WHEN it's hot here, it's 110 degrees in Iraq. There are miserable sandstorms. The electrical grid is up and running less than in prewar times. It's impossible to tell friend from foe. Suicide bombings and mortar attacks are common. The number of American dead is inching daily toward the 2,000 mark. About six times as many young soldiers have been maimed for life.
Several thousand Iraqis have died since sovereignty was returned to an interim government a year ago. The alienated parties to the U.S.-brokered governing body have been fighting for relevance ever since. A new, unifying constitution is supposed to be crafted by August, planting the seeds for a trend-setting democracy in the Middle East. Nobody's betting the farm on meeting that deadline.
In the meantime, foreign envoys have become the latest targets of the insurgency, a term that actually covers myriad warring parties, from disenfranchised natives to committed terrorists, tearing up the country. If Iraq wasn't a hotbed for insurrection and Islamic zealots before the Bush War, it is now. They will seize this chaotic moment in history to advance their civil war or jihad no matter the cost to themselves or innocent others.
George W. Bush, the man who set up the whole scenario with unsubstantiated claims of weapons of mass destruction, with sensational but phony arguments of the smoking gun being a "mushroom cloud," with tragically premature "mission accomplished" propaganda and inane "bring it on" bravado, wants Americans to trust him again.
He says freedom is on the march, but we can't hear any footsteps.
Most of us wish we could take the President and the Pentagon and Donald Rumsfeld at their word, but their stubborn aversion to straight talk and the plain truth makes that impossible. More than pep talks or scripted appearances and orchestrated rallies to support the troops - even as VA benefits are being cut - Americans want the truth.
No more excuses. No more using the unrelated terrorist attacks of 9/11 or terrorism in general as a crutch to explain Iraq. No more pap about taking the fight to the terrorists so we won't have to fight them at home. No more canned speeches about spreading liberty and justice for all when Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo beg to differ.
While there is a growing recognition in the country that going to war was a bad decision based on nonexistent WMDs, there is also a growing resignation that the U.S. can't up and leave the chaos it unleashed. We know we have to see this nightmare through and it makes us sick.
The worst part is living with the unknowns as American caskets arrive regularly from Iraq and thousands of wounded soldiers are carried away on gurneys. The Bush Administration could shed light on some of the big unknowns of the war with a little honesty about where we are in the battle for the hearts and minds of Iraqis, what actually constitutes a mission accomplished, and, realistically, how many U.S. troops will be required to that end and for how long?
The generals say the insurgency is faring no better or worse than ever. The vice president says it's in its last throes. What's the truth? How strong is the insurgency now and is it getting stronger?
The defense secretary said he's seen insurgencies last a dozen years or more. Will U.S. forces remain engaged concurrently?
Mr. Rumsfeld also says American troops will stand down when Iraqi security forces can stand up to adequately protect their homeland. What is the truth about the phantom legions of ready-to-roll Iraqi security forces without numbers inflated to include cops and border guards never trained as army.
The President says the U.S. won't leave Iraq until the mission is completed. Define that mission in real terms today so it won't keep changing tomorrow with every unplanned setback in Iraq, from ethnic power struggles to election boycotts to new outbreaks of destabilizing violence.
We have spent two years trying to fix what we broke in Iraq. When is enough enough? Is the latest outrage in London a clue? Will we be there in perpetuity, until Iraq rights itself, embraces a constitution, installs a democratically elected government, restores order, and pigs fly?
It's hot and getting hotter in Iraq. Only fair that Washington feels the heat for staging pep talks on patience instead of candidly leveling with the American people that support for the continuing war means a far greater and more prolonged sacrifice than any predicted.
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