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You've heard all the numbers - five years, nearly 4,000 Americans dead, 30,000 Americans wounded; untold Iraqis, perhaps 100,000, dead; $500 billion. But what does it all mean, beyond the obvious, the incredible sacrifice of lives and treasure?

No matter how George Bush and Dick Cheney try to spin it, the war in Iraq has been a terrible, futile waste. And it continues to be.

Saying that the war was "necessary," as the president did the other day, or that "our objective here is victory and we need to be prepared to do whatever it takes in order to achieve that," as the vice president said, doesn't change this basic fact: The Iraq war is an open-ended cycle of bloodletting with no positive end in sight.

The president's argument that the war was "necessary" to keep Americans safe is ridiculous. The president's two major justifications for the war - Saddam's weapons of mass destruction and his supposed collaboration with al-Qaida - proved to be canards long ago. All the American invasion accomplished was to unleash a vicious, fratricidal conflict between tribes and sects in the heart of the Islamic Middle East. It is absurd to contend that this has strengthened American security, especially when this war has ground down the combat strength of the U.S. military.

And what of Cheney's assertion that the United States must fight in Iraq until it achieves victory? If by victory the vice president means a peaceful, democratic, self-governing Iraq, there is little evidence that this is achievable. Sure, the surge of American forces to 158,000 troops over the last year has tamped down the violence some, aided by the rise of Sunni sheikhs who have tired of insurgent violence.

But this relative peace was supposed to give the Shiite-dominated government the breathing space to achieve political reconciliation with its Sunni and Kurdish opponents, largely through a comprehensive oil law to share the nation's petroleum wealth among the factions and to promote provincial elections that would invite Sunnis into government.

The elections may happen. But other important benchmarks that the Iraqi government was supposed to achieve have not been reached.

The truth is that everyone, Iraqis and Americans alike, are waiting this administration out, counting the days until Bush and Cheney and their Republican enablers in the Congress are gone and the United States can begin to extricate itself from this nightmare.