It only takes a moment to figure out why the American people are taking the Iraq war so much more calmly than they did Viet Nam: no draft this time. Well, that approach may be coming to an end.
So let's take stock: On September 11, 2001, 2973 people were killed in the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.
The death toll of American dead in Iraq reached 2974 just about five years later.
We have abandoned the most cherished principles our country was founded on by imprisoning 14,000 "enemy combatants" without a trial, without any opportunity to defend themselves, without any reason to believe that they are a threat to us except that someone may have denounced them, very likely under torture. And the President is trying to strongarm Congress into making all this retroactively legal before the next election.
George Bush still says that the war in Iraq was justified because "Saddam was a threat" despite the fact that it is now clear that he had no WMD's and no contacts with Al Qaeda. Saddam may have been a threat, but to the Kurds and the Iranians -- not to us. (The Iranians, meanwhile, are taking advantage of the newfound security we've provided them by eliminating Saddam to develop nuclear weapons. How this can be considered progress is beyond me. But I digress.)
The Tailban are making a comeback in Afghanistan. Al Qaeda recruiting is more robust than ever (and not entirely without justification). Iraq is coming apart at the seams. And amidst the chaos we still hear the rallying cry of "Stay the course. Don't cut and run."
I can't help but be reminded of the story of the final days of another political leader who used legally questionable tactics to launch unprovoked attacks on other countries, and who in the end could not (or would not) face reality. I can't help but be reminded also of part of a poem by Tim Powers (writing as William Ashbless):
...They move in dark, old places of the world
Like mariners, once healthy and clear-eyed
Who, when their ship was holed, could not admit
Ruin and the necessity of flight,
But chose instead to ride their cherished wreck
Down into darkness...
It is clear now that George Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld will ride their cherished wreck of a foreign policy down into the very depths of hell. Like fanatics throughout history, nothing -- no amount of blood or death or disaster -- will dissuade them from their convictions that they (and only they) are righteous. The only question that remains is whether the American people will go along for the ride.
We'll know the answer in about two months.