Sunday, October 29, 2006
New York Daily News (MCT)
For months, the Iraq war has been reduced to a stark choice: Baghdad or bust. Either the U.S. and Iraqi forces would pacify the capital, or the mission would unravel.
It is time to face the awful truth. Each day is bringing us closer to bust than to victory. We are witnessing the tipping point.
U.S. Army Soldiers from various units prepare their equipment at Baghdad International Airport, Iraq, for redeployment into Iraq Oct. 24, 2006. DoD photo by Master Sgt. Steve Cline, U.S. Air Force. (Released)
American commanders admitted as much, with spokesman Maj. Gen. William Caldwell calling the relentless levels of violence "disheartening." By any honest measurement, we are losing the first battle of World War III.
The number of insurgent attacks is rising, not falling, two months after new tactics were announced and increased troops sent to Baghdad. October could be the deadliest month in two years for American troops, with at least 78 already dead. Private militias brazenly flaunt their power on city streets. Sunnis and Shias kidnap, torture and murder each other in staggering numbers. One day 30 or 40 bodies turn up, another day it's 60, and maybe 100 on the third.
The only number we're not hearing is how many insurgents have been caught or eliminated. Apparently not many, and that's one of the unhappy oddities of the conflict.
Body-count scorekeeping is distasteful, but it's downright disgusting when our guys are doing all the dying.
The situation is dire enough that President Bush is saying he's flexible about military tactics, agrees there is some valid comparison to Vietnam and summons our top commander home for urgent talks. Only Vice President Cheney has his head firmly planted in the sand.
"I know what the President thinks. I know what I think. And we're not looking for an exit strategy. We're looking for victory," he told Time magazine.
That's baloney, and Cheney has to know it. Then again, this is the guy who predicted before the invasion "we will be greeted as liberators" and last year insisted the insurgency was in its "last throes." He clearly doesn't know what the hell he's talking about, so he should just stop talking.
Indeed, the failure of Cheney's dream team of hawks to either achieve a decisive victory or come up with new plans has forced Bush to outsource his thinking. The Iraq Study Group, headed by Republican James Baker and Democrat Lee Hamilton, is tasked with considering the ideas Bush's men and women couldn't or wouldn't. Break Iraq into Sunni, Shia and Kurdish regions? Set a timetable for American withdrawal? Pull back immediately? These and other awful choices are all on the study group's table.
That Iraq is coming apart just before midterm elections is more than Bush's bad luck. While voters understandably aim to punish the White House and the GOP Congress, that won't solve the nasty problem of what to do in Iraq. We've got nearly 150,000 troops there and hundreds of thousands of allied Iraqis would be at risk if we abandon them. Do Democrats have better ideas? If so, let's hear them.
Yet we just can't keep on keepin' on. No army in history has ever had the power, equipment and mobility of ours, but we cannot figure out who the enemy is or when they will strike next.
At this stage, probably the most we can hope for is to keep Iraq from becoming a lawless state overrun by Islamic terrorists.
But can we even do that? If we can't, the consequences are too awful to think about.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Michael Goodwin is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the New York Daily News, 450 West 33rd Street, New York, N.Y. 10001; e-mail: Mgoodwin@edit.nydailynews.com.
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