The dying continues in Iraq while at home we bury our heads in the sand
By JOSEPH L. GALLOWAY
The war in Iraq grinds on without much regard for an American president's pipedreams of victory, a congressional majority's impotent attempts to stop it and most of the American people's wish that it would just go away.
We're now well into the fifth year of this war. All 30,000 of President Bush's surge reinforcements are on the ground, and we have more than 150,000 American soldiers and Marines in the cauldron. The only surge in sight is an inevitable surge in the numbers of those troops being killed and wounded.
More than 3,500 Americans have now been killed in action and more than 29,000 wounded, along with an additional 25,000-plus injured in accidents. That's close to 60,000 American casualties to date, and God alone knows how many Iraqis have been killed and wounded in the war and the civil war - certainly hundreds of thousands.
The central focus of George W. Bush's escalation was to make Baghdad more secure so that the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki could take control of its own capital. In truth, Baghdad seems no more secure now than it was - only a more target-rich environment - and even the president and his generals predict that things will get worse before they get better. If they get better.
A beleaguered president must travel to Albania, of all places, to find a little love. Will he now, as Richard Nixon before him, become an inveterate lame-duck globetrotter in search of a crowd that will cheer him? What's next? Kazakhstan? Tierra del Fuego? How about Baghdad?
The Army and Marines scrape and scratch and scheme and pay big bucks and beguile high school dropouts, even those with criminal records, in their efforts to recruit enough young men and women to replace the casualties and those who are leaving the service.
The administration doesn't want you to worry about any of this. It's summertime, shopping time, surf's up. Head for the beach and bury your heads in the sand.
The planes loaded with flag-draped coffins soar over the Atlantic coast sunbathers to land at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, the site of the military mortuary, unseen as they come home to a nation that barely noticed when they left so full of hope and dreams. Your government, your president, has banned cameras from Dover so those images won't intrude on your good times and good life.
The planes loaded with the scores of wounded - some of them double and triple amputees with bodies and brains shattered by the roadside bombs and mines that are responsible for two-thirds of our casualties - fly over the beachfront bars and restaurants and land at Andrews Air Force Base outside the nation's capital in the dark of night. The administration doesn't want too many people noticing them, either.
Both major political parties in this country, their eyes firmly fixed on November 2008 and a change in what passes for leadership these days, each have so many self-deluded candidates for their presidential nominations that they may have to start sharing the microphone at debates.
No one among the declared candidates to date seems worthy of the office. In fact, we seem to have arrived at a point where anyone who wants to be president is, ipso facto, unfit to be president.
More than one student of history has looked hard at where we, as a nation, are today and said: "Late Rome."
For those who ask whether there is no good news from the Iraq war zone, the answer is a qualified yes.
In Fallujah in the Sunni heartland of Anbar province west of Baghdad, where once American tanks and warplanes had to destroy the city in order to save it, the powerful tribal sheikhs have turned away from the foreign jihadists and al-Qaeda in Iraq operatives. Sick of the senseless slaughter and angered when it touched their own families and tribes, they've sent their young men to fight against the extremists they once sheltered.
But even this good news has more to do with the Iraqis and their own Byzantine feuds and alliances than it does with us. In other words, this has everything to do with the Iraqis and their goals, and little or nothing to do with us and our goals.
At home, there are even some faint signs that Bush is paying some heed to more reasonable voices such as those of Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and less to those of Vice President Darth Cheney and the neo-conservatives of the Dark Side.
It's still a long way to high noon on Jan. 20, 2009, so don't throw away your anti-depressive medications just yet.