Consider the Living
By BOB HERBERT
Pretty soon this war in Iraq will have lasted as long as our involvement in World War II, with absolutely no evidence of any sort of conclusion in sight.
The point of Memorial Day is to honor the service and the sacrifice of those who have given their lives in the nation's wars. But I suggest that we take a little time today to consider the living.
Look around and ask yourself if you believe that stability or democracy in Iraq — or whatever goal you choose to assert as the reason for this war — is worth the life of your son or your daughter, or your husband or your wife, or the co-worker who rides to the office with you in the morning, or your friendly neighbor next door.
Before you gather up the hot dogs and head out to the barbecue this afternoon, look in a mirror and ask yourself honestly if Iraq is something you would be willing to die for.
There is no shortage of weaselly politicians and misguided commentators ready to tell us that we can't leave Iraq — we just can't. Chaos will ensue. Maybe even a civil war. But what they really mean is that we can't leave as long as the war can continue to be fought by other people's children, and as long as we can continue to put this George W. Bush-inspired madness on a credit card.
Start sending the children of the well-to-do to Baghdad, and start raising taxes to pay off the many hundreds of billions that the war is costing, and watch how quickly this tragic fiasco is brought to an end.
At an embarrassing press conference last week, President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain looked for all the world like a couple of hapless schoolboys who, while playing with fire, had set off a conflagration that is still raging out of control. Their recklessness has so far cost the lives of nearly 2,500 Americans and tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis, many of them children.
Among the regrets voiced by the president at the press conference was his absurd challenge to the insurgents in 2003 to "bring 'em on." But Mr. Bush gave no hint as to when the madness might end.
How many more healthy young people will we shovel into the fires of Iraq before finally deciding it's time to stop? How many dead are enough?
There is no good news coming out of Iraq. Sabrina Tavernise of The Times recently wrote: "In the latest indication of the crushing hardships weighing on the lives of Iraqis, increasing portions of the middle class seem to be doing everything they can to leave the country."
The middle class is all but panicked at the inability of the Iraqi government or American forces to quell the relentless violence. Ms. Tavernise quoted a businessman who is planning to move to Jordan: "We're like sheep at a slaughter farm."
Iraqis continue to be terrorized by kidnappers, roving death squads and, in a term perhaps coined by Mr. Bush, "suiciders."
The American ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, acknowledged last week that even at this late date, there are parts of western Iraq that are not controlled by American forces, but rather "are under the control of terrorists and insurgents."
Now we get word that U.S. marines may have murdered two dozen Iraqis in cold blood last November.
No one should be surprised that such an atrocity could occur. That's what happens in war. The killing gets out of control, which is yet another reason why it's important to have mature leaders who will do everything possible to avoid war, rather than cavalierly sending the young and the healthy off to combat as if it were no more serious an enterprise than a big-time sporting event.
Nothing new came out of the Bush-Blair press conference. After more than three years these two men are as clueless as ever about what to do in Iraq. Are we doomed to follow the same pointless script for the next three years? And for three years after that?
Leadership does not get more pathetic than this. Once there was F.D.R. and Churchill. Now there's Bush and Blair.
Reacting to the allegations about the murder of civilians, the commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. Michael Hagee, went to Iraq last week to warn his troops about the danger of becoming "indifferent to the loss of a human life."
Somehow that message needs to be conveyed to the top leaders of this country, and to the public at large. There is no better day than Memorial Day to reflect on it. As we remember the dead, we should consider the living, and stop sending people by the thousands to pointless, unnecessary deaths.