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The Ultimate Cost of Bush's Hubris in Iraq

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DUMMERSTON, Vt. - On Wednesday, President Bush spoke to the nation about his administration's new strategy for Iraq.

He spoke about expanding the number of U.S. troops in Iraq and why it's important to do so, even though there's not enough men and not enough money to carry out the mission he envisions.

He spoke about the importance of the U.S. mission in Iraq, even though events in that country have spun so far out of control that the United States no longer can influence them.

He spoke about the need for sacrifice, even though no member of the extended Bush family is in uniform and only 12 percent of the American people (according to recent opinion polls) favor sending more troops to Iraq.

Who will do the sacrificing, and what will that sacrifice entail?

The Los Angeles Times reported last week that the Department of Veterans Affairs is buckling under a growing number of disability claims and an increased need for medical care. The VA has treated more than 200,000 veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns - three times more than the VA projected.

Because of body armor and improved medical care close to the battlefield, the number of dead has dropped dramatically. In World War II, the ratio of wounded to killed in action was less than 2 to 1. In Korea and Vietnam, the ratio improved to 3 to 1. In Iraq and Afghanistan, it's roughly 16 to 1.

This means that soldiers that would have on died on the battlefield in past wars are coming home alive, but with horrific injuries that leave the survivors permanently disabled. Thousands have crippling brain and spinal injuries, and thousands more are multiple amputees.

The VA says more than 150,000 veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan have filed for disability benefits. More than a third of them have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), acute depression and substance abuse.

However, according to the military newspaper Stars and Stripes, new guidelines from the Pentagon now allow commanders to send soldiers with "a psychiatric disorder in remission, or whose residual symptoms do not impair duty performance" back into the field.

That's how short of manpower the Pentagon is. But the problem is about to get worse.

Of the 1.4 million U.S. service members who were involved in the war effort from the start, 900,000 are still on active duty. After the 1991 Persian Gulf War, half of all veterans sought health care from the VA and 44 percent filed disability claims. If a similar number of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans seek health care and disability benefits, it could cost our nation up to $600 billion to care for them.

This is just one small piece of the picture of what five years of fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq has cost our nation. A significant majority of Americans now believe that increasing the amount of money and manpower to continue the U.S. occupation in Iraq will not change the outcome. Even the soldiers in the field and their commanders are saying the same thing.

The time has come to put an end to this senseless waste of our nation's blood and treasure. However, the Bush administration doesn't think so, and it is deepening the quagmire that its hubris created.

What will it take for the president and his administration to wake up and realize they are on the wrong course? It will take each and every one of us to raise our voices and tell them in no uncertain terms that this war must end and our troops must come home, period.
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Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 25 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at randyholhut@yahoo.com.

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