Washington — The war in Iraq now has lasted longer than the U.S. involvement in the war that President Bush's father fought in, World War II.
As of today, the conflict in Iraq has raged for three years and just over eight months.
Only the Vietnam War (eight years, five months), the Revolutionary War (six years, nine months), and the Civil War (four years), have engaged America longer.
Fighting in Afghanistan, which may or may not be a full-fledged war depending on who is keeping track, has gone on for five years, one month. It continues as the ousted Taliban resurges and the central government is challenged.
Bush says he still is undecided whether to start bringing U.S. troops home from Iraq or add to the 140,000 there now.
He is awaiting the conclusions of several top-to-bottom studies, including a military review by Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Expected soon, too, are recommendations from an outside blue-ribbon commission headed by former Secretary of State James Baker, a Republican close to the Bush family, and former Rep. Lee Hamilton, an Indiana Democrat who was one of the leaders of the Sept. 11 commission.
Mission not yet accomplished
The Iraq war began on March 19, 2003, with the U.S. bombing of Baghdad. On May 1, 2003, Bush famously declared major combat operations over, the pronouncement coming in a speech aboard an aircraft carrier emblazoned with a "Mission Accomplished" banner.
Yet the fighting has dragged on, and most of the 2,800-plus U.S. military deaths have occurred after Bush suggested an end to what he called the Iraq front in the global fight against terrorism.
Politicians in both parties blame the increasingly unpopular war for GOP losses on Capitol Hill in the November elections that handed control of the House and Senate to Democrats.
Twice before in the last half-century have presidents - Harry S. Truman in Korea and Lyndon B. Johnson in Vietnam - been crippled politically by prolonged and unpopular wars.
Bush last week visited Vietnam for the first time, attending a summit of Asian and Pacific Rim nations. Asked if the Vietnam war held any messages for U.S. policy in Iraq, Bush said it showed that "we'll succeed unless we quit."
John Mueller, an Ohio State University political scientist who wrote the book "War, Presidents and Public Opinion," said Americans soured on Iraq after "doing a rough cost-benefit analysis. They say, 'What's it worth to us and how much is it costing us?'"
By that standard, Americans were willing to abandon the Iraq war long before they turned against the war in Vietnam, Mueller suggested. "So that, for example, when more than 2,000 Americans had died in Iraq, support lowered. It took 20,000 deaths in Vietnam to lower support for that war to the same level," he said.
In the casualty count, the Civil War was the most lethal, