THE yellow ribbons are wrapped around the old oak (and maple) trees everywhere in my small Ohio village. They're a constant reminder to passers-by that a young soldier or two or three from the community hasn't come home yet from a war halfway around the world.
Some have been away from home for a long time. The Army Reserve and National Guard were never supposed to work like this.
Others have returned home only to be sent back - much to the despair of their worried and struggling kin. A local mom broke down relaying word of her son's new 13-month tour of duty in Baghdad. He'd finally caught up with family and finances after being away for almost a year in Iraq.
The separation hardships on the home front, compounded with the awful fear that harm will find a beloved husband or son or daughter in some godforsaken desert, is a shared experience of 130,000 American families.
They follow the daily tally of U.S. deaths in Iraq and know too well about the wounded soldiers who are flown into Andrews Air Force Base every day in a largely unreported tragedy of the war. Those who patch up the severely injured say they suffer from war wounds more devastating than any in recent memory. Rocket-propelled grenades and remote-controlled bombs will scar many for life.
At this writing 326 American service members have been killed since the U.S. military invasion started in Iraq. Hundreds more have lived to tell about it, many without limbs and with years of adjusting ahead.
The number of dead and injured Americans in Iraq grows at an alarming rate. The death list from U.S. Central Command adds new names as fast as the old ones can be removed. Take a close look at the ages of the soldiers coming home in coffins. Most are in their early 20s. They hadn't even begun to live.
Listen to their commander in chief with them in mind. He and his key lieutenants are still busy trying to justify why Americans went to war against Saddam Hussein in the first place. But months after operation Iraqi Freedom was declared mission accomplished, American soldiers sidestepping regular Iraqi ambushes wait not for the latest rationale for going to war, but for the what now of the administration's plans for post-war Iraq. Their lives depend on it.
President Bush insists he has a blueprint to fix what America destroyed in Iraq - no matter what the critics say. “They're just wrong about our strategy. We've had a strategy from the beginning. Jerry Bremer [the U.S. civilian administrator in Iraq] is running the strategy, and we are making very good progress about the establishment of a free Iraq.”
So far Iraqis have been free to kill American troops, blow up embassies, and mass in huge volatile protests against their occupying liberators. What strategy? Young Americans are dying and an Iraqi school has a new coat of paint? Is that it?
Could the strategy be a secret one of retribution against someone who attacks the administration's lack of strategy - like former ambassador Joseph Wilson? It's hard to tell what the strategy is for winning the peace in Iraq when the Bush White House speaks in so many confusing tongues.
As Colin Powell was attempting to repair frayed relations with European allies in hopes of receiving allied support in rebuilding Iraq, Dick Cheney was belittling consensus-based foreign policy as obsolete, and suggesting the U.S. didn't need anyone's permission to pursue its pre-emptive prerogatives. So there.
Meanwhile, high-level turf wars among key administration members leave many on the outside wondering who's really running the show in Washington and Baghdad.
The President's assertion that “the person who is in charge is me” and that his strategy is producing solid results in Iraq flies in the face of reality. It's not what Americans see when Donald Rumsfeld is publicly steaming over Condi Rice's power move or the President is offering U.N. concessions for Iraqi aid as the Vice President is dismissing the U.N. Security Council's 50-year tradition of giving permanent members a veto as a “policy of doing exactly nothing.”
But from where I sit, an administration that does exactly nothing to clarify U.S. postwar policy in Iraq, or to reveal a clear exit strategy for American troops, is most worrisome to those anxious to take down the yellow ribbons.