AS THE FLAGS are readied and the ceremonies rehearsed, no one is talking much anymore about how our soldiers have died in a "noble cause" in Iraq.
As the sixth Memorial Day of the Iraq War approaches, at least 4,070 American men and women have lost their lives in the fighting. Hundreds more have been killed in accidents, illnesses - and, yes, suicides.
All were poorly served by the nation to which they gave the last full measure of devotion: They were sent into battle under false pretenses, without proper planning or equipment, their sacrifice treated as a low-risk business opportunity for war profiteers, their flag-draped coffins hidden from public view.
So, as we approach this sad milestone, it is insane that the same people who were so disastrously wrong before miring us in Iraq are again beating the drums for an another unnecessary military action, this time against Iran.
They're even using the same tactics - inflating Iran's danger to the United States, comparing its leaders to Hitler, and referring vaguely to "evidence" of Iranian complicity in attacks on U.S. soldiers in Iraq. Something else has a too-familiar ring: often-uncritical news-media coverage and attacks on the patriotism of those who would try to avoid more unnecessary deaths.
In one of the most embarrassingly ignorant displays ever by a U.S. president, George W. Bush last week used an address to the Israeli Knesset to equate negotiating with one's enemies with appeasing Adolf Hitler. Bush was implying that Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was a dead-ringer for the Nazi madman, but remember when that distinction was bestowed on Saddam Hussein?
Bush's target, of course, was Sen. Barack Obama, who has said he would meet with leaders of Iran with preparation but without pre-conditions. This is a wise policy. You can't make peace with your friends, only with your enemies, and you can't do that without talking with them. This truth was most recently demonstrated by, of all appeasers, the Israeli government, which yesterday announced secret talks with longtime enemy Syria, state sponsor of terrorism and all-star of the "axis of evil."
Following Bush's speech, Republican presidential candidate John McCain didn't miss a beat, suggesting that Iran is a threat akin to that posed by the Soviet Union. A National Intelligence Estimate last fall said that Iran has no nuclear button to push, while the Soviet Union not only had nukes but the missiles to deliver them.
This followed by a few weeks Democratic contender Hillary Clinton's threat to push the red button and "obliterate Iran" if provoked. And Sen. Joseph Lieberman, the so-called Independent Democrat and McCain BFF, said air strikes against Iran are a "distinct possibility," even though there is no concrete evidence that Iran poses a significant threat. Of course, if we "bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran," as McCain tastelessly joked, that would change, just as it did in Iraq.
FOR THOUSANDS of Americans, Memorial Day will be a personal, intimate day of grief for loved ones who died in Iraq for a cause that was not deserving of them.
There is no more appropriate time for the rest of us to consider why so many didn't know then what they know now about Iraq. There is no more appropriate time to vow that, from now on, the United States will heed the words of President John F. Kennedy to "never negotiate out of fear but never fear to negotiate."
That is the best way to honor our war dead. *