One reads in the papers that the Pentagon expects the war in Iraq to continue till 2010. Donald Rumsfeld will not guarantee that it will be over by 2009. How many dead and maimed Americans by then? How many sad obituaries? How many full pages in the papers with pictures of all the casualties?
The reasons change: weapons of mass destruction, war on terror, freedom and democracy for the people of Iraq, American credibility. All are deceptions. This cockamamie and criminally immoral war was planned before the Sept. 11 attack in which Iraq was not involved. It has nothing to do with the war on terror. American-style freedom and democracy in Arab countries are hallucinations by men and women like Paul Wolfowitz and Condi Rice whose contribution to the war is writing long memos -- Republican intellectuals with pointy heads.
One must support the troops, I am told. I certainly support the troops the best way possible: Bring them home, get them out of a war for which the planning was inadequate, the training nonexistent, the goal obscure, and the equipment and especially the armor for their vehicles inferior. They are brave men and women who believe they are fighting to defend their country and have become sitting ducks for fanatics. Those who die are the victims of the big lie. They believe that they are fighting to prevent another terror attack on the United States. They are not the war criminals. The ''Vulcans,'' as the Bush foreign policy team calls itself, are the criminals, and they ought to face indictment as war criminals.
There is an irony in the promise of a prolonged war. The Vulcans believed that, as the world's only superpower, the military might of the United States was overwhelming, irresistible, beyond challenge. In fact, the war into which they tricked us has become a quagmire, 130,000 American troops are at the mercy of perhaps 5,000 true-believer guerrillas and an Iraqi population that doesn't like Americans any more than it liked Saddam Hussein. It is a war in which there is no possibility of victory -- whether it ends in June 2005 or June 2010, whether there are 2,000 American battle deaths or 50,000, whether there are 10,000 wounded Americans or 500,000, whether those with post-traumatic stress are 10 percent of the returning troops or 30 percent.
One of the criteria for a just war is that there be a reasonable chance of victory. Where is that reasonable chance? Each extra day of the war makes it more unjust, more criminal. The guilty people are not only the Vulcans but those Americans who in the November election endorsed the war.
They are also responsible for the Iraqi deaths, especially the men who join the police or the army because they need the money to support their families -- their jobs eaten up in the maw of the American ''liberation.'' Iraqi deaths don't trouble many Americans. Their attitude is not unlike the e-mail writer who said he rejoices every time a Muslim kills another Muslim. ''Let Allah sort them out.''
This time of the year we celebrate ''peace on Earth to men of good will.'' Americans must face the fact that they can no longer claim to be men and women of good will, not as long as they support an unnecessary, foolish, ill-conceived, badly executed and, finally, unwinnable war. If most people in other countries blame the war on Americans, we earned that blame in the November election -- not that there is any serious reason to believe that Sen. John Kerry would have had the courage to end the war. Perhaps if he had changed his mind, as he did about the war in Vietnam, and opposed the Iraqi war, he might have won. Too late now. Too late till 2010 -- or 2020.
Note: Some conservative Catholics -- Republicans, I assume -- are spreading the word on the Internet that I am an ''unfrocked'' (sic) priest. That is false witness. I am and have been for 50 years a priest in good standing of the Archdiocese of Chicago. Call (312) 751-8220 if you don't believe me. False witness is a grave sin and must be confessed before Christmas communion. Moreover, those who commit it are bound to restore the reputation of the one about whom they've lied.