Yet a new reason for the war
While this might seem like a good time to bring some of our National Guard troops home from Iraq to help out in our own devastated Gulf Coast, that is not going to happen.
There are at least two reasons.
First, we can't spare them from Iraq. Our troops are stretched to the limit doing what our military never wanted to do: engaging in a hostile occupation of a foreign country for a prolonged period of time.
Even though you may have heard some spin about large numbers of soldiers and marines coming home soon, in fact our military is preparing to send more troops to Iraq in December in anticipation of new elections and, therefore, new insurgent attacks.
The second reason we can't bring troops home at this time is that the Bush administration has come up with a new reason for staying there.
Our war aims in Iraq have been flexibleif not downright fluidfrom the very beginning. So we should expect more aims, reasons, and justifications as the occupation goes on and the poll numbers continue to fall.
Not only have Bush's own poll numbers hit record lows in poll after poll in August, but a new poll by Gallup has produced some intriguing results.
Instead of asking people a number of questions, the pollsters asked just one: "If you could talk with President Bush for 15 minutes about the situation in Iraq, what would you, personally, advise him to do?"
The open-ended responses were recorded verbatim on a computer, and then Gallup assigned each answer to a broad category.
The results were:
Pull the troops out and come home/end it . . . 41 percent.
Finish what was started/be more aggressive . . .18 percent.
Doing a good job/continue with your actions . . . 7 percent.
The other results trailed down from there, with the lowest getting less than .05 percent: Improve the homeland security.
What is also interesting is the breakdown of those who responded that we should come home/end it. Almost a quarter of those responders were Republicans (23 percent), which would be a bad sign for the Republican Party as it heads into congressional elections next year, except that few Democrats offer any alternatives to the war.
This public opposition and unease about the war, however, have meant our justifications for it have constantly changed.
First we were invading to get rid of weapons of mass destruction, then it was to topple an evil dictator who had cooperated with the 9/11 terrorists, then it was to prevent Iraq from becoming an international breeding ground for more terrorism, and then it was to create a democracy in Iraq that would serve as an example for the entire Middle East, where democracies are in extremely short supply.
That last onedemocracy buildinghas run into some problems recently as we discover that some Iraqis' concept of democracy for their country (a religious state ruled by the laws of Islam and limiting the rights of women) is different from ours.
So a new reason for staying in Iraq was needed, and the administration has come up with one:
To show we have guts.
Like most things from the White House, this was carefully rolled out.
First came a speech on August 18 by Vice President Cheney, who told a convention of Purple Heart recipients in Springfield, Mo., that our enemies "believe that America will lose our nerve and let down our guard."
Then, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld on August 29 told several hundred soldiers at the Army's National Training Center in Fort Irwin, Calif., "The real battle we're fighting is the test of wills."
Finally, on August 30, President Bush said in a speech at the North Island Naval Air Station in San Diego that the war was "a test of American credibility and resolve" and that the insurgents are trying to "break our will."
In other words the war is about fighting the war.
Forget about loftier goals or measuring sticks. We will continue to fight to prove to the enemy that we will continue to fight.
This is a very risky war aim, however, because it means the enemy gets to set our policy: We must prove to the insurgents that we have the will, the nerve, the resolve, the sheer guts to fight on.
Which may be exactly what the enemy wants.