Driving Blind as the Deaths Pile Up

By BOB HERBERT

New York Times

October 27, 2005

Much of the nation is mourning the more than 2,000 American G.I.'s lost to the war in Iraq. But some of the mindless Washington weasels who sent those brave and healthy warriors to their unnecessary doom have other things on their minds. They're scrambling about the capital, huddling frantically with lawyers, hoping that their habits of deception, which are a way of life with them, don't finally land them in a federal penitentiary.

See them sweat. The most powerful of the powerful, the men who gave the president his talking points and his marching orders, are suddenly sending out distress signals: Don't let them send me to prison on a technicality.

This is not, however, about technicalities. You can spin it any way you want, but Patrick Fitzgerald's investigation of Karl Rove, Scooter Libby et al. is ultimately about the monumentally conceived and relentlessly disseminated deceit that gave us the war that never should have happened.

Oh, it was heady stuff for a while - nerds and na´fs swapping fantasies of world domination and giddily manipulating the levers of American power. They were oh so arrogant and glib: Weapons of mass destruction. Yellowcake from Niger. The smoking gun morphing into a mushroom cloud.

Now look at what they've wrought. James Dao of The Times began his long article on the 2,000 American dead with a story that was as typical as it was tragic:

"Sgt. Anthony G. Jones, fresh off the plane from Iraq and an impish grin on his face, sauntered unannounced into his wife's hospital room in Georgia just hours after she had given birth to their second son."

The article described how Sergeant Jones, over a blissful two-week period last May, "cooed over their baby and showered attention on his wife."

"Three weeks later, on June 14," wrote Mr. Dao, "Sergeant Jones was killed by a roadside bomb in Baghdad on his third tour in a war that is not yet three years old. He was 25."

Three times Sergeant Jones was sent to Iraq, which tells you all you need to know about the fairness and shared sacrifices of this war. If you roll the dice enough times, they're guaranteed to come up snake eyes.

Sergeant Jones told his wife, Kelly, that he had "a bad feeling" about heading back to Iraq for a third combat tour. After his death, his wife found a message that he had left for her among his letters and journal entries.

"Grieve little and move on," he wrote. "I shall be looking over you. And you will hear me from time to time on the gentle breeze that sounds at night, and in the rustle of leaves."

In addition to the more than 2,000 dead, an additional 15,000 Americans have been wounded. Some of these men and women have sacrificed one, two and even three limbs. Some have been permanently blinded and others permanently paralyzed - some both. Some have been horribly burned.

For the Iraqis, the toll is beyond hideous. Perhaps 30,000 dead, of which an estimated 10 percent have been children. The number of Iraqi wounded is anybody's guess.

This is what happens in war, which is why wars should only be fought when there is utterly and absolutely no alternative.

So what's ahead, now that the giddiness in Washington has been replaced by anxiety and the public is turning against the war?

Even Richard Nixon's cronies are crawling out of the woodwork to urge the Bush gang to stop the madness. In an article for Foreign Affairs magazine, former Defense Secretary Melvin Laird, now 83, says the administration needs to come up with a clearly defined exit strategy, and fast.

Said Mr. Laird: "Getting out of a war is still dicier than getting into one, as George W. Bush can attest."

But President Bush, who never gave the country a legitimate reason for going to war, and has never offered a coherent strategy for winning the war, seems in no hurry to figure out a way to exit the war.

Soon after the Pentagon confirmed on Tuesday that the American death toll in Iraq had reached 2,000, the president gave a speech in which he said: "This war will require more sacrifice, more time and more resolve. No one should underestimate the difficulties ahead, nor should they overlook the advantages we bring to this fight."

Thousands upon thousands are suffering and dying in Iraq while, in Washington, incompetence continues its macabre marathon dance with incoherence.