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The high cost of dignitary visits, part 3

August 2, 2007 | Death,Dignitary visits,Iraq,Military

Second verse, same as the first

Here’s how to spot an account of a dignitary visit to Iraq.

  • Shrouded in secrecy
  • Can’t divulge travel itinerary
  • Scary C-130 ride
  • Military personnel with scary weapons
  • Flak jackets
  • Helmets
  • Black Hawk helicopters
  • Flying low
  • Humvees
  • Green Zone
  • Heavy security
  • Meet-and-greets
  • Lunch with (preferably “hometown”) troops
  • Stern or frank discussions with Iraqi leaders
  • Firsthand experience on the ground
  • Danger at every turn
  • Bombs exploding within spitting distance (more on that later)
  • But things look good (more on the PR campaign later)
  • And, oh yeah, some troops died

What you won’t see.

  • Gee, I wonder if any of those deaths had anything to do with … my visit?

Here are a couple examples to get you started.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., March 2005:

We … boarded a C-130. There were a number of soldiers on board … We sat in seats lined on the wall and took deep breaths as we took off from Kuwait. … we had to don our flak jackets and helmets. They are heavy! … Suddenly the plane just started dropping, we did this amazing zig zag in – sort of spiraled down very fast … It was like a bad Disneyland ride as we veered left, right up and down to avoid any “incoming”… and I have to admit my stomach was in my throat. … We exited the plane and the scene was stark – soldiers, machine guns, maneuvering us quickly into what they called ice cream trucks – that looked just like that but were bullet and “IED” reinforced. … boarded a “helo” and with our flak jackets and helmets we sat in these helicopters and flew out – with a machine gun 6 inches in front of me pointed out the plane as we rode 25 feet above ground. … We landed in the Green Zone and were met with serious security. We … met … temporary Ambassador … joined by General Casey for a briefing on the military side. … I ate lunch with 2 Marines … then went back outside and got in vans under intense security even though we remained in the Green Zone and traveled to another palace where we met with … Prime Minister … then convoyed to the convention center where the new parliament is being set up. It was inside the Green Zone but even more intense security. We … met with the Kurdish Leader … Sunni Leader … I think all see it as a time of both hope and danger with much work to be done before a government is in place later this month.

Oh, and by the way:

… the airport had been closed shortly before we landed because of a mortar attack, and there had been a mortar attack that fell a few feet short of the Green Zone last night.

We goin’ to Disney World!

You know, maybe she’s right. Maybe it is like an “All American amusement park.” They get their tickets. They stand in line. They get on the ride. They get scared and excited. They puke in the bushes. Then they go stand in line and do it all over again. Whee!

January 2005 — Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., (from The Audacity of Hope):

… landing at Baghdad International Airport turned out not to be so bad — although I was thankful that we couldn’t see out the windows as the C-130 bucked and banked and dipped its way down. Our escort officer from the State Department was there to greet us, along with an assortment of military personnel with rifles slung over their shoulders. After getting our security briefing, recording our blood types, and being fitted for helmets and Kevlar vests, we boarded two Black Hawk helicopters and headed for the Green Zone, flying low … I would spend only a day and a half in Iraq, most of it in the Green Zone … now a U.S.-controlled compound, surrounded along its perimeter by blast walls and barbed wire. Reconstruction teams briefed usintelligence officers described the growing threat of sectarian militias … we met with members of the Iraqi Election Commission … for an hour we listened to U.S. Ambassador Khalilzadlunch with some of the troops … our delegation accompanied Ambassador Khalilzad for dinner at the home of Iraqi interim President Jalal Talabani. Security was tight as our convoy wound its way past a maze of barricades out of the Green Zone; outside, our route was lined with U.S. troops at one-block intervals, and we were instructed to keep our vests and helmets on for the duration of the drive. … greeted by the president and several members of the Iraqi interim government … I had difficulty sleeping that night; instead, I watched the Redskins game, piped in live via satellite to the pool house once reserved for Saddam and his guests. Several times I muted the TV and heard mortar fire pierce the silence. The following morning, we took a Black Hawk to the Marine base in Fallujah …

Oh, and by the way:

… just the previous day, five Marines on patrol had been killed by roadside bombs or small-arms fire.

Here are more examples over the years.

