A miserable milestone was passed the other day. America's (and Britain's) disastrous war in Iraq has now lasted longer than the US involvement in the Second World War. Yes, this conflict has outlasted a war that ended with total victory over Nazi Germany. Hitler declared war on the US on 11 December 1941. Exactly 1,244 days later, on 7 May 1945, Germany surrendered. The US invaded Iraq on 19 March 2003, and this weekend it is 1,267 days later, with no end in sight.
Sticklers among you will have noted that the interval between the attack on Pearl Harbor and the Japanese surrender on 2 September, 1945 was 1,364 days. But even that record will tumble at the start of December. And if you do measure Iraq against the longer American war with Japan, the contrast is even starker. Victory in the Pacific was even more conclusive than in Europe. It produced no post-war entanglement with the Soviets and no Berlin airlift. The Iraq war unfolded the other way round: Baghdad fell barely three weeks after the invasion. Since then, however, it's been downhill all the way.
Yes, US casualties have been lighter, some 2,620 dead at the latest count, and four times as many seriously wounded. Adjust for respective populations, and Israel's loss of around 116 soldiers in the Lebanon war translates into 5,800 US dead in barely a month. As for Iraqi civilians, more of them are getting killed per month than all the American troops lost since the very start of the war.
But forget the statistics,the endless terror alerts, the war in Lebanon and the looming showdown with Iran. Iraq is the issue that America keeps returning to. It haunts George Bush and - barring Democratic screw-ups - it will probably send his Republican party to defeat in the mid-term elections this November.
Joe Lieberman's loss in the Connecticut Senate primary this month was just one straw in the wind. One of the seemingly most impregnable Democrats in the land could not even retain his own party's support. He was beaten because of his support for the war by a businessman with a simple campaign mantra: "Bring the Boys Home."
Republicans, of course, pretended to love it. They raised the shade of George McGovern, the anti-Vietnam war candidate thrashed by Nixon in 1972. Once again, they said, the Democrats had turned into a party of left-wing pacifists who could no more be trusted to fight the terrorists than to "see the job through" in Iraq.
Sadly, this argument that worked so well in 2002 and 2004 works no longer. Even the wilfully blind can see that Iraq is a disaster. Bush, who yields to no one in that category, lambasted the Democrats for pusillanimity. But even he could not bring himself to use the word "progress" apropos of events in the country that he once claimed would be a beacon of peace and democracy for the entire Middle East.
Nor does the terror card have the force it once did. True, the President's ratings went up slightly after the foiled UK airliner bomb plot (but they could hardly have sunk much lower). Far more revealing, Chris Shays, a Connecticut Republican who had supported the war, last week broke ranks with the White House and called for a firm timetable for withdrawal. If you're seeking re-election to the House in November, there's really no choice.
Bush's problem is that two-thirds of Americans - according to a recent poll - no longer buy his argument that Iraq has become "the central front in the war on terror". Iraq, they now realise, had nothing to do with 9/11, and the foreign fighters who are now in Iraq went there only after the 2003 invasion. They believe the Mesopotamian adventure has made them less safe. Put another way: if you start a war that lasts as long as the Second World War, you'd better have something to show for it. George Bush does not.
© 2006 Independent News and Media Limited