'A Peace Bloodier Than War'

Since the transfer of power to a provisional government in Baghdad at the end of June, more Americans have died in combat than during Gen. Franks’ invasion. In August, 1,000 U.S. soldiers were wounded, the highest figure for any month.

“The ‘peace’ has been bloodier than the war,” Capt. Russell Burgos, returning from duty in Iraq, told The Washington Post. Burgos compares America in Iraq to Israel’s 18-year occupation of Lebanon. Some of us were using the Lebanon analogy even before we invaded.

U.S. war dead now number over 1,000. Retired Lt. Col. Carlo D’este, war historian, tells the Post, “Sadly, the 1,000th military death is but a bookmark on a longer and more painful road. … There is no visible light at the end of the tunnel, nor has the Bush administration articulated a viable exit strategy, without which war will continue indefinitely — that is, years.”

A dissent. This war will not continue indefinitely. America will not tolerate it. We were persuaded by George Bush to support an invasion to remove what was said to be a grave threat. The Congress may have given the president a blank check, but this nation never signed up for an endless war to make Iraq safe for democracy. Nor will Americans pay an endless price in blood to achieve it.

If George Bush believes we will, he misreads America.

We are coming to a turning point. From the rising casualties and attacks, not just from roadside bombs but combat, it seems this war is a stalemate. We and our Iraqi allies cannot eradicate the enemy, whose numbers have multiplied four-fold in 18 months, while U.S. forces have not increased. We are now tolerating enemy base camps in Fallujah and Ramadi in the Sunni Triangle. Sadr City in Baghdad is less pacified now than in April 2003.

All this points to a long war, except for one hard fact. The resolve of the enemy appears to be growing, while the resolution of Americans to fight on indefinitely is not. Polls show the number who believe Iraq was a mistake is half the nation, and half believes it may be time to withdraw.

If recent history is any guide, the longer a European power fights a guerrilla war in the Islamic world, the less likely it is to prevail. Brits, French, Israelis and Russians can testify to that.

U.S. losses may be only 2 percent of Vietnam’s, but we are approaching our Westmoreland moment, a time of national decision similar to late 1967, when Gen. Westmoreland, with 500,000 troops under his command or on the way, returned to Washington to ask for 200,000 more. The general was told: No more troops, that’s it.

And as this war drifts on, with no end in sight and no exit strategy visible, Americans must demand answers of President Bush and Sen. Kerry. The question that needs to be put to both in the first debate is: If U.S. commanders in Iraq tell you we need 50,000 more troops to win the war and prevent the loss of Iraq, would you send them?

With the Democratic Party bitter about “Bush’s war,” a war even Kerry now calls the “wrong war, in the wrong place, at the wrong time,” could candidate Kerry credibly answer, “Yes, I would send the 50,000 troops and expend whatever resources needed to win in Iraq”?

Should Kerry be elected, he will find himself in an LBJ-1968 situation, commander in chief of an army fighting a war his own party no longer wishes to fight and wants to end. For Kerry to soldier on, he would have to go to Congress and recruit Speaker Hastert, Tom Delay and Bill Frist to defeat an antiwar coalition led by Charlie Rangel, Nancy Pelosi and Teddy Kennedy, backed by Howard Dean and Jesse Jackson.

As for President Bush, given the solid support he has from inside his party, he would have more time to fight the war and exit with honor. But support for present levels of fighting will not long endure without signs of either imminent victory or early withdrawal.

Before November, the American people need to hear both candidates’ answers to these questions.

Is this is a winnable war, if our objective remains a pro-Western democratic Iraq? And how long will that take and what will be the price?

What is the minimum America can settle for, given all the blood and treasure already expended, if the utopian vision of the neoconservatives is not attainable? And if we do not wish to pay the price of victory, what would be the consequences of failure?

We need to ask now the questions our leaders did not ask before they stampeded us into war, while the Congress and the Big Media discarded their duties to become the cheerleaders of democratic imperialism.

Patrick J. Buchanan [send him mail], former presidential candidate and White House aide, is editor of The American Conservative and the author of eight books, including A Republic Not An Empire and the upcoming Where the Right Went Wrong.