June 30, 2003:

A six-member delegation visited Iraq. “For security reasons, few details were released on the five-day trip.” (Austin American-Statesman, June 28, 2003) Although he could not disclose a detailed itinerary because of security reasons, Sen. Mark Dayton, D-Minn., said the delegation would visit Baghdad, Basra and southern Iraq, and they planned to be back in the
United States by July 4. “If I’m not still embedded in Iraq or tangling with Saddam Hussein, I’ll be in parades on July 4, 5 and 6,” he said. (Star Tribune, June 26, 2003)

At least somebody thinks a visit to Iraq is funny.

November 2003:

Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite, R-Fla., traveled with a delegation the week of Nov. 17, 2003. The departure date and itinerary were kept secret for security reasons. She could not say who else or how many were in the delegation, and the trip could be canceled at a moment’s notice if military leaders decided the situation was too unstable.” (Source: St. Petersburg Times, Nov. 13, 2003)

November 2003:

Rep. Bob Beauprez, R-Colo., joined a bipartisan congressional delegation to Iraq … will be the first member of Colorado’s congressional delegation to visit Iraq since the end of the war and the beginning of an arduous, often violent U.S. occupation. … For security reasons, details of the bipartisan trip were not released. Earlier this year, a trip by another congressional delegation had to be cut short after a bomb blast ripped through the United Nations headquarters. (Rocky Mountain News, Nov. 15, 2003)

Nov. 28, 2003:

Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., and Jack Reed, D-R.I., ate Thanksgiving dinner with U.S. troops in Afghanistan on Nov. 27, and they planned to visit Iraq. Their “highly protected entourage” arrived in Pakistan on Nov. 25, and details of their trip were “shrouded in secrecy because of recent heightened fears of a new terrorist attack and
Clinton’s profile, which is higher than almost anyone else’s in Congress.” (New York Post, Nov. 27, 2003)

Jan. 5-6, 2004:

Rep. James C. Greenwood, R-Pa., could not release the exact dates of his trip “for security purposes,” but said, “I feel, as a moral issue, that if I vote to send people to fight in a war I have an obligation to be with them and take risks.”  (The Morning Call, Dec. 24, 2003) While on a six-day visit, Greenwood crawled into Saddam Hussein’s “spider hole.” The delegation stayed overnight in one of his Baghdad palaces. Greenwood said he never believed his life was in danger, but they experienced several “white-knuckle” trips in military vehicles operated by soldiers using evasive driving techniques and a low-level 150-mph Black Hawk helicopter ride. (The Morning Call, Jan. 13, 2004)

Feb. 10-11, 2004:

In a trip “cloaked in secrecy” and “kept under wraps for security reasons,” six governors and a reporter toured Baghdad, dined with troops and met with the Iraqi provisional government at the invitation of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Gov. George Pataki, R-N.Y., proclaimed the visit a “historic bipartisan governor’s tour of Iraq.”

It was the first of such visits but certainly not the last. At least 36 governors have visited Iraq.

Even though a suicide truck bomb killed about 50 people and injured scores of others near Baghdad on Feb. 10 and two troops, based in Fort Polk, La., died from a roadside bomb while on patrol in Baghdad on Feb. 11, Gov. Kathleen Blanco, D-La., “presented a positive picture of the occupied country.” Though extensive security measures during the visit highlighted the danger at every turn in Iraq, Blanco said she never felt at risk. “We were well-protected,” she said. Guard units escorted the delegation in front and behind their vehicles, and Apache helicopters flew overhead. Their convoy had to stop so troops could investigate a box in the road. Although Gen. Bennett Landreneu of the Louisiana National Guard traveled to Washington, D.C., with Blanco, he did not accompany her to Iraq (but a reporter did). Despite “heated rhetoric surrounding the Iraq war in the presidential campaign,” Blanco downplayed any political significance to her visit, although she thought the situation she saw was not so dire that it would hurt President George W. Bush in the election. (The Times-Picayune, Feb. 11, 2004)

Feb. 17-18, 2004:

Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.V., had a bumpy landing in Baghdad because of a series of recent attacks on American aircraft. She pointed out that a Monroe County soldier was part of the patrol for the delegation. (Charleston Daily Mail, Feb. 18, 2004)

June 2004:

