The three-year nightmare

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The air of unreality in Washington, DC, is, well, unreal. On Face the Nation March 19, Vice President Dick Cheney proclaimed that the war in Iraq is going well, that the insurgency had reached "a stage of desperation" — and that the prediction that Americans would be greeted as liberators was "basically accurate." There's no civil war, the administration insists, no catastrophic political failure, no evidence that the war is well on its way to becoming the new Vietnam. No, Cheney insists, the problem is just the overcritical news media.

For the record, more than 2,300 United States soldiers are dead. So are as many as 37,000 Iraqis. Countless more have been maimed, lost limbs, seen their lives destroyed. And three years after the invasion, there is no end in sight. More than 130,000 US troops are still fighting in Iraq, and they are utterly unable to keep the peace. The Iraqi forces are poorly trained and can do little to help.

Ayad Allawi, former acting prime minister and a man Bush used to see as a key ally, isn't mincing words: "If this is not civil war," he told the BBC, "then God knows what civil war is."

To say the Bush administration lied about the invasion is a severe understatement. Bush and his team are lying every day. And at this rate, the US death toll could be in the tens of thousands by the time the nation extricates itself from this morass.

And yet the Democratic Party leadership is still way too tentative about making this the defining issue of the midterm elections. That's crazy: Even in the red states, the war is increasingly unpopular. And Bush's insistence on staying the course is starting to sound like Richard Nixon's secret plan to end the Vietnam War.

The truth is, Iraq is an artificial construct, a nation pieced together from three ethnic and religious groups that have never gotten along. If it weren't for the oil (ah, it's always the oil), Kurds, Shiites, and Sunnis might each have their own states.

Perhaps a working government can still be created with all three parties involved. But the presence of huge numbers of US troops isn't, and won't, help that process.

The Democrats need to get behind Rep. John Murtha (D-PA) and demand a timetable for withdrawal of all troops. That might even lead to a Democratic Congress. *