Stop Bush's War

By BOB HERBERT

New York Times

March 16, 2006

"By some estimates," according to a recent article in Foreign Affairs, "the number of Iraqis who have died as a result of the [U.S.] invasion has reached six figures — vastly more than have been killed by all international terrorists in all of history. Sanctions on Iraq probably were a necessary cause of death for an even greater number of Iraqis, most of them children."

Not everyone agrees that Iraqi deaths have reached six figures. President Bush gave an estimate of 30,000 not too long ago. That's probably low, but horrendous nevertheless. In any event, there is broad agreement that the number of Iraqis slaughtered has reached into the tens of thousands. An ocean of blood has been shed in Mr. Bush's mindless war, and there is no end to this tragic flow in sight.

Jeffrey Gettleman of The Times gave us the following chilling paragraphs in Tuesday's paper:

"In Sadr City, the Shiite section in Baghdad where the [four] terrorist suspects were executed, government forces have vanished. The streets are ruled by aggressive teenagers with shiny soccer jerseys and machine guns.

"They set up roadblocks and poke their heads into cars and detain whomever they want. Mosques blare warnings on loudspeakers for American troops to stay out. Increasingly, the Americans have been doing just that."

Everyone who thought this war was a good idea was wrong and ought to admit it. Those who still think it's a good idea should get therapy.

Last Friday and Saturday, a conference titled "Vietnam and the Presidency" was held at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston. Discussions about the lessons we failed to learn from Vietnam, and thus failed to apply to Iraq, were pervasive.

Some of the lessons seemed embarrassingly basic. Jack Valenti, who served as a special assistant to Lyndon Johnson, reminded us how difficult it is to "impress democracy" on other countries. And he noted something that the public and the politicians seem to forget each time the glow of a brand-new war is upon us: that wars are "inhumane, brutal, callous and full of depravity."

Think Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo. Think suicide bombers and death squads and roadside bombs. Think of the formerly healthy men and women who have come back to the United States from Iraq paralyzed, or without their arms or legs or eyes, or the full use of their minds. Think of the many thousands dead.

Most of the people who thought this war was a good idea also thought that the best way to fight it was with other people's children. That in itself is a form of depravity.

Among those who played a key role in the conference was David Halberstam, the author of "The Best and the Brightest," which is not just the best book about America's involvement in Vietnam, but a book that grows more essential with each passing year. If you read it in the 70's or 80's, read it again. We can all use a refresher course on the link between folly and madness at the highest levels of government, and the all-but-unimaginable suffering it can unleash.

In the book's epilogue, Mr. Halberstam wrote that, among other things, President Johnson "and the men around him wanted to be defined as being strong and tough; but strength and toughness and courage were exterior qualities which would be demonstrated by going to a clean and hopefully antiseptic war with a small nation, rather than the interior and more lonely kind of strength and courage of telling the truth to America and perhaps incurring a good deal of domestic political risk."

That latter kind of toughness is what's needed now. Invading Iraq was a disastrous move by the Bush administration, and there is no satisfactory solution forthcoming. The White House should be working cooperatively with members of both parties in Congress to figure out the best way to bring the curtain down on U.S. involvement.

Before that can begin to happen, the administration will have to rid itself of the delusion that things are somehow going well in Iraq. The democracy that was supposed to flower in the Iraqi desert and then spread throughout the Middle East was as much a mirage as the weapons of mass destruction.

President Bush continues to assert that our goal in Iraq is "victory." Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently told Tim Russert that things were going "very, very well" in Iraq.

They are still crawling toward the mirage. It's time to give reality a chance.