Costs all around to prolonging the war
By JOSEPH L. GALLOWAY
It will be costly and painful to prolong the war in Iraq for another 21 months so that those who started it can hand off the harder decision of how to end it to the next occupant of the White House.
President Bush isn't extending and expanding the war in a search for victory. His dream of victory in Iraq cannot be achieved. Not by sending 30,000 more American troops. Not by making parts of Baghdad temporarily safer by billeting American troops in violent neighborhoods and pushing the slaughter into the northern and southern suburbs - or into the Green Zone where U.S. and Iraqi officials live and work.
Not by letting American soldiers bear the brunt of combat, targeted not only by our enemies, the Sunni Muslim insurgents but also by our supposed allies, the Shiite majority and the murderous militia of radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. In March, more American troops died in Iraq than Iraqi soldiers.
This is a search for a fig leaf to cover the emperor’s nakedness - a way for Bush to go home to Texas with a ringing but hollow declaration that "Iraq wasn't lost on my watch."
That this can be achieved only by fomenting a nasty, divisive and unnecessary showdown between the White House and Congress is just one more cost.
Another very high cost will be borne by the U.S. Army, whose soldiers got the word from Defense Secretary Robert Gates this week that their combat tours are being extended from 12 months to 15 months, effective immediately.
The cost to the Army National Guard will be high, too. The Guard got the word this month that 13,000 of its part-time soldiers will be recalled to active duty for their second combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan - although they'd been promised only one active duty tour every five years.
The cost will be highest of all, however, for the families of those soldiers who've already waved farewell to their loved ones two or three times.
What disheartening news for people like a young Army captain who recently told me that he'd finally had the pleasure of spending his first Christmas at home with a daughter who's almost four.
While the nation’s airwaves this past week were filled with the urgent news of who fathered Anna Nicole Smith’s baby and the spectacle of Don Imus waving goodbye to his career in broadcasting over racist and sexist remarks on the air, few seemed to notice that 10 more American troops were killed in Iraq over the weekend.
Ten young soldiers whose lives of service to the nation were terminated in an instant. Ten military sedans rolling up to the doors of families that were devastated by the news of a death in combat. Fathers, mothers, siblings, spouses, young children, fiancees, friends whose hearts were shattered in an instant.
The American military death toll in Iraq rose to almost 3,300 this week. The number of wounded and injured now tops 50,000.
Continuing this war for another two years will bring the day-to-day cost to the American taxpayer to nearly a trillion dollars. Hidden long-term costs such as medical care and disability pensions for the thousands of wounded, and mental health care for those tormented by PTSD, could add another trillion dollars or more to the tab.
Why? Why should this misbegotten war continue for another two or three years? The president’s men say that if we leave Iraq as it is now, it will erupt into all-out civil war, and the flames would spread to other tinderbox nations in the Middle East. Perhaps, but perhaps not.
There were those who were certain that if we left Vietnam and it fell to the Communists, the other nations of Southeast Asia would topple like dominos.
We left. The Communists took power in the three countries of what had been French Indochina: South Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. The dominos of Southeast Asia are all still standing.
It was our preemptive invasion of Iraq that loosed the dogs of war there. It was our negligence that set off sectarian slaughter. It is our continued military presence in Iraq _ where a majority wants us to leave now _ that fans the flames of war.
What if we left, and our departure forced the Shiites, Sunnis, Kurds and others to find some way to live in peace with each other, or at least alongside one another? What if our leaving isn't the worst possible outcome but the best?
Maybe we'll finally find out after George W. Bush and Dick Cheney go home to Texas and Wyoming, and those whom we choose to succeed them decide to try the one thing that Bush and Cheney have never considered.