Teaching at an American International school in a foreign country has many benefits. One is that you are exposed to interesting people who do interesting things. Ed (an alias to protect my source), who is a parent of two students at our school, the American International School of Lusaka, Zambia, was on leave from his job in Iraq and came to our school to give a briefing on the happenings there. Ed works for the State Department in the area of, according to him, “building capacity”.
Some interesting information came out of his briefing that would lead one to believe the “surge” is not working as well as the military industrial complex and John McCain would have us believe and our presence in Iraq will be for many years to come. For instance, Ed works in the Green Zone, the heavily fortified administrative area in central Baghdad. He claims it is still under constant barrage from grenades and mortar fire. When he leaves the Green Zone to attend to official business, he takes a cadre of 20 men with him for protection. These men represent a mix of private security guards (Blackwater types) and U.S. military personnel. Each mission that Ed or his colleagues make out of the Green Zone costs the U.S. taxpayer $10,000.
Now, for me, this disputes what John McCain has been saying about the “surge” working and how many neighborhoods are now safe enough to roam about freely. At $10,000 a pop, I guarantee we are looking at more than a whistle and some mace spray to protect Ed when he leaves the Green Zone. As a matter of fact, Ed indicated that this cost covers armored vehicles, highly trained security personnel and their sophisticated weapons. Perhaps, McCain simply forgot to mention that with these protective measures one could take a leisurely trip through the neighborhoods of Baghdad.
When asked how many Iraqi civilian lives have been lost in the conflict, Ed admitted that he believes the official government figure of 70,000 is way to low. He has read and heard it is closer to 600,000. He strongly indicated that “Iraq is still a very dangerous place” and “the country is in very bad shape”. The implication was for both Iraqis and foreign military personnel. It got really interesting when he addressed the issue of why it is that Iraq’s vast oil wealth is not being used to rebuild the country instead of foreign aid. He said bluntly that the Iraqis do not have the capacity to do much. After suffering through decades of dictatorship, where a small group controlled everything, the new Iraqi leaders are learning things from scratch, like how to hold meetings, develop budgets, and appropriate money. His job is to build the capacity of the Iraqis to do these things. To ask them to operate and use their vast oil wealth to rebuild their own country would be asking too much, too soon. He said they have a hard enough time deciding how best to spend the $20 billion in redevelopment aid the U.S. gives Iraq every year.
Finally, I asked him: in his estimation, how long would it be before the Iraqis took full control of their country and American troops could withdraw? He said it would take a generation – 20 years! As a matter of fact, he indicated that his son, who is only 15, is interested in a career in the Air Force and he expects that someday he will be stationed in Iraq.
Understand, Ed meant this 20 year figure just includes the active participation of the U.S. military in quelling the current sectarian violence and the State Department training a new generation of Iraqi leaders. John McCain recently stated he believed a U.S. presence in Iraq would be required to “keep us safe” for another 80 years beyond that (a total of 100 years!).
There is no doubt the U.S. government is hunkered down for a long stay in Iraq. Our leaders are no longer keeping that a secret. Their plans will come to fruition easier if they can keep public sentiment at bay. Telling us the surge is working is a means to that end. However, according to Ed’s briefing, the surge is not working. Discerning Americans need to ask how much longer will we let this fiasco go on? How many more lives will be lost and how much more money diverted away from needs at home to finance a military adventure that offers no guarantee of success?