No votes urged on Bush Iraq bill

With a congressional vote expected shortly on President Bush’s $87 billion request for the occupation of Iraq, a growing number of lawmakers have announced they will vote against it.

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) said Tuesday he will vote against the request, saying he supports our troops and believes the U.S. has a responsibility to rebuild Iraq, but that will not happen “unless the president dramatically changes course.” Edwards said Bush “is not going to change direction unless somebody stands up to him and says no.”

Fellow Democratic candidate Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), who has made opposition to the administration’s war policy a centerpiece of his campaign, previously said he will oppose the $87 billion request. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) also said this week he was leaning towards voting against the funding.

Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) called Bush’s budget-draining request “atrocious,” “ill-conceived,” and “harmful to the future of this nation.” Rush said he would actively lobby his colleagues to get “as many no votes as possible.”

The White House launched a new public relations offensive on Iraq last week, but a cloud of suspicion continues to dog its efforts.

New reports suggest the public relations effort has included manipulation of soldiers serving on the front lines. In an Oct. 13 story widely picked up by major media, the Gannett News Service reported that identical letters from different soldiers serving in Iraq, describing successes in rebuilding Iraq, have recently appeared in the soldiers’ hometown newspapers across the country. The identical letters, all purportedly from soldiers serving with the 2nd Battalion of the 503rd Airborne Infantry Regiment, convey a glowing picture of the restoration of quality of life and security in Kirkuk, where the unit is based, and describes people waving at passing troops and children running up to shake their hands and say thank you.

The Olympian, in Olympia, Wash., received identical letters signed by two different soldiers who hail from the area. The paper declined to run either because of its policy not to publish form letters. The Los Angeles Times also received several copies of the letter but did not publish them.

The Olympian noted, “The letters appear to be part of a campaign to present a positive picture of the U.S. occupation.” Bob Bolerjack, editorial page editor of the Everett, Wash., Herald, which did publish the letter, said his newspaper had been “duped.”

Several of the soldiers contacted by Gannett said they agreed with the contents, but hadn’t written the letters, and at least one said he didn’t sign it. Another said he didn’t know about it.

Sgt. Shawn Grueser of Poca, W.Va., told the Gannett reporter that he had spoken to a military public affairs officer about his accomplishments in Iraq for what he thought was a news release to be sent to his hometown paper. But he said he did not sign any letter. Although Grueser said he agrees with the letter’s sentiments, he was uncomfortable that a letter with his signature did not contain his own words or activities. “It makes it look like you cheated on a test, and everybody got the same grade,” he said.

Moya Marois, whose stepson Spc. Alex Marois did sign the letter, said while she is proud of her stepson, she feels the letter is an effort to give legitimacy to an unjustified war. “We’re going to support our son,” she said, but “there are a lot of Americans that are not in support of this war, that would like to see them returned home, and think it’s going to get worse.”

Seeking to counteract the growing public opinion that the war and occupation were based on fraud and are not worth the cost, the administration is trumpeting what it claims are its successes in Iraq. But the White House has also sent the usually hidden Vice President Dick Cheney out on the attack trail, repeating widely discredited assertions that Iraq posed a threat to America’s security. Speaking to a friendly audience at the right-wing Heritage Foundation, Cheney ignored the failure to find any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and the absence of any links between Saddam Hussein and international terrorist groups. Instead, he portrayed the administration’s Iraq war in Armageddon-like terms as a mission to prevent an “ultimate nightmare [that] could bring devastation to our country on a scale we have never experienced.” Similarly turning facts on their head, Bush, speaking at an Air National Guard base in Portsmouth, N.H., compared the U.S. role in Iraq to the post-World War II occupation of Germany and Japan, saying the occupation ensured those countries “no longer waged war on America.” Some observers likened such statements to the “big lie” technique made famous by Nazi propaganda minister Goebbels: if you tell a big enough lie and repeat it often enough, people will eventually come to believe it.

The author can be reached at suewebb@pww.org