Sunday, April 01, 2007

Yonder stands your orphan with his gun: Highway Baghdad revisited

Since I’ve been staying here in Baghdad's Green Zone, an old Bob Dylan song keeps running through my head -- “It’s all over now, Baby Blue”. Did I ever tell you that one time I actually MET Bob Dylan? It was at some folk music dive in Greenwich Village in 1965 and he was sitting at the bar with John Lee Hooker. Bob was so CUTE! But back then, even I was cute.

My friend Stewart Nusbaumer just arrived in the Green Zone. “You know, Jane,” he told me, “I agree with what you said about Kevlar body armor being too cumbersome. American soldiers have become just like those medieval knights who became obsolete because they couldn’t move around any more.” Nice analogy. Thanks, Stewart.

Today there was a press conference given by General William Caldwell. The good general told us in detail about how American troops, working in tandem with Iraqi forces, are going to make the people of Iraq feel more secure because now there will be a whole bunch of soldiers and/or policemen on every street (or else it might make them feel more like they are living in a police state, depending on your point of view). “And as the people of Iraq gain confidence in their protectors, they will take the law less into their own hands.” And, apparently, as more and more Iraqis learn the joys of turning their neighbors in to the police, more and more democracy will come to Iraq.

One of the soldiers here had told me earlier that Gen. Caldwell was a good guy and that I should go easy on him during the Q&A. So I did. “Speaking of democracy,” I said, ”last November Americans in great numbers voted for candidates who would bring our troops home. A majority of Americans want our troops home. What can we do to get that process started ASAP?" How easy-going is that!

“Democracy is good for debate," replied General Caldwell, “but what is NOT debatable is our commitment to Iraq. Every day we are putting more boots on the ground, strapping up and going out to protect the people of Iraq.”

When I heard that statement, I freaked. “Good grief!” I exclaimed to poor Stewart. “That general just told the American people to go screw themselves!”

“Not necessarily,” Stewart replied. “Sometimes there is a disconnect between what America thinks and what the military THINKS that America thinks. Sometimes the professional military just gets isolated from what the rest of America is thinking.” Oh.

Then my bunkmate jumped into the fray. “You gotta realize, Jane, that the military takes its orders from its Commander-in-Chief, not from Congress. That’s the law. So until Bush decides against the war, the military has to implement HIS strategy.” Yeah, but...don’t you have to be legally elected to the presidency in order to become Commander-in-Chief? But I digress.

And another thing that bothered me about that press conference was that apparently every insurgent in Iraq is now being collectively called “Al Qaeda”. The word “insurgent” didn’t come up once at the press conference. Not even once. But we heard the words "Al Qaeda" about 85 times.

However, my bunkmate then changed the subject by dropping a bomb shell -- almost literally -- when she announced, “I almost got mortared when I was out in the Red Zone today. And it really made me angry! I only have one day and a wake-up call standing between me and leaving Iraq. How dare they!”

Then a member of the International Zone military police patrol came by and asked me if I wanted to drive around with him for a while and get another tour of the Green Zone. Sure! First we drove around for a while to see if we could catch some speeders. Then we drove past the construction zone for the new American embassy. “It covers 15 square acres.” It was HUGE.

“But if this is the Green Zone, then what is the Red Zone,” I asked.

“The Red Zone is everything in Iraq that isn’t in the Green Zone.” Oh. Then we came to the Tigris River. The Tigris! Wow! The Cradle of Civilization! “This is the 14th of July Bridge. This is where the bodies of people who have been executed by the death squads wash up – it’s not a pretty sight. But the river itself is lovely.” We stopped and I got a photo of me and the Tigris River, with the Palestine Hotel on the opposite bank. Then I saw my first Bradley tank. I want one! But I bet the gas mileage sucks eggs.

We did some more MP-type stuff but nothing exciting. We didn’t get to stop any speeders or catch any crooks. Then we went back to my little trailer home in the Green Zone and ate hot dogs for dinner.

To quote Bob Dylan, “All your seasick sailors, they are rowing home. All your reindeer armies, are all going home.” Except for General Caldwell's army, which apparently plans to be here forever. And except for me. I’m still waiting for an embed.