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By Bill Gallagher

DETROIT -- It was certainly one of President George W. Bush's worst performances, and that's saying a lot. Well past his bedtime, he spoke to the nation last Thursday, looking and sounding like a sedated automaton, reading the lines for his latest justification for staying the course in Iraq and telling the American people to consider the preposterous request to have patience and trust his judgment.

Using Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker for convenient cover, Bush assured us that "conditions in Iraq are improving," that "we are seizing the initiative from the enemy" and that "the troop surge is working."

The purpose of the surge was to provide "breathing time" to nurture political stability and national reconciliation in Iraq. It is a self-evident absurdity to suggest that is happening or that the continued presence of U.S. troops will transform and pacify the society the invasion and occupation so thoroughly shattered.

The endless blather and ridiculous measurements the administration toadies use to claim the surge is working dodge the compelling, salient fact that Bush has no strategy to end his failed and futile war, nor does he have any strategy whatsoever for quelling the violence his war of choice unleashed.

Just last month, Crocker admitted Iraq remains politically torn, telling McClatchy Newspapers,

"The progress on the national level has been extremely disappointing and frustrating to all concerned -- to us, to the Iraqi leadership itself."

Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, returned from Iraq in August after assessing the stated surge purpose of giving the Iraqi leadership time to reach a political settlement. Levin's conclusions were bleak: "They have failed to do that. They have totally and utterly failed."

The Iraqi people, however, should not be blamed for this failure. It is the direct consequence of violence begetting violence, destroyed infrastructure, disease, deprivation and the chaos the American invasion brought to the suffering nation. The sheer incompetence of the occupation then fed the insurgency and fostered political and sectarian strife.

In his speech, Bush mentioned that "too many citizens are being killed by terrorists and death squads." But he failed to attribute any casualties to U.S. military action and he didn't quantify the extent of the slaughter.

Only upbeat narratives and numbers fit into Bush's claims of success. He said, "Our troops in Iraq are performing brilliantly" and that "they have captured or killed more than 1,500 enemy fighters since January."

Who are these "enemy fighters"? Bush, of course, now uses the al-Qaeda label incessantly in his unrelenting lie, conflating the war in Iraq with the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia didn't exist on Sept. 11, yet we now are told defeating this group -- spawned by the U.S. invasion -- is why we must remain in Iraq.

Bush and his supporters always ignore or play down the bloody cost of this brutal war for the Iraqi people. Their suffering is an afterthought. "We don't do body counts," Gen. Tommy "The Jerk" Franks famously said after he conquered Baghdad and went home to smoke cigars and play golf.

But others are counting, and the numbers are staggering. A British polling organization now pegs Iraqi civilian deaths in more than four years of war at 1.2 million people. The ORB poll surveyed Iraqi adults and determined nearly one in two households in Baghdad had lost at least one family member to war-related violence, and nationwide 22 percent of the households had suffered at least one death. Do we really expect "political stability" when people are enduring such promiscuous violence?

Last year, when the British medical journal "Lancet" put the number of Iraqi deaths at 654,965, Iraqi officials called the count "ridiculous" and Bush dismissed the number as "not credible" without challenging the methodology of the scientists who prepared the survey for the reputable publication.

In his speech, Bush made no mention of the more than 2.5 million Iraqi refugees who have fled their homes. That number continues to grow, especially among professionals and the more educated. Bush never mentions his war has virtually eradicated the Christian population in Iraq, a faith community rooted there two thousand years ago.

Vice President Dick Cheney followed his dauphin Bush's performance, chiming in for an unending U.S. military presence in Iraq. Speaking in Grand Rapids, Mich., last Friday, Cheney claimed, "Beyond question, the troop surge has achieved some solid results." He went on to claim bloodshed would follow the withdrawal of U.S troops on any timetable other than what he and Bush have divined and that we must remain for the long haul to thwart terrorism.

"In all the calls we've heard for an American withdrawal from Iraq, these negative consequences haven't really been denied, they've simply been ignored," Cheney said. This crap from the man who both denied and ignored clear warnings that the war in Iraq would create negative consequences and make the United States less safe and secure.

The most telling moment in last week's "Save the Surge" campaign came when Sen. John Warner, R.-Va., asked Petraeus if the war in Iraq was making American safer. "Sir, I don't know, actually," Petraeus responded. "I haven't actually sat down and sorted it out in my own mind."

The truth is we are not safer in any measurable way, spending $3 billion a week, wasting countless lives in a monumental historic debacle. San Francisco Chronicle columnist Mark Morford wrote, "Iraq is, was and forever will be our very own massive strategic blunder, a failed land grab for position and power in a tinderbox region defined by furious instability and corruption and death. ... Iraq has always been a war between our dueling national identities, a battle over how we are to move and breathe and behave in the new millennium. Are we really this violently paranoid bully, this rogue pre-emptive screw-em-all ideological war machine defined by the dystopian Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld vision of permanent, ongoing global conflict?"

Or are we something better: a nation committed to peace, willing to change the failed strategy in Iraq by ending the war that should never have been started in the first place.

Bill Gallagher, a Peabody Award winner, is a former Niagara Falls city councilman who now covers Detroit for Fox2 News. His e-mail address is gallaghernewsman@sbcglobal.net.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com Sept. 17 2007