How Many Deaths Will It Take?

By BOB HERBERT

New York Times

September 10, 2004

It was Vietnam all over again - the heartbreaking head shots captioned with good old American names:

Jose Casanova, Donald J. Cline Jr., Sheldon R. Hawk Eagle, Alyssa R. Peterson.

Eventually there'll be a fine memorial to honor the young Americans whose lives were sacrificed for no good reason in Iraq. Yesterday, under the headline "The Roster of the Dead," The New York Times ran photos of the first thousand or so who were killed.

They were sent off by a president who ran and hid when he was a young man and his country was at war. They fought bravely and died honorably. But as in Vietnam, no amount of valor or heroism can conceal the fact that they were sent off under false pretenses to fight a war that is unwinnable.

How many thousands more will have to die before we acknowledge that President Bush's obsession with Iraq and Saddam Hussein has been a catastrophe for the United States?

Joshua T. Byers, Matthew G. Milczark, Harvey E. Parkerson 3rd, Ivory L. Phipps.

Fewer and fewer Americans believe the war in Iraq is worth the human treasure we are losing and the staggering amounts of money it is costing. But no one can find a way out of this tragic mess, which is why that dreaded word from the Vietnam era - quagmire - has been resurrected. Most Washington insiders agree with Senator John McCain, who said he believes the U.S. will be involved militarily in Iraq for 10 or 20 more years.

To what end? You can wave goodbye to the na´ve idea that democracy would take root in Iraq and then spread like the flowers of spring throughout the Middle East. That was never going to happen. So what are we there for, other than to establish a permanent military stronghold in the region and control the flow of Iraqi oil?

The insurgency in Iraq will never end as long as the U.S. is occupying the country. And our Iraqi "allies" will never fight their Iraqi brethren with the kind of intensity the U.S. would like, any more than the South Vietnamese would fight their fellow Vietnamese with the fury and effectiveness demanded by the hawks in the Johnson administration.

The Iraqi insurgents - whether one agrees with them or not - believe they are fighting for their homeland, their religion and their families. The Americans are not at all clear what they're fighting for. Saddam is gone. There were no weapons of mass destruction. The link between Saddam and the atrocities of Sept. 11 was always specious and has been proven so.

At some point, as in Vietnam, the American public will balk at the continued carnage, and this tragic misadventure will become politically unsustainable. Meanwhile, the death toll mounts.

Elia P. Fontecchio, Raheen Tyson Heighter, Sharon T. Swartworth, Ruben Valdez Jr.

One of the reasons the American effort in Iraq is unsustainable is that the American people know very little about the Iraqi people and their culture, and in most cases couldn't care less. The war in Iraq was sold as a response to Sept. 11. As it slowly dawns on a majority of Americans that the link was bogus, and that there is no benefit to the U.S. from this war, only endless grief, the political support will all but vanish.

(This could take awhile. In a poll done for Newsweek magazine this week, 42 percent of the respondents continue to believe that Saddam Hussein was directly involved in the Sept. 11 attacks.)

We've put our troops in Iraq in an impossible situation. If you are not permitted to win a war, eventually you will lose it. In Vietnam, for a variety of reasons, the U.S. never waged total war, although the enemy did. After several years and more than 58,000 deaths, we quit.

We won't - and shouldn't - wage total war in Iraq, either. But to the insurgents, the Americans epitomize evil. We're the crazed foreigners who invaded their country and killed innocent Iraqi civilians, including women and children, by the thousands. We call that collateral damage. They call it murder. For them, this is total war.

President Bush never prepared the nation for the prolonged violence of this war. He still hasn't spoken candidly about it. If he has an idea for hauling us out of this quagmire, he hasn't bothered to reveal it.

The troops who are fighting and dying deserve better.