We're hard upon the dog days of August. Members of the U.S. Congress and the Iraqi parliament will soon slither away to the shade of cooler rocks, and President Bush will no doubt head off to Crawford to take his frustrations out on some brush with a chainsaw.
Meanwhile, in Iraq, the 60,000 American combat troops who daily patrol the most dangerous streets and roads in the world will carry on fighting, dying and bleeding in the broiling sun where temperatures nudge the 130-degree mark and 40 pounds of body armor and Kevlar helmet plus weapon and ammunition weigh more with every step an Infantryman takes.
The politicians in Washington and Baghdad will take their summer breaks, happy to postpone any further thought of Iraq at least until September, when the U.S. commander Gen. David Petraeus makes his progress report on the American troop surge to Congress, as though that may make some difference in how much longer this agony is going to continue.
Has anyone noticed that virtually every one of the players, political and military, have already begun chipping away at the September milestone? That, shock and horror, they begin to talk of the urgent need for American troops to remain in Iraq at the present level of 160,000 or maybe even more until 2009?
The Democrats in Congress — most of whom seem to be running for president — seem content to await further developments. The Republicans, especially those up for re-election in 2008, are wearing out the knees of their $4,000 suits praying for some miracle to remove Iraq and assorted other administration disasters from the voters' minds. The President has gone back to talking about his impossible dream of "victory" in a war that can't be won with the tools he's applying in the place where he's applying them.
The Iraqis bide their time and dream, as ever, sweet dreams of bloody revenge and communal slaughter and laugh at the to-do list of impossible American benchmarks. We talk of Iraqi "national" goals while the Iraqis talk of old, dark tribal and sectarian goals and we pass in the night like so many camel caravans.
The foreign jihadist suicide bombers flow in to take their turns at the wheel of a cargo of plastic explosives, old artillery shells and scrap iron to murder the innocents who've gone to market or the bus station or even to school. The shadowy militias of the Shia — whom we've empowered by visiting the blessings of democracy on a feudal society — kidnap and kill their Sunni neighbors and, for good measure, daily lob mortar shells into the American Green Zone in Baghdad.
Among them all, targets for all, American troops move in a desperate, hopeless attempt to quiet the slaughter and give peace a chance in a place where it has none. Day by day, the toll of those killed and wounded rises like the temperatures in August, and for what?
There aren't enough American troops at their home bases, resting, refitting and re-training after their second or third combat tours, to replace those now in Iraq and Afghanistan come next spring. Not to worry. We can just extend their new 15-month-long tour of duty in Hell to 18 months or maybe even 24 months. After all they're volunteers — the half a percent of Americans who serve and sacrifice while the rest of us obey a President's orders and go shopping and lay about the splendid beaches in August.
It's their blood that stains the hands of politicians who are vacationing when they should be working to bring this insane war to an end, bring those American troops home from Iraq and redirect their energies toward Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan where the real enemy, the real al Qaida, plots real attacks on Americans at home and abroad.
There's no vacation break for our troops this August. Only another day, another week, another month on another patrol on an impossible mission in a war that their commander-in-chief and his men expected to be over, and indeed declared over, four years and four months ago.
"Mission Accomplished," that banner draped across an aircraft carrier crowed. A "cakewalk," one of them predicted.
Have a nice vacation all you politicians, and by the way, keep those bloody hands hidden. You wouldn't want to frighten the children on the beach.