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A wilting coalition

THE COALITION of the willing is losing its will. Italy just announced it will withdraw its 3,000 troops from Iraq by the fall. The Netherlands, Poland, and Ukraine are also in the process of pulling out or preparing to pull out an additional 4,750 troops.

When Italy's prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, says, ''We have to have an exit strategy," he is not kidding. With the departure of those nations, the coalition will be down to 21 countries. That is a massive cut from the days when the administration boasted the window dressing of 38 fighting countries and nearly 50 total allies (even as the United States accounted for 85 percent of the troops).

President Bush downplayed Italy's imminent abandonment in a press conference this week. Bush said Berlusconi reassured him in a phone call ''that there was no change in his policy; that, in fact, any withdrawals would be done in consultation with allies and would be done depending upon the ability of Iraqis to defend themselves. . . . that's the position of the United States. Our troops will come home when Iraq is capable of defending herself."

This is political satire. Bush has no clue when Iraqis will be able to defend themselves. Last month, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz boasted: ''I have talked to some of our commanders in the area. They believe that over the course of the next six months you will see whole areas of Iraq successfully handed over to Iraqi army and Iraqi police."

This is the same Wolfowitz who said predictions by Pentagon budget specialists that the invasion and occupation of Iraq would cost $60 billion to $95 billion in the first year ''is just wrong." He was right in the wrong way. The first year cost more like $150 billion, and the cost of Iraq and Afghanistan, with Iraq sucking up the vast majority of military resources, is now more than $300 billion.

This is the same Wolfowitz who swore that predictions by one of his own generals that it would take several hundred thousand soldiers to secure Iraq were ''wildly off the mark." We have 150,000 troops there, and there is no end in sight to suicide bombings. This is the same Wolfowitz who at one point did not even know how many US soldiers had died. He said at a Capitol Hill hearing that the United States lost approximately 500 soldiers, 350 of them in combat. The actual numbers were 722 overall and 521 in combat.

This is the same Wolfowitz whom Bush wants to place at the head of the World Bank. Some people should not leave home without American Express. Wolfowitz should not be allowed to leave the country without a calculator.   Continued...

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