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8/13/2005

Last throes

Why have Republicans reacted with such bile to the Cindy Sheehan phenomenon? If I were inclined to psychoanalyze at a distance, I might say that they are confused and angry that their little adventure in Iraq hasn't turned out the way they thought it would, and that this fact becomes harder and harder to deny with each passing day. Instead of admitting defeat, they flail about and lash out at the mother of a dead soldier who simply wants an audience with the president and is willing to tell the truth to him and anyone else who asks. They've shown their true colors, and it isn't pretty.

They'll have to face up to reality sooner or later ... let's hope it doesn't take as long as it did with Vietnam.

Frank Rich says: Someone tell the president the war is over.
LIKE the Japanese soldier marooned on an island for years after V-J Day, President Bush may be the last person in the country to learn that for Americans, if not Iraqis, the war in Iraq is over. "We will stay the course," he insistently tells us from his Texas ranch. What do you mean we, white man?

A president can't stay the course when his own citizens (let alone his own allies) won't stay with him. The approval rate for Mr. Bush's handling of Iraq plunged to 34 percent in last weekend's Newsweek poll - a match for the 32 percent that approved L.B.J.'s handling of Vietnam in early March 1968.

...But our current Texas president has even outdone his predecessor; Mr. Bush has lost not only the country but also his army. Neither bonuses nor fudged standards nor the faking of high school diplomas has solved the recruitment shortfall. Now Jake Tapper of ABC News reports that the armed forces are so eager for bodies they will flout "don't ask, don't tell" and hang on to gay soldiers who tell, even if they tell the press.

The president's cable cadre is in disarray as well. At Fox News Bill O'Reilly is trashing Donald Rumsfeld for his incompetence, and Ann Coulter is chiding Mr. O'Reilly for being a defeatist. In an emblematic gesture akin to waving a white flag, Robert Novak walked off a CNN set and possibly out of a job rather than answer questions about his role in smearing the man who helped expose the administration's prewar inflation of Saddam W.M.D.'s. (On this sinking ship, it's hard to know which rat to root for.)

As if the right-wing pundit crackup isn't unsettling enough, Mr. Bush's top war strategists, starting with Mr. Rumsfeld and Gen. Richard Myers, have of late tried to rebrand the war in Iraq as what the defense secretary calls "a global struggle against violent extremism." A struggle is what you have with your landlord. When the war's ├╝ber-managers start using euphemisms for a conflict this lethal, it's a clear sign that the battle to keep the Iraq war afloat with the American public is lost.

...Nothing that happens on the ground in Iraq can turn around the fate of this war in America: not a shotgun constitution rushed to meet an arbitrary deadline, not another Iraqi election, not higher terrorist body counts, not another battle for Falluja ... A citizenry that was asked to accept tax cuts, not sacrifice, at the war's inception is hardly in the mood to start sacrificing now. There will be neither the volunteers nor the money required to field the wholesale additional American troops that might bolster the security situation in Iraq.

WHAT lies ahead now in Iraq instead is not victory, which Mr. Bush has never clearly defined anyway, but an exit (or triage) strategy that may echo Johnson's March 1968 plan for retreat from Vietnam ...

Thus the president's claim on Thursday that "no decision has been made yet" about withdrawing troops from Iraq can be taken exactly as seriously as the vice president's preceding fantasy that the insurgency is in its "last throes." The country has already made the decision for Mr. Bush. We're outta there. Now comes the hard task of identifying the leaders who can pick up the pieces of the fiasco that has made us more vulnerable, not less, to the terrorists who struck us four years ago next month.
In a weird way, the re-election of the Bush administration is probably going to end up being the worst thing that ever happened to it. Its historical legacy was always going to be tarnished; now, the Bush years will be remembered as an absolute disaster.

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