Under the Sun
In a long war, no direction home
I'M watching CNN, awaiting Gen. David Petraeus' report on the status of the relentlessly horrible war in Iraq.
He sits unflinching and poker-faced as members of two congressional committees flit and flap for the cameras. He is so motionless that at times it appears a still photograph of a crisp and perfectly groomed man is being broadcast.
Then he begins to speak, but after a few minutes, my mind drifts away.
I stare at the plaque of colorful ribbons, some dotted with tiny metal emblems, tacked to his uniform. I wonder if they are individual badges, each of which has to be pinned below his left shoulder separately, or if they are a clustered set, an arranged collection exclusive to him and his status. I wonder if he has duplicates or if he has to take the whole lot off one uniform when he changes to fresh clothes.
My inattention isn't a show of disrespect, but of disbelief and of expectancy. It's not that Petraeus isn't telling the truth, just not the whole truth. He has his statistics, percentages and facts as fixed and pressed as medals and uniform. He is the president's man "on the ground," the guy with "dust on his boots," to use the phrases Bush employs to convey supreme credibility.
To emphasize neutrality, the general begins his testimony by saying he has not cleared nor shared it with "anyone in the Pentagon, the White House or Congress," that is, his words haven't been granulated through the administration's spin mill.
It really doesn't matter. No one anticipated that Petraeus' report and recommendations, nor that of his sideman, Ambassador Ryan Crocker, were going to alter the thrust of the war. No, both served up the primed menu of staying the course. There is no new strategy, except that Americans can expect that at least 60 of their troops will die every month, that $9 billion a month will continue to be spent on the war and that by next summer, there will still be more than 100,000 soldiers caught in a civil war while Iraq's so-called leaders sputter and fiddle.
Petraeus did throw out a single token -- that about 30,000 Marines and soldiers could come home by next July -- a chip Bush promptly scooped up.
In a speech set for prime time tomorrow, the president will say he plans to draw down troops, under certain conditions. Bush will use the reduction as a human payment on his layaway plan to keep the war going until he himself can go home to Texas.
As he told Robert Draper, an author of a new book on his presidency, "I'm playing for October-November" when it comes to Iraq. By then, he said, presidential candidates "will be comfortable about sustaining a presence" there.
More likely, whoever is elected will have to clean up 43's monumental mess, while out of office, Bush will have other priorities, including "replenishing the ol' coffers" on the speaker circuit, as he told Draper. Should he get bored, he said, he'll hop in his truck and head to his Crawford ranch for fishing and weed-whacking.
I'm watching CNN. The crawler at the bottom of the screen in aching, spare routine notes that nine more soldiers have been killed in Iraq. There are no details, no names.
I wonder if counted among the nine was Army Sgt. Alexander Gagalac, the 1997 Leilehua High grad who died Sunday, a day after his mother's birthday, a few weeks before his tour of duty ended. He'll be coming home.
has been on the staff of the Star-Bulletin since 1976. She can be reached at email@example.com