Landing in Kuwait, U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur was stunned by the massiveness of the American military base with its huge force of troops and equipment.
"I think I've seen a lot of things in my life and that was breathtaking," she said.
It is also hardly enough to make a positive, meaningful, lasting difference in Iraq, Miss Kaptur remarked yesterday, just hours after returning to Washington from a week in the Middle East.
The Toledo Democrat put the chances at "50-50, on a good day."
But if the United States would throw its efforts into diplomacy, sending a high-level, respected team with experience in the Middle East to have daily discussions with leaders of the countries surrounding Iraq on how to stabilize the region, Miss Kaptur said she would put the chances of success at 70 percent.
"The vacuum on the diplomacy side is mammoth," she said.
She'd also like to see Arabic- speaking people from Toledo, Detroit, and Dearborn, Mich., used as spokesmen for the United States in talking about the benefits of liberty and democracy.
It's an idea she said she long ago suggested to former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. She felt it was one of many that were ignored in what she called "a botched operation" in getting out the United States' message.
And that's put too much of the burden on the U.S. military, she said.
Miss Kaptur, who is a member of the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, traveled with five other House members: Norm Dicks (D., Wash.), Steve Rothman (D., N.J.), Rodney Frelinghuysen (R., N.J.), Christopher Carney (D., Pa.), and Patrick Murphy (D., Pa.).
In addition to Kuwait, they visited Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Germany, escorted by the U.S. military on a trip that was paid for by the Department of Defense.
They met with Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai and Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz as well as numerous generals and other top leaders, many of whom have had recent threats on their lives. They did not meet with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki as anticipated.
Miss Kaptur said she asked for information about the costs and numbers of contractors working with the U.S. military, which she said was one of her goals of the trip. But she found one of the main presentations she requested from the Defense Department to be "dazzlingly uninformative."
She brought back far more lasting impressions from her visit to a critical care unit in Landstuhl, Germany, where she saw an Anthony Wayne High School graduate who was hurt too badly to speak.
A chaplain was with the young man, who had suffered a rifle shot to the neck so recently that doctors still were assessing the damage. He had a breathing tube and was barely able to communicate. But before Miss Kaptur arrived, he had somehow indicated to someone that he wanted to pray.
She found him with a chaplain. But the young man was Catholic and the chaplain was not. Both were quite grateful when she appeared and talked with him about his many relatives whom she knows in Lucas and Fulton counties.
The young man, whom Miss Kaptur did not identify, was able to click his tongue in response to her queries about his relatives.
When she prayed, he closed his eyes. "And then I made the sign of the cross on his forehead when I left," she said.
There were many more severely injured young Americans that Miss Kaptur only glimpsed on the trip. She said she felt the Defense Department attempted to shield the legislators from the wounded.
But Saturday as she and the other House members were on the tarmac, waiting to leave Baghdad, a plane just beside their own was being filled with the wounded for a flight to Germany. "And you could see ambulance after ambulance," she said. "That was a very vivid reminder of what is happening."
And if that doesn't stop soon, Miss Kaptur said the answer might be to separate Iraq into ethnic areas, assigning the warring sects to be with only their own and dividing the country's oil revenues among them.
That would be far from the goals the United States set for the region and terribly disappointing to many, but if other efforts fail, it might be a way to slow the killings, she said.
"We don't want a bloodbath," Miss Kaptur said.
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