Blood and Treasure

Less than a week later, Adrienne and I headed back out for the vigil. The half-dozen senior citizens and nuns who have been there every day for nearly seven years were happy to have us back, even if it meant one of our infrequent thresholds – in this case, the 4,000th American death in Iraq – had been crossed.

There were only nine of us Monday evening. The previous Wednesday, the war’s fifth anniversary, had drawn a crowd of 60 vigilers. Perhaps not enough time had passed between to two dates to bring folks back out. Fewer cars honked to acknowledge us. The teenaged driver of one minivan screamed, “I love waaaar!” as he drove by. At least he had his van packed with the friends he was showing off for, thus making efficient use of his gas, if not his mind.

As we stood on the curb, things were falling apart in Iraq again. Although Moqtada al-Sadr had not called off his cease-fire, it seems the Iraqi government decided to make a pre-emptive strike against his Madhi Army. Fighting is widespread in Basra and Baghdad. American generals haven’t complained about it, so the action seems to have their blessing. Americans have taught the Iraqis something about pre-emptive strikes.

At some point Wednesday, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki gave the Sadrists 72 hours to lay down their arms. None of the news outlets is reporting specifically when the 72 hours began or will end, but the deadline will arrive sometime Saturday. It’s unlikely any fighters will accede to Mr. al-Maliki’s demand. Then he’ll get a real taste of what the Americans have experienced for five years. He’s given his ultimatum, he’ll be ignored, he’ll have to figure out how to save face or just get used to losing face, as we have.

On the curb Monday, I was running some numbers of my own. It was 539 days from the beginning of the war until 1,000 troops died. The second thousand died in 414 days and the third thousand in 479 days. This fourth thousand died in the span of 449 days, for an overall average of one thousand dead every 472.5 days.

At that rate, I won’t be back on the curb again until the war’s sixth anniversary next March and then again sometime in July of 2009, when we pass the 5,000-casualty figure. Will I have to stand on the curb next March or next July? I suppose it depends on what happens in November.

Both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have promised to withdraw troops from Iraq. If one of them is elected, they will have been in office 60 days on the sixth anniversary of the war. If a President Obama or Clinton-ordered withdrawal is underway, it will certainly not be complete by the 20 March 2009, so I suppose I have an appointment with the vigil.

If John McCain is elected, I may have an annual date with that Pearl Street curbstone for years to come. Mr. McCain has said he doesn’t care if American troops are in Iraq for “a hundred years, a thousand years or ten thousand years, as long as Americans are not being killed.”

John McCain is lying. As Nicholas Kristof pointed out in Sunday’s New York Times, the Iraq occupation costs $5,000 per second. That’s $300,000 per minute, $18 million an hour, $432 million per day, $3 billion per week, $12 billion per month and $144 billion per year.

Although Mr. McCain takes pains to say, “as long as Americans aren’t being killed,” the point is Americans are being killed and he’s the guy calling for surges and pouring in more troops.

US News and World Report says American soldiers carry backpacks stuffed with cash through the streets of Baghdad, giving “microloans” of $2,500 each to shopkeepers, hoping to stimulate Iraq’s economy. Thugs, our enemies probably, find out when the cash is disbursed and pretty soon they’re holding the money and likely use it to buy weapons to kill more Americans. Blood and treasure.

The Washington Post says we pay former insurgents $180 each every month to be on our side. How long can we keep buying our way through Iraq, Mr. McCain?

America may throw another thousand young lives at Iraq and perhaps another thousand after that. The curb in front of the Unitarian Church, near the federal building, isn’t done with me yet. American troops will come home, not because too much blood has flowed, but because we’ve run out of money. It’s the American way.

© Mark Floegel, 2008

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