As a U.S. helicopter goes down in Iraq, the president prepares a "new defense" of his war.

Published August 22, 2007 11:32AM (EDT)

Fourteen American soldiers were killed today when their helicopter went down in northern Iraq, a stark reminder -- as if we needed one -- of the high price of the president's war.

At the beginning of this year, George W. Bush said he had a choice to make: maintain the "unacceptable" status quo in Iraq, begin bringing U.S. troops home or send even more soldiers to fight. The president chose the last of these, of course. And in the seven months since he did, approximately 700 more U.S. soldiers have died in Iraq.

Now, even as he walks away from the man whose government the "surge" was supposed to be propping up, Bush is said to be preparing a "new defense" of the war. In a speech before the Veterans of Foreign Wars today, the president will accuse those who advocate a troop withdrawal of wanting to "pull the rug out from under the troops ... just as they are gaining momentum and changing the dynamic on the ground in Iraq."

Gaining momentum? Changing the dynamic?

We have no doubt that keeping an infinite number of U.S. troops on the ground in Iraq indefinitely could have some salutary effect on the level of violence there. But we know, because our military leaders tell us, that the United States can't sustain even the current troop levels in Iraq for long. We know, because even Bush now comes close to acknowledging it, that the Iraqi government isn't making the political progress that might transform short-term military gains into any kind of long-term success. And we know, because we've seen this movie before, exactly what's going to happen next. As Gen. David Petraeus reports back to the White House next month, the president will make a case for more time, Congress will eventually give it to him, and we'll do this all over again six months from now.

Will anything have changed in any measurable way by then -- anything but the death toll, that is? The president's rug may still say "optimistic person comes to work," but he'll have to pardon the rest of us if we don't share his sunny outlook. Fourteen American families will learn today that they've lost somebody they love in a war that never should have been fought. The Iraqi parliament remains on vacation.

By Tim Grieve

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

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