Upbeat reports mute bleak reality in Iraq
Presidential hopeful Sen. John McCain sounded as if he had enjoyed a springtime stroll in Central Park when he recently visited one of Baghdad’s open markets. He gave the impression that most anyone could visit Iraq’s merchants, chat about business, buy some vegetables and safely meander home. That’s what the senator wanted us to believe happened. What really was going on proved different from McCain’s sunny verbal ploy.CNN correspondent Michael Ware told it like it was at the Baghdad market.”I don’t know what part of Neverland Sen. McCain is talking about when he says we can go strolling in Baghdad,” befuddled Ware exclaimed. “60 Minutes” interviewer Scott Pelley sounded exasperated when McCain repeated how safe was his marketing. Did Pelley have to check if the senator’s nose grew longer with each recitation of this made-up tale? McCain conveniently forgot to mention that several U.S. attack helicopters hovered over him. Soldiers armed with menacing weapons marched beside him. Consequently, the open market McCain visited happened to look safe. But what really was going on becomes apparent when we learn how our military cordoned off this area.The Bible reports how what happened to Jesus doesn’t tell the full story. More went on than meets the casual reader’s eye. The Bible reveals what really was going on beneath surface events.For instance, the Gospel of John describes hoopla surrounding Jesus’ exciting parade into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. His superstar entry on a palm-strewn version of Hollywood’s red carpet is what happened. But the Gospel writer doesn’t want us to race by what really was going on. He makes clear how “at the time his disciples didn’t understand this, but after Jesus had been glorified (at his resurrection and ascension) they remembered this had been written about him, and that this had happened to him,” John 12:16.”Do you get it?” John asks. Don’t merely focus on what happened – a parade featuring Jesus riding a donkey as hysterical bystanders shouted “hosanna.” This parade is God’s opening salvo in his battle for salvation. By Christ’s death and resurrection, he breaks sin’s spell and rules as risen Lord over death and despair. This is what really happened.Remember moments when what happened doesn’t compare to what really was going on. A bride happens to walk down the aisle. But what really goes on is that bride and groom vow mutual loyalty and love. Or at worship what happens is hymns are sung; prayers are shared; a sermon is preached. But what really goes on is that a hymn, prayers or a line from a sermon recharge your spiritual batteries. You feel renewed. That’s what really is going on.Sen. McCain cons us about Iraq only as long as we see a censored picture. U.S. soldiers and attack helicopters are cropped from scenes in the Baghdad market.What’s happening, we hear from our president, is how the U.S. and Iraq security forces successfully surge ahead. What’s really going on is that some Sunni and Shiite militants have left the capital to continue their murderous carnage in previously safe towns. Firefights intensify. Civil war escalates. Any insurgent who owns a laptop computer doesn’t need secret headquarters in Baghdad from which to unleash mayhem. Technology lets militants travel light. And detonate heavy bombs. What’s really is going on is our troops, caught between rival religious sects whose hatred goes back centuries, become prime targets.In 2003, President George W. Bush didn’t lie to our nation. His aims, couched in memorable Christian rhetoric, sounded noble. God, the author of liberty, wants us to unseat Baghdad’s tyrant. We have the opportunity to make a Middle East changeover – from semi-feudal enemies into peace-loving democracies that adore our republic.What will happen, promised our president, is that Saddam Hussein will be toppled, his terrible weapons exposed, the slaughter stopped and a republic would be born in Iraq.What really was going on, Bush didn’t admit. Even when Saddam Hussein told him bluntly with a noose around the dictator’s neck, still our president ducked reality. Saddam told us what really was going on as he denounced Americans and Persians just before the trap door sprung open. He didn’t damn Israel, as Bush would have expected. Why did Saddam curse Persians just before his hanging?Saddam told it like it really is. Who are the “Persians?” This is an ancient name for Iranians. And Iranians are almost all Shiites. With a final breath, Sunni Saddam cursed his enemies.What happens each day in Iraq has little to do with establishing a republic in that fiercely split land, where Islamic sects have been fighting each other for centuries. Shiites make up only about 15 percent of Muslims on our globe. But they threaten Iraq’s Sunnis because they control neighboring Iran. Sunnis spew equal venom at Israel and Shiite-ruled Iran. This is what’s really going on. Wedged in the middle of this mess are our troops. They can’t possibly extricate themselves from this civil war. Trying to be the buffer between militant Sunnis and Shiites only makes them larger targets for Islamic extremists. Our troops can’t cork centuries of brutal animosity between Sunnis and Shiites.We can’t continue to be naive about what’s happening in Iraq and what’s really going on. Our president’s resolute hope for a Republic there has ossified into stubbornness. He turns his back on reality. Our soldiers in harm’s way pay a heavy, bloody price. The Reverend Dr. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the nonprofit, tax-exempt Creative Growth Ministries, which enhances Christian worship through lively storytelling and dramatic presentations that make God’s history come alive. Van Ens’ book, “How Jefferson Made the Best of Bad Messes,” is available in local bookstores for $7.95.