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Another Thousand Lives

By BOB HERBERT
NY Times Op-Ed

01/04/07 "New York Times" --- - How long can this go on?

Saddam is dead. The weapons of mass destruction were a mirage. More than 3,000 American G.I.s and scores of thousands of Iraqis have been killed. Voters in the United States have made it clear that they no longer support American involvement in this exercise in sustained barbarism. Incredibly, the U.S. military itself is turning against the war.

And yet the president, against the counsel of his commanders on the ground, apparently is ready to escalate - to send more American lives into the fire he set in Iraq.

In a devastating critique of the war, the newsweekly Army Times led its current edition with the headline: "About-Face on the War - After 3 years of support, troops sour on Iraq." The article detailed a Military Times Poll that found, for the first time, that "more troops disapprove of the president's handling of the war than approve of it."

Only a third of the service members surveyed approved of the president's conduct of the war, while 42 percent disapproved. Perhaps worse was the finding that only half of the troops believed that success in Iraq was likely.

The service members made it clear that they were not attacking their commander in chief personally. His overall approval rating remained high. What has turned them off has been the wretched reality of the war. In the article, David Segal, director of the Center for Research on Military Organization at the University of Maryland, said, "They're seeing more casualties and fatalities and less progress."

In other words, they're seeing the same thing everybody else is seeing - except, perhaps, Mr. Bush.

On New Year's Day, readers of The New York Times could see the excruciating photo layout of the latest 1,000 American service members to die in Iraq. As in all wars, most of them were young. Many of them were smiling in the photos. All of them died unnecessarily.

The war has been an exercise in futility and mind-boggling incompetence, and yet our involvement continues - with no end in sight, no plans for withdrawal, no idea of where we might be headed - as if the U.S. had fallen into some kind of bizarrely destructive trance from which it is unable to awaken.

And who is paying the price for this insanity - apart from ordinary Iraqis, who are paying the most grievous price of all? The burden of the war in the U.S. is being shouldered overwhelmingly by a contingent of Americans whom no one would categorize as economically privileged.

As Lizette Alvarez and Andrew Lehren wrote in Monday's Times:

"The service members who died during this latest period fit an unchanging profile. They were mostly white men from rural areas, soldiers so young they still held fresh memories of high school football heroics and teenage escapades. Many men and women were in Iraq for the second or third time. Some were going on their fourth, fifth or sixth deployment."

There is no way that this can be justified. It is just wrong.

I've said many times that if a war is worth fighting the way to do it is to mobilize the entire country, drawing the warriors from as wide a swath of the population as possible and raising taxes on everyone as part of an all-out effort to defeat a common enemy.

This war is not worth fighting. And if there were ever serious talk about enacting a draft or raising taxes to fight it, you'd see quickly enough that the vast majority of Americans would not find it worth fighting.

There must be a leader somewhere who can shake the U.S. out of this tragic hypnotic state, who can see that it is beyond crazy to continue our involvement in this war indefinitely, to sacrifice another 1,000 young lives, and then another thousand after that.

All of the tortured, twisted rationales for this war - all of the fatuous intellectual pyrotechnics dreamed up to justify it - have vaporized, and we're left with just the mad, mindless, meaningless and apparently endless slaughter.

Shakespeare, in "Henry VI," said: "Now thou art come unto a feast of death."

We should end our participation in the feast of death in Iraq. It is criminal to continue feeding our troops into the slaughter.

If there were politicians here at home with some of the courage of the troops in the field, we could begin saving lives rather than watching helplessly as the Bush White House continues to sacrifice them. Three thousand and counting is enough.

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

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