Turning points?

August 10, 2005|By Jules Witcover

WASHINGTON - For all of the administration's insistence that its war in Iraq is not a rerun of Vietnam of 40 years ago, more signs are emerging that we're seeing, as eminent philosopher Yogi Berra once put it, "dM-ijM-` vu all over again."

Belatedly but inexorably, the rash of American deaths this month - more than 30 so far, bringing the total to 1,823 - has hit the home front as seldom before in this war of President Bush's choice.

The concentration of most of the victims in one Marine Reserve unit in Ohio has generated stories and interviews on television and in newspapers that further remind Americans of the price being paid.

Likewise featured on the network news shows and front pages is the protest outside the president's ranch in Crawford, Texas, of Cindy Sheehan, whose 24-year-old soldier son, Casey, died in the Sadr City section of Baghdad 16 months ago.

Unable to speak with Mr. Bush directly, she told reporters: "He said my son died in a noble cause, and I want to ask him what that noble cause is." A 45-minute meeting with Mr. Bush's national security adviser, Stephen J. Hadley, did not assuage her.

A couple of days earlier, Mr. Bush indirectly explained his view during a news conference. Asked about the televised warning from al-Qaida's No. 2 man, Ayman al-Zawahiri, that the United States would be attacked again if U.S. troops did not leave Iraq, Mr. Bush again disingenuously linked his invasion of Iraq to 9/11.

Mr. al-Zawahiri, he said, was "part of the team that attacked us" on that unforgettable morning. "He was part of an al-Qaida group that said, `Well, we'll try to achieve our objective in attacking America.' ... We owe it to the American people and other freedom-loving countries to bring these killers to justice."

Ms. Sheehan, co-founder of a group called Gold Star Families for Peace, is part of a growing community of Americans directly affected by Mr. Bush's decision to invade Iraq.

This community, slow to mobilize, is showing signs of surfacing in greater numbers and louder voice. A Freedom of Information Act filing triggered a belated agreement that returning caskets of soldiers killed in Iraq can be photographed. And a major march on Washington is being organized for Sept. 24 by United for Peace and Justice, a coalition of anti-war groups.

At the same time, Mr. Bush's approval ratings continue to head south. The latest Newsweek poll by Princeton Survey Research Associates International gives him only 42 percent, lowest of his presidency, as opposed to 51 percent disapproval. Worse, 61 percent of the 1,004 adults polled said they disapproved of his handling of the war, to only 34 percent who approved.

Following Mr. Bush's repeated statement that U.S. forces will stay until Iraqis trained to deal with the insurgency can do so, only 25 percent said they agreed, with 38 percent saying they were willing to wait less than a year. Twelve percent said they wanted U.S. forces out now.

All of these developments track notably with what began to happen in Vietnam in the mid- and late 1960s. Differences include much fewer American troops involved - more than 500,000 in Vietnam then to about 138,000 in Iraq now, ultimately 58,000 U.S. deaths then to 1,823 now, and a draft then compared with the heavy Reserve and National Guard call-ups today. Also, the deep polarization of society that in the 1960s sent protesters into the streets over civil rights as well as the Vietnam War does not exist today.

But a stirring is building that in coming months is likely to test Mr. Bush's resolve in Iraq, and the home front's patience, more than ever before.

Jules Witcover writes from The Sun's Washington bureau. His column appears Wednesdays and Fridays.

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