How do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Vietnam? How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake? - John Kerry, 1971
Apparently, the state of denial at the White House is worse than I thought.
In a speech last week to the annual convention of the American Legion, President Bush declared that if the U.S. withdraws from Iraq, "we will face the terrorists in the streets of our own cities. So the United States will not leave until victory is achieved."
He didn't say what "victory" in Iraq will look like. Given that most of the Iraqi deaths over the past several months have been the result of sectarian conflict, would "victory" require U.S. troops to intervene in a civil war? Nor did the president say how the Iraqi enterprise prevents terrorist plots such as the recently disrupted plan to blow up airliners.
Vice President Dick Cheney, meanwhile, still inhabits a lonely planet on which the Iraqis love us. And Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, speaking to the Legionnaires earlier, likened anyone who questions an open-ended U.S. commitment in Iraq - a group that now includes several Republicans in Congress - to the Nazi appeasers of the 1930s.
"It was a time when a certain amount of cynicism and moral confusion set in among Western democracies," Mr. Rumsfeld said of the years preceding World War II. "When those who warned about a coming crisis, the rise of fascism and Nazism, they were ridiculed or ignored. Indeed, in the decades before World War II, a great many argued that the fascist threat was exaggerated. ...
"With the growing lethality and the increasing availability of weapons, can we truly afford to believe that somehow, some way, vicious extremists can be appeased?"
That pronouncement is packed with so much nonsense that trying to defuse it would cause a minor explosion. Suffice it to say that this administration has no intention of owning up to the awful realities of its misguided invasion of Iraq. Indeed, it's now clear that Karl Rove intends to duplicate for the current campaign season the fear-mongering, name-calling tactics he used successfully in earlier campaigns.
The president and his proxies, including Mr. Rumsfeld, are fanning out across the nation to try to scare the voters, once again, into voting Republican. As they've done before, they're conflating Iraq and 9/11, denouncing their critics as cowards and making up facts to fit their storyline.
Those tactics might not work so well this time around. It's hard to persuade voters to disregard the video footage of daily carnage in Iraq, the disintegration of Lebanon or Iraqis marching in support of Hezbollah. Recent polls show that a majority of voters no longer believe in Mr. Bush's favorite fallacy - linking the so-called war on terror with the invasion of Iraq.
But the White House shows few signs of acknowledging reality. Mr. Bush says we can't withdraw because the sacrifices of the men and women in uniform who have died there - more than 2,600 so far - would be in vain. More Americans must die, it seems, because so many have already died - a pernicious bit of circular reasoning.
So, for now, tens of thousands of soldiers, sailors and Marines are stuck in a quagmire. When the Pentagon announced recently that it would call up Marine reservists, one veteran declared the move "one of the last steps before resorting to a draft." Jon Soltz, an Army captain who has served in Iraq and now heads a group called VoteVets.org, which raises money for the political campaigns of veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, said: "This move should serve as a wake-up call to America. ... Our military is overextended, and there is no plan for victory in Iraq."
Writing in on "The Blotter," an ABC News blog, a current soldier supported that view. "I think it is only a matter of time before there is a draft," Tony wrote. "I am currently deployed to Iraq and have been in the military for 13 years. All of us who have been in for more than 10 years have seen such a gradual decline in the quality of [the] soldier.
"Each division in the military is deploying to either Iraq or Afghanistan every other year, mine included. No one wants to be in anymore, so the older guys looking to retire are saying forget this.
"Instead of looking squarely at that, some neoconservatives are advocating a new war - an attack on Iran. I'd like to think they're just saber-rattling, but I remember thinking the same thing around Labor Day four years ago. Perhaps that rattling noise isn't their sabers but their brains."
Cynthia Tucker is editorial page editor for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Her column appears Mondays in The Sun. Her e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.