For No Good Reason

By BOB HERBERT

New York Times

October 3, 2005

"You can keep the flowers blooming on their graves forever. It won't change the fact that they died for nothing."

- antiwar protester, circa 1969

It's finally becoming clear on Capitol Hill, and maybe even in the White House, that the United States cannot win the war in Iraq. The only question still to be decided is how many more American lives will be wasted in George W. Bush's grand debacle.

The wheels have fallen off the cart in Iraq, and only those in the farthest reaches of denial are hanging on to the illusion of an American triumph over the insurgency.

Air Force General Richard Myers, who retired Friday as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was publicly chastised at an Armed Services Committee hearing last week by Senator John McCain of Arizona, who has always been a strong proponent of the war.

Senator McCain bluntly declared that "things have not gone as we had planned or expected, nor as we were told by you, General Myers."

The general replied, "I don't think this committee or the American public has ever heard me say that things are going very well in Iraq."

The gruesome events throughout Iraq over the past month or so were understandably overshadowed in the American media by the obliteration of New Orleans and other matters connected to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. An apocalyptic tone was set on Aug. 31 when nearly 1,000 people were killed in a stampede on a bridge in northern Baghdad. The stampede was provoked by rumors of a suicide bomber.

Another two dozen Iraqis were killed in attacks by insurgents on Sept. 3. A few days later a taxi blew up outside a crowded restaurant in Basra, killing 16. That attack came just hours after four American contractors in Basra were killed by a bomb that was detonated next to their convoy.

The violence would continue without respite. Nearly 200 Iraqis were killed in just 48 hours in a series of suicide bombings in Baghdad on Sept. 14 and 15.

On the evening of Sept. 17, a Saturday, insurgents used a remote control device to detonate a car bomb in a crowded marketplace on the outskirts of Baghdad. At least 30 people were killed. A dozen Americans, including a State Department aide and eight soldiers, were killed in a series of attacks from the 19th through the 23rd of September.

And so on.

The president who slept through the early days of the agony in New Orleans is sleepwalking through the never-ending agony in Iraq. During an appearance at a naval base in California, Mr. Bush characterized the war that he started in Iraq as the moral equivalent of America's struggle against the Nazis and the Japanese in World War II.

If that's true, the entire nation should be mobilized. But, of course, it's not true. This is a reckless, indefensible war that has been avoided like the plague by the children of the privileged classes.

Even the most diehard defenders of this debacle are coming to the realization that it is doomed. So the party line now is that the Iraqis at some point will have to bear the burden of Mr. Bush's war alone.

Talk about a cruel joke. On the same day that Senator McCain faced off with General Myers, more than 100 people were killed in a series of car bombs in a town north of Baghdad; five U.S. soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb in Ramadi; and the American general in charge of U.S. forces in Iraq, George Casey, admitted before the Armed Services Committee that only 1 of the Iraqi Army's 86 battalions was capable of fighting the insurgency without American help.

The American death toll in Iraq is fast approaching 2,000. If the public could see the carnage close up, the way it saw the horror of New Orleans, the outrage would be beyond belief.

You never want to say that brave troops died for the mindless fantasies spun by a gang of dissembling, inept politicians. But what else did they die for?

And what about all those men and women, some of them barely out of childhood, who are lying awake nights, hardly able to move their broken, burned and paralyzed bodies? What do we tell them as they lie there, unable to curb the pain or fight off the depression, or even begin to understand the terrible thing that has happened to them?

What do we tell them about this war that their country inflicted on them for no good reason whatsoever?