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Papers Reach Iraq Boiling Point

Many of the nation's newspaper editorialists have roused themselves from seeming acceptance of the continuing slaughter in Iraq to voice outright condemnation of the war.
 
 
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Suddenly there seems to be something in the air -- the smell of death? Or something in the water -- blood? In any case, this past week, widely scattered newspaper editorialists roused themselves from seeming acceptance of the continuing slaughter in Iraq to voice, for the first time in many cases, outright condemnation of the war.

While still refusing to use the "W" word in offering advice to Dubya -- that is, "withdrawal" -- some at least are finally using the "L" word, for lies.

Memorial Day seemed to bring out the anger in some editorial writers, who at that time are normally afraid to say anything about a current conflict that might seem to slight the brave sacrifices of men and women, past and present. Maybe it was the steadily growing Iraqi and American death count, or the increasing examples of White House "disassembling" (to quote the president this week), or the horror stories emerging from Gitmo.

Or perhaps it's a hidden trend that might have even more impact than the rest: the writing on the wall spelled out by plunging military recruitment rates. That only adds to the sense that, overall, the Iraq adventure has made America far less safe in this world.

For whatever reason, it's possible that more than a few editorial pages may finally be on the verge of saying "enough is enough." Perhaps they might even catch up with their readers, as the latest Gallup polls find that 57% feel the war is "not worth it," and nearly as many want us to start pulling out troops, not sending more of them.

There were numerous signs of editorial unrest in the past week, too many to cite. The Sun of Baltimore, in its Memorial Day editorial, declared: "If the president truly wished to honor their memory, he would demonstrate to the nation that the government that has botched so much of the war at least has some inkling as to how to draw it to a successful conclusion -- so that the dead will not have died in vain." The Minneapolis Star-Tribune called Iraq "an unnecessary war based on contrived concerns. ... President Bush and those around him lied, and the rest of us let them. Harsh? Yes. True? Also yes."

Steve Chapman, syndicated columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune (and generally considered a conservative), on Thursday declared: "The dilemma the U.S. faces in fighting the insurgents is that military methods are not enough to solve the problem and may make it worse. If the movement is a reaction to the U.S. military presence, keeping American troops in Iraq amounts to fighting a fire with kerosene.

"That explains why the longer we stay, the more suicide attacks we face. And it suggests that the only feasible strategy is to withdraw from Iraq and turn the fight over to the Iraqi government. The alternative is to stay and keep doing what we've been doing for the last two years. But that approach has shown no signs of fostering success. It only promises to raise the cost of failure."

But perhaps the most powerful denunciation came from an unlikely source, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. An editorial in that Hearst paper this past Wednesday, just after Memorial Day, really thundered, and deserves reprinting here:

President Bush was among the 260,000 graves at Arlington National Cemetery when he said it. But it was clear Monday that the president was referring to the more than 1,650 Americans killed to date in Iraq when he said, 'We must honor them by completing the mission for which they gave their lives; by defeating the terrorists.'

Bush insists on clinging to the thoroughly discredited notion that there was any connection between the old Iraqi regime -- no matter how lawless and brutal -- and the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

U.S. military action against an Afghan regime that harbored al-Qaida was a legitimate response to the 9/11 attacks. The invasion of Iraq was not.

As of Memorial Day 2003, Bush had declared major combat operations at an end, predicted that weapons of mass destruction would be found and that U.S. forces were in the process of stabilizing Iraq. One hundred sixty U.S. troops had died.

The U.S. death toll has grown more than tenfold. No weapons of mass destruction were found. More than 700 Iraqis have been killed since Iraq's new government was formed April 28.

Bush said of the insurgents at a news conference yesterday, 'I believe the Iraqi government is plenty capable of dealing with them.'

Of course, this is the same president that assured the world that military intervention in Iraq was a last resort and that the United States would make every effort to avoid war through diplomacy. Giving lie to that as well is the so-called Downing Street War Memo, which shows that as early as July 2002, 'Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD ... the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.'

Perhaps all presidents' remarks in military graveyards are by nature self-serving. But few have been so callow as the president's using the deaths of U.S. troops in his unjustified war as justification for its continuance.

At the close of the editorial online, the paper polled readers, asking if they thought it was "time to begin the careful but quick withdrawal of American forces from Iraq?" These highly unscientific surveys usually should be ignored. But the result in this case, from over 2,600 votes, was so one-sided it deserves mention: Nearly 92% called for the beginning of a pullout.

Greg Mitchell ( gmitchell@editorandpublisher.com) is the editor of E&P.