Opinion

Commentary: When will it end?

This month marks the beginning of our country’s sixth year of war in Iraq, and still the question is: Why? The other question is: When will it end?

President George W. Bush, who started the war with the advice and go-get-em’s of his neo-conservative friends, is now doing everything he can to ensure that whoever succeeds him next January will find him or herself deeply mired in Iraqi quicksand.

Bush has signaled that in coming months he'll negotiate a long-term status of forces agreement with the Iraqi government so American troops and bases can remain there. In fact, the deal may obligate us to remain in Iraq for years and to continue paying billions to the kleptocracy we’ve installed there.

Bush also has signaled that he'll press ahead with an executive agreement and bypass the untidy bit of the U.S. Constitution which says that treaties with foreign governments must be ratified by Congress. That's no big deal for a White House, a president and a vice president who've gleefully and routinely ridden roughshod not only over the Congress, but also over the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, federal laws, international laws, conventions and treaties.

The presumed Republican nominee for president, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., thinks that remaining in Iraq is just what the doctor ordered, and he predicts that our occupation and the war will drag on for decades.

McCain and others who favor a "Long War" haven't bothered to address how we'll pay for an open-ended commitment that's now costing $170 billion a year in visible spending, and with a long-term tab that's estimated at $3 trillion or so — more than any other war we've fought except for World War II — even we left Iraq tomorrow.

Nor have they addressed the issue of what another five or 10 years or more of regular combat tours in Iraq would do to those few in uniform who've borne the burden of fighting in Iraq for five years and multiple deployments — and to their families and to their war-fighting equipment, which is already worn out or wearing out.

When the price of a gallon of gasoline and a loaf of bread both hit $5, and a full-blown recession has a chokehold on the country, how many Americans will be willing to keep pouring billions and trillions down the rat-hole of a pre-emptive war of choice in the wrong place, for the wrong reasons?

It doesn’t really matter whether the temporary surge of American troops to Iraq has worked, or whether the improvement in security has come about because old Sunni Muslim enemies have become our new rent-a-friends for reasons of their own and the Shiite Sadr militia has taken a long vacation for reasons of its own.

Improved security was meant to encourage the Iraqi government and parliament to start building a real nation where warring tribes and co-religionists could set aside their feuds old and new and live together in peace. Fat chance.

Meantime, while George Bush wrestles with the demons of his own creation in Iraq, things continue to go south on us in two places that really matter — Afghanistan and Pakistan — where the demons are real and the stakes are high.

Only now, after the Bush administration's attempts to hand that forgotten war off to our reluctant NATO allies failed miserably, are we beefing up U.S. forces in Afghanistan to near 30,000. Do any of the decision-makers in Washington remember that not very long ago the old Soviet Union sent some 100,000 troops against the Afghan tribesmen and laid waste to the countryside, but were still driven out with their tails between their legs?

While we've poured the bulk of our troops and money and equipment into Iraq, where the real al Qaida isn’t, we've starved the effort to secure and rebuild and strengthen Afghanistan and bet all our chips on the wrong guy in Pakistan — two places where the real al Qaida and the real Taliban are growing stronger and more dangerous.

Benign neglect of your sworn enemies in a place such as Afghanistan calls for a combination of arrogance and ignorance that's not just risky, but also truly dangerous. These are the people who really did attack our country and kill thousands of innocent people on 9/11; these are the people who sheltered the real terrorists and defied us to do anything about it.

We let most of them and their leaders escape across the border into the wildest parts of Pakistan, where they've burrowed in, regrouped and are enjoying a recruiting boom that's sparked largely by the hatred born of our actions in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo Bay. Now they pose a threat to Pakistan itself, a nation that has a hundred or more real nuclear weapons, unlike Iraq, whose nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction existed only in the fevered minds of a frightened president and his arrogant accomplices.

The next time that we Americans start thinking about maybe electing someone with no known talent, limited useful experience and an IQ that's barely equal to his body temperature, what say we just leave the presidency vacant and the White House shuttered for eight years or so?

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