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'Dead Man Walking'


"The unthinkable is becoming thinkable," neoconservative pundit Robert Kagan despaired recently in the Washington Post. What has Kagan worried is actually welcome: In the aftermath of Abu Ghraib, a national debate is emerging about withdrawing US forces from Iraq; even some of the war's firmest backers suggest it is now a lost cause. "We cannot prevail in this war as it is going today," conceded hawkish Democratic Representative John Murtha, while conservative columnist David Brooks claimed that he and other supporters of the war had been "blinded by idealism." As the Post reported on May 9, a growing number of US commanders share this pessimism, not because opponents like the Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr cannot be crushed militarily but because each American assault serves only to deepen Iraqis' resentment of the occupation. And then there are non-Iraqis like the Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who is reportedly behind the grisly videotaped beheading of Nicholas Berg, the first of many promised acts of revenge for Abu Ghraib. "Dead Man Walking" is how one Pentagon consultant described the mood among US generals about the situation in Iraq. "It is doubtful we can go on much longer like this," said a senior commander. "The American people may not stand for it--and they should not."

The unthinkable has become thinkable because the unimaginable is today all too real. Every day, more horrific photographs and videos come to light--a naked detainee led on a dog leash, another naked man screaming in terror as attack dogs menace him--lending bitter irony to the claim that America's ultimate mission in Iraq is to export our values. (Ironic, too, is the fact that Berg was likely still in Iraq only because he'd been in detention, held for "suspicious activities," until the day after his family filed a suit charging that the US military was holding him without due process.) Every day, we read the names of more dead soldiers, their mission now tarnished not by "a few bad apples" who acted on their own but by an Administration that has brazenly dismissed international law and refuses to take responsibility for its actions, instead claiming that its critics are the ones who are out of line.

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'Dead Man Walking'
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