This week, the Pentagon announced that more American troops -- 115 -- had sacrificed their precious lives in combat since President Bush announced major combat operations were over in Iraq on May 1 than had died in the war between March 20 and the end of April.
The news comes as public support for the war in Iraq seems to be wavering. The latest Harris poll found that 47 percent of Americans want to bring most U.S. troops home from Iraq within the next year and 46 percent want to keep the troops in Iraq until there's a stable government.
Of course support for the war is slipping -- every Democratic presidential candidate has hurled an endless barrage of one of two messages: 1) The war in Iraq was all wrong, or 2) the war is being done all wrong. During Sunday's candidates' debate, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., said that Bush had failed to "do it right." Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., charged that Bush had "no plan." All agreed that the war would be going better if only Bush had put together an international coalition.
The Democrats have a right to criticize Bush, but the very notion that the war would be cleaner following a different PowerPoint-detailed plan, that the pitfalls could have been foreseen, or that there would be an end in sight to American involvement if only there were Frenchmen fighting side by side with U.S. soldiers, well, it reveals a naivete unbecoming of a White House hopeful.
Top Dems apparently forgot that America fought a war with a broad international coalition in 1991 and that it ended when an eager-to-please President George H.W. Bush dropped the ball of victory in Iraq by withdrawing U.S. troops too soon.
Implicit in the criticism of George W. Bush is the illusion that U.S. troops could have invaded Iraq, overthrown Saddam Hussein and worked to install a new representative government, and that the whole agonizing ordeal wouldn't have been as prolonged and messy -- if only there had been better planning.
Rebuilding Iraq always was going to be grueling, and so, alas, it is. There is no efficient, low-risk way to fight an enemy who kills civilians rather than confront an army. As Bush noted Tuesday in his press conference, "That's what terrorists do. They commit suicide acts against innocent people and then expect people to say, 'Well, gosh, better not try to fight you anymore.'"
That's what happened when President Clinton pulled U.S. troops from Somalia after an al Qaeda raid left 31 Americans dead. It's what happened in 1983 in Lebanon when President Reagan withdrew troops after a terrorist bomb killed 241 Marines. Terrorists learned that killing American soldiers paid off.
Yet the anti-war crowd argues that the best way to support American troops is to bring them home -- even though virtual surrender would make every U.S. soldier or sailor serving abroad a more inviting target.
If, on the other hand, American and allied efforts prevail, if a representative government is installed, if young men in the breeding grounds of terror see determined Iraqis survive the vicious attacks designed destroy their ability to live, work and move freely and then go on to build their own nation, then terrorism loses.
There's always room for improvement in how any war is waged. But when I hear Democrats carp at Bush as if there would be markedly different results in Iraq with better planning or more allies, well, that's where I see deliberate deception about the war.
Victory in Iraq will not hinge on three-step proposals or international coalitions. One quality alone will spell the difference between victory and capitulation in Iraq: will.