly seems how it was perceived by some of the Iraqis who were in attendance. A 37-year-old textile merchant in that market had this to say of McCain’s appearance:
“They were laughing and talking to people as if there was nothing going on in this country or at least they were pretending that they were tourists and were visiting the city’s old market and buying [souvenirs]. To achieve this, they sealed off the area, put themselves in flak jackets and walked in the middle of tens of armed American soldiers.”
Another merchant was much more angry about what he saw:
“They were just making fun of us and paid this visit just for their own interests. Do they think that when they come and speak few Arabic words in a very bad manner it will make us love them? This country and its society have been destroyed because of them and I hope that they realized that during this visit.”
Somehow, I wouldn’t bet money on that from what McCain and Graham have said since they’ve returned.
The story isn’t that the American people aren’t getting the truth about how secure the streets of Baghdad are; the story is that the streets still aren’t secure enough that people can’t walk the streets without obvious fear of deadly violence.
I don’t for a moment downplay what our soldiers are risking their lives to accomplish there, nor do I think they aren’t committed to making Iraq safe. To be fair, there was a time, quite recently, when many markets like Shorja couldn’t even open for business because of the level of violence.
The fact that this one is open at all, even for what some are calling a clear publicity stunt, is certainly proof that the security situation has improved. But if we’re going to look at the “whole picture,” it seems reasonable to me that we should look at both sides: and when one side talks about being able to “walk freely” through the streets of Baghdad but seems only able to do so while under heavy military protection, you have to put those claims into perspective.