Into the quagmire

With the new year, it is always important to hit new highs—break on through those numerical barriers. Certainly, the stock market is doing its part. And we’re about to hit more milestones, although they’re nothing to ring bells or cheer about.

The number of deaths of U.S. servicemen and servicewomen in Iraq approaches 500 and soon will go higher. We have become inured to the almost-daily reports of bombings and shootings and Humvee wrecks and easily can forget a U.S. citizen is attached.

The majority of those deaths came after Bush declared the major hostilities over. But, though most of the embedded television crews have returned home, the war against insurrection continues, and it is being fought daily on a political and cultural front (see “Between Iraq and a hard place”). Reporter Andrew Scutro just returned from Iraq and tells us the story of U.S. soldiers learning to deal with their own fears amid an Iraqi culture that values our dollars for rebuilding yet despises the occupation.

And so we are about to break another big number barrier and go through the $100 billion mark in the cost of a war that is starting to drag on. That astronomical figure comes from estimates taken from the Congressional Budget Office, and it is about to climb as the U.S. military announced a plan to pay soldiers $10,000 to re-enlist, which soldiers in Iraq reportedly scoffed at as a cost too high for such a sum.

And then there is the cost of this war to the president’s prestige in an election year. Recent reports indicate administration officials systematically misrepresented the threat of weapons and the Al Qaeda connection. Former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill tells us that the Bush administration had planned the war all along. Ouch. As Scutro tells us, the soldiers in Iraq already know there is an urgency to get the rebuilding and dying phase done before the end of summer.