When will the Bush administration acknowledge that Iraq is experiencing a civil war?
Not, it seems, until it is much too late to save the lives of thousands of young American servicemen and women who will die in someone else's fight.
Just last week, top military and civilian apologists for the White House's misguided mission in the Middle East were claiming that new tactics had begun to reduce violence in the country.
They were, as has so frequently been the case since the president ordered U.S. troops into what was destined to become a quagmire, completely wrong. Iraqis were dying by the dozens.
On Monday, in the southern city of Diwaniya, a fierce battle between forces of the Iraqi Army and a rebel militia loyal to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr left at least 73 dead after a day that saw militiamen executing Iraqi soldiers in a public square. At least 36 more died on Tuesday, when an oil pipeline in the area blew up. By Thursday, more than 200 Iraqis had been killed in fighting and bombings around the country.
Iraqis weren't the only ones dying.
On Sunday, nine American service members were killed in attacks around the country - one of the highest daily death tolls of the war for U.S. forces- and that was only the beginning of a week that has been characterized by more death, more violence, more chaos. Three more died on Monday, and another on Tuesday. Several more died on Wednesday and Thursday.
With each passing day this week, the death toll has mounted - more Iraqi deaths, more American deaths.
The only people, inside Iraq or out, who are seriously suggesting that circumstances are improving - or that they might improve anytime soon - are members of the administration and their dwindling circle of apologists.
Do the president and his aides really believe what they are saying?
If so, they are fools.
If they are peddling lies in order to delay the final reckoning until after the fall congressional elections, then they are guilty of more than just the high crimes and misdemeanors for which the founders intended wrongdoers in the executive branch to be removed. They are guilty of lying to the people of the United States, the Congress, the world and perhaps even to themselves about a situation that demands immediate attention - as opposed to empty claims of progress.
Whatever the motivation or intent of those in the administration who continue to get things so very, very wrong, the clock is ticking.
Someday soon, the spinning will have to stop. Reality will force this White House to acknowledge that the misadventure in Iraq has gone horribly awry. On that day will come the admission that U.S. troops will either be forced to stay for years, perhaps decades, in order to police another country's civil war or that they will be withdrawn from harm's way.If U.S. troops remain, they will be, first and foremost, targets. And their deaths will almost certainly be in vain, as the root causes of the violence in Iraq will not be eliminated by time or by a massive U.S. troop presence.
So the questions that remain are basics ones: How many more Americans will have to die before a president who has trouble admitting he is wrong and a vice president who has trouble telling right from wrong finally face the reality of the civil war in Iraq? And how long after that will it be before the old men who send young Americans to their deaths recognize that - just as Britain, France and other countries were wise to stay out of the American Civil War - the United States needs to extract itself from what is and must be an Iraqi fight.
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