The Bodies Come Home

The president is grieved by U.S. casualties. He also worries they'll cost him votes.

My guess about the Thanksgiving trip is that his handlers wanted the press along because it was an upbeat, emotional occasion and good for the president's approval rating. In other words, it wasn't a funeral.

When other countries with troops there, such as Spain or Italy, lose soldiers or diplomats or intelligence officers in explosions or suicide bombings or ambushes, the bodies go home to state funerals attended by monarchs and prime ministers. But then it's not really Italy's or Spain's war. And the rise or fall of their regimes is not likely to pivot on casualties in Iraq.

But in the United States of America, no matter from what vantage you examine the Iraq war, you are drawn inexorably back to the casualties. The numbers don't compare to the tolls in Vietnam or Korea, but clearly, the Bush White House did not expect fatalities in the hundreds after "major combat" was declared over on May 1. The "planners" simply did not anticipate an insurgency this fierce. They did not prepare. In fact, it's worth recalling that some of them said things before the war that made the aftermath of the invasion and military victory sound almost like a walk in the park. Now Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld acknowledges it will be "a long, hard slog."

As the slog continues, so will the combat deaths and the wounds that maim, changing lives and families forever. And though the statistics don't rival those from earlier wars, technology and globalization have sucked us into a 24-hour news cycle. So the spilled blood in each incident will be repeated over and over during a single cycle. And then comes the next day and another cycle with a new session of rocket-propelled grenades or remote-controlled IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices)—and more casualties. It's news, because it's happening to real people, and, regardless of President Bush's religious sincerity or the merit of his war arguments, these deaths and maimings should not be relegated to the back pages of our newspapers.

The president should try to keep in mind that a year ago, when he was selling this war, he and his coterie, in their certitude about the necessity of invading Iraq, felt they had to do a lot of fact-spinning and distortion to persuade Congress and the voters to get behind it. Now those who answered their commander in chief's call to war are dying. He should go to the funerals.

Research: Darren Reidy and Matthew Phillp

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