Pearl Harbor

Four years into this war, Americans are still fighting -- over here and over there.

By Tim Grieve

Published December 7, 2005 2:12PM (EST)

Sixty-four years ago today, Japanese aircraft attacked U.S. naval forces at Pearl Harbor. The United States went to war against the country that attacked it. Four years later, that country had surrendered and the war in the Pacific was over.

It has been four years since al-Qaida attacked the United States. We've gone to war against one country that provided a safe haven for those who attacked and with one country that had nothing to do with the attacks and no collaborative relationship with the attackers. Four years later, both wars continue. In Afghanistan the U.S. military says 22 Taliban guerrillas have just been killed in fighting with U.S. and local troops. In Iraq, at least 27 people were killed when a suicide bomber blew himself up at a Baghdad police station. More than 250 U.S. troops have died in Afghanistan. More than 2,130 Americans have lost their lives in Iraq. Untold numbers of Afghans and Iraqis have been killed -- are being killed -- as the two wars continue.

The president will speak about Iraq again today, at an event at the Council on Foreign Relations where, contrary to tradition, he won't take any questions. We've heard his answers before anyway. "Progress" is being made. It would be a mistake to "cut and run." The "lessons of September 11th" are ones we cannot forget.

That's not so much a plan as a series of slogans, a collection of goals and hopes that may or may not be realized at a human cost that cannot yet be known. It is a big thing, war, but at home we can't seem to talk about it anymore, at least not in a way that the other side is able or willing to hear. A Vietnam veteran in Congress calls for the redeployment of troops, and Republican Rep. Jean Schmidt suggests he's a "coward." Democrats continue to press questions about how we got into the war in the first place, and Dick Cheney calls them "dishonest" and "irresponsible" for doing so. John Kerry says that Iraqi troops need to be doing more, that there's no need for American soldiers to be the ones "going into the homes of Iraqis in the dead of night, terrorizing kids and children," and Rush Limbaugh uses it as an opportunity to say that the Democratic Party "despises the U.S. military and feels no compunction whatsoever to characterize them as terrorists." Kerry's spokesman responds with a statement that includes the words "draft dodging" and "doughnut eating."

And it's not just Republicans vs. Democrats, of course. The administration's conduct of the war has drawn criticism from some Republicans, and the Democrats' criticism has drawn sniping and attacks from other Democrats. Joe Lieberman said yesterday that he'd like to see the creation of a bipartisan "war cabinet" to take some of the political edge off of the debate over Iraq. But he used the opportunity to say that "it's time for Democrats who distrust President Bush to acknowledge he'll be commander in chief for three more years," and that "we undermine the president's credibility at our nation's peril." When Howard Dean said Monday that "the idea that we're going to win the war in Iraq is an idea which is just plain wrong," the president responded by accusing him of being a "pessimist" who was "playing politics" and trying to "score points." Georgia Rep. Jim Marshall, a Democrat, did Bush one better. "Dean's take on Iraq makes even less sense than the scream in Iowa," he said. "Both are uninformed and unhelpful."

Of course, you could say the same thing about the decision to go to war in Iraq in the first place. Maybe we say that at our own peril, Sen. Lieberman. But it's not our peril we're thinking about on Pearl Harbor Day. It's the peril facing 150,000 or so U.S. troops still fighting a war that never had to start and shows no sign of ending.

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

MORE FROM Tim Grieve

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Afghanistan Dick Cheney George W. Bush Iraq War John F. Kerry D-mass. Rush Limbaugh