The chief architect of the U.S. war in Iraq did not know - and showed no sign that he cared - how many U.S. soldiers have been killed implementing his blueprint since the invasion was launched in March 2003.
"It's approximately 500 of which - I can get the exact numbers - approximately 350 are combat deaths," said Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy secretary of defense. It was no trick question. Wolfowitz the Architect was testifying about the cost of the war Thursday before the House Appropriations subcommittee on foreign operations. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) asked the key cost question.
The Architect's figures, not surprisingly, were low-balled. Before the invasion, Wolfowitz woefully underestimated the war cost in dollars to U.S. taxpayers. The number of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq, as of Friday, is 738, according to the Pentagon and news reports - not 500. Instead of "approximately 350" killed in combat, 524 had been killed when Wolfowitz appeared before the committee.
The Architect did not accurately enough concern himself with the death of individual American soldiers, or groups for that matter. So it was 524 in combat instead of 350, or a total of 726 instead of "approximately 500" on Thursday morning. But don't bother the Architect with untidy details; he's a big picture kind of guy.
Relatives may grieve and cry and wring their hands but the general American public won't often, because of administration policy, see those flag-draped coffins. So what's it to the Architect if he low-balls the GI death count by a grisly one-third.
To the soldier who has gone to war, a mission Wolfowitz has avoided save as an architect, the low death count is down-right callous. These are not rodents or houseflies fallen in battle. They are among the very best young men and women this republic can produce.
Would Wolfowitz, a former professor, be more sensitive to U.S. combat deaths had some relative or he, himself, had served in the military? It is said the full horror of war did not hit home to President Lyndon Johnson until his son-in-law was assigned to the Vietnam War.
What if Wolfowitz's son or daughter had been among the 726 who died? Those who plan war perhaps should be spared the detachment that makes war such a bloodless abstraction. How else can one explain the Bush administration banning photos taken of American soldiers fallen in battle?
Airbrushing away the raw reality of war has not always been such a White House obsession. Ceremony for the returning war dead had been a part of the national observance for public closure. The Bush administration tries to bring its soldiers back in secrecy, as if they fought in ignominy and died in shame. It is as if these "transfer tubes" - previously called body bags - might tip off the public that a real war is being fought in their name with the lives of their sons and daughters.
This cost rose precipitously last month when 128 U.S. soldiers or Marines were killed in combat. With nearly a quarter of the total, April was the bloodiest month since the invasion was launched. Some 10 Americans were killed in separate attacks Thursday, the day Wolfowitz went before Congress.
Keeping to the Bush administration's script, Wolfowitz paints a picture of U.S. achievements in Iraq that baffles knowledgeable sources.
"Iraq has seen the beginning of a tremendous transformation for the better in the 12 months since its liberation," Wolfowitz told the Senate Armed Services Committee on April 20. On that day, the U.S. combat death toll reached 100 for the month and some 22 Iraqis held in U.S. custody were killed in an attack on a Baghdad prison.
Still, Wolfowitz continued, unfazed, with his prepared lecture to the senators. He quoted from letters Marines had sent home reassuring their relatives that they were not wasting their lives. Some might consider this exploitation, but not the Architect.
"Oil revenues helped build Saddam Hussein's palaces," he told the senators. "Today, Iraqi oil revenue goes to the Development Fund for Iraq, where it helps build a new infrastructure and a new future for the Iraqi people. At 2.5 million barrels per day, Iraqi oil production has reached its pre-war levels, and oil proceeds to date exceed $7.5 billion and are projected to be $14 billion this year."
Numbers about Iraqi oil rolled off the Architect's tongue with a fluency that failed him when asked about the cost in American lives. Where almost everyone else sees a looming quagmire in Iraq, Wolfowitz sees an eight-lane, hard-surfaced autobahn winding through endless oilfields.
With the Architect, as Yogi Berra might say now, it's 1984 all over again.
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