About Utah: A surprising new voice of alarm on Iraq situation

Published: Friday, Dec. 1 2006 12:00 a.m. MST

If not exactly breaking news, the quotes coming out of Iraq this week were certainly pessimistic and provocative.
"The situation has deteriorated."
"(The Iraqi government) seems to be caught in a crossfire of sectarian angst and violent actions."
"It's a dangerous environment that will continue to escalate in the weeks ahead."
Even more provocative was who said them.
It wasn't Cindy Sheehan. It wasn't Michael Moore.
It wasn't Rocky Anderson or anyone wearing tie-dye.
The above remarks came from Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., who was flown along with the governors of New York, New Jersey and Oregon to Iraq by the United States Department of Defense.
Since it seems reasonable to assume that Huntsman was no Ernie Pyle, digging in with soldiers on the front for a firsthand look, it also seems reasonable to assume that the information he passed on came from military personnel on the ground who briefed him.
And that is the intriguing part.
If the Department of Defense is personally ferrying heads of states to Iraq so they can send reports back home that Baghdad is burning, then the situation must indeed be a real mess.
And somebody must be angling for a change in Operation Iraqi Freedom strategy, be it exit or escalation.
Talk about a switch. For four years, DOD propaganda from Iraq has been that progress is being made, that the Iraqis love democracy, that they just need time.
That along with, "don't believe the negative media; the negative media has it all wrong."
But that was yesterday's spin.
Today's spin is "duck!"
Huntsman sounded like he was filing a report for the New York Times.
So did the other members of the highly guarded governor's visit: Republican George Pataki of New York and Democrats Ted Kulongoski of Oregon and Jon Corzine of New Jersey.
"I came here believing we were in a better position than we are," Corzine, who voted against authorization of the war as a U.S. senator in 2002, told the Philadelphia Inquirer. He called the situation "significantly more unstable."
The last time Kulongoski and Pataki visited Iraq together, in 2004, they were photographed eating ice cream cones they bought on a street in Baghdad.
This time they did not come close to any ice cream shops.
"You don't go to downtown Baghdad anymore," Kulongoski told the Associated Press. "It's not getting better, it's getting worse."
"By all accounts, this government has not delivered the security and stability that the people of Iraq need," Pataki was quoted in the Buffalo News.
So there it was. Four governors, two Republicans, two Democrats, all sounding the same alarm from the same war while standing on the same soap box provided by the same Department of Defense.
On another day, in another place, they might have been called, if not war protesters, at least war critics.
On this day they were just telling it like it was told to them.

Lee Benson's column runs Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Please send e-mail to benson@desnews.com and faxes to 801-237-2527.

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