Sens. Bob Bennett, Bill Frist, R-Tenn, and John Ensign, R-Nev., … L. Paul Bremer — the top U.S. administrator in Iraq — and interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi … sat in on briefings … The senators donned flak jackets for helicopter rides and rode with military pilots whose planes had drawn fire months before. Bennett said he was not concerned for his safety and left feeling that things were going fine in Iraq. (The Associated Press, June 7, 2004)

Sept. 16-19, 2004:

Rep. Wally Herger, R-Calif., who couldn’t disclose details of the trip “for security reasons,” said he wasn’t worried about his safety in Iraq. “I feel good,” he said. “There have been a number of delegations go over there. They keep them small.” They expected to travel on military aircraft and have “very tight security.” (Redding Record Searchlight, Sept. 14, 2004) However, continued violence kept the delegation from seeing much of Iraq up close, as they spent most of their time visiting Baghdad, Tikrit, Mosul and Fallujah in Black Hawk helicopters and Humvees with tight security and flak jackets. Rep. Phil English, R-Pa., said he was disappointed that the threat of snipers, roadside bombs and other dangers kept his delegation from mingling with Iraqis. (Erie Times-News, Sept. 22, 2004)

December 2004:

Sens. Joseph R. Biden Jr., D-Del., Lincoln Chafee, R-R.I., Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., will head to Iraq later this week. Biden was not optimistic about Iraq and met with Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi in Jordan because that was “the only place where he can meet safely with the Sunni leadership,” Biden said. Regarding visiting Iraq, he said it was vital to see the situation in person and meet with troops face-to-face. (The News Journal, Dec. 2, 2004)

Dec. 21-22, 2005:

Rep. Charles Boustany Jr., R-La., was part of a six-member delegation that spent two days in Iraq after the Dec. 15 parliamentary elections. Even though Hurricane Rita hit Louisiana, and about 3,000 Louisiana residents needed his help dealing with FEMA, Boustany wanted personal experience in Iraq. He had been pushing to make the roster of congressional delegations for several months. (The Advocate, Nov. 29, 2005)

January 2007:

Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., … boarded another C-130 to head into Iraq. … getting fitted out with a Kevlar helmet and flak jacket gave this flight a different feel. … We arrived at the international zone safely, though even inside the zone, we have to travel by convoy. … went immediately to a meeting with General Raymond Odierno, who is the commander of the Multi-National Corps, Iraq. We had a frank discussion about the need to improve things in Iraq quickly. The general told me he believes things can turn around in Baghdad, but I reminded him that we do not have much time to wait. … lunch with Ambassador Khalilzad and Multinational Forces-Iraq commander General Casey. Here again, we had a frank discussion about the difficult situation in Iraq … four consecutive meetings with Iraqi officials, including a deputy president, a deputy prime minister, the minister of defense and the national security adviser … met with Prime Minister Maliki. We had a very good and frank discussion about the violence in his country and the political situation in the United States.

Posted by Becky @ 3:22 pm  

One Response to “The high cost of dignitary visits, part 3”

  1. Kathy Says:

    I wish to see ALL visits by dignitaries stopped to Iraq and other war zones!!!
    It is a travesty that we allow dignitary visits at the expense of our military in terms of money and soldiers’ lives. If dignitaries want to go, they should have to pay ALL real expenses of their trips and their protection. Expenses like military transports, the people who fly or drive them, their flak jackets and such protective devices, all expense for the huge number of soldiers who accompany then, fly over them, etc. They should pay for their meals, lodging, and any other expense involved in their thrill-seeking journeys. If soldiers are wounded protectimg them, they should be responsible for all medical expenses for them. If soldiers die keeping them safe, then they need to pay for the support of spouses and children who survice them. These people are putting the lives of our soldiers in jeopardy, for what purpose? I have seen no clear pictures coming from these visitors – no changing of minds that have come as a result of the HUNDREDS of such visits. They go, have fun, get some publicity, come back again for more, but are unchanged by what they see. They say often that they go there to see what is going on. I quote a person close to me, “IF THEY WANT TO SEE WHAT IS GOING ON – ENLIST FIRST – THEN GO SEE!!!” Then it will not be a game – it will be REAL! Our Military is responsible to figure out what is going on. We do not need these visitors telling us the story they know so little, if anything, about. SUPPORT OUR TROOPS! BRING THEM ALL HOME NOW!!!!

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