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Published: 6/1/2007

Congress showed no backbone on troop-funding bill

IT TAKES guts to vote against a military spending bill right before Memorial Day. But at least Toledo Democrat Marcy Kaptur has the courage of her convictions. The same cannot be said of the rest of her colleagues in Congress, many of whom backed down from insisting on timelines for troop withdrawals before handing President Bush another blank check to pay for America's military presence in Iraq.

By giving in to the President's nonnegotiable demand for war financing without strings attached they allow the status quo to continue unchallenged for another few months. Apparently fear of being perceived as soft on troop support made the Democratic-led House and Senate postpone their fight against the escalating war until fall. That way they could go home for a weekend of memorializing fallen American troops and avoid any patriotic backlash.

Cowards all. On the day Taps was being played in cemeteries around the country and wreaths were being solemnly placed on soldiers' graves, 10 U.S. soldiers died in Baghdad. Eight of those deaths occurred in the same incident.

A helicopter crash killed two soldiers. Six others rushing to the rescue were blown up with roadside bombs. The dead were all in their early 20s - like most of the 3,470-plus American casualties of the pre-emptive invasion that has stretched into a war going on five years.

This week the U.S. military said May, with a final tally of 122 casualties, was the third-deadliest month of the entire war. With the surge in combat, bombings, ambushes and kidnappings, June could well carry a similar toll for U.S. troops.

So could July. The President has already warned that August might be especially bloody, and September may top them all in carnage. That's when Gen. David Petraeus reports on how the administration's policy to stabilize Baghdad and facilitate a political settlement among sectarian rivals is working - or not.

Yet even now the Pentagon is weighing a possible change of course in Iraq from the ongoing urban warfare against resilient insurgents launching ever-more sophisticated attacks, to a more supportive training and counterterrorism role requiring fewer troops. The strategic shift was one of the Iraq Study Group's recommendations rejected in January by the President who decided a boost in troop levels was needed to secure the Iraqi capital.

The latest mixed signal to come from the Bush Administration on Baghdad was a highly disturbing revelation by the White House that the President envisions a U.S. presence in Iraq like South Korea - where American forces have been stationed for half a century. One observer concluded Mr. Bush seems determined not to have the war end on his watch.

In the meantime, as the President and advisers huddle over how to save face in Iraq, American kids barely out of high school are dying at an increasingly rapid rate a world away. In the meantime, as Democrats huddle over how to save face with disillusioned midterm voters, another soldier on patrol or in a vehicle will be struck and killed by explosives detonated as they pass by.

Nobody in a government leadership position, save a handful of lawmakers, has the fortitude to say enough. Not one more day. Presidential hopefuls have no backbone, constantly looking over their shoulders to see what their competitors are saying about Iraq before staking their political fortunes on anything too defining.

When the hollowness of its rationale for invading Iraq is raised again and again from nonexistent WMD's, to non-urgent regime change and the fanciful liberation of flower-throwing Iraqis, the White House reverts to rhetoric about fighting for freedom's cause.

Blurring the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks with the wholly unrelated invasion of Iraq is a favorite administration standby when the truth hurts. "We're fighting a war over there because the enemy attacked us first," lied Vice President Dick Cheney to West Point graduates last weekend. He confused al-Qaeda's Saudi recruits, who flew planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, with Saddam. Easy mistake. Both start with S.

But only a stone heart can gaze upon 978 young cadets, many likely bound for Iraq, and not miss a beat distorting the facts about their fateful mission. When some of them lose their lives to multiple roadside bombs or omnipresent explosives planted to exact punishing tolls, will anyone at the Bush White House or on Capitol Hill lose a wink of sleep?

Between now and September many more American soldiers in Iraq will probably die to sustain the vanity of a President and weak politicians in Washington. But at least their blood won't be on Marcy Kaptur's hands or the others in Congress who had the guts to demand more for the troops than a blank check.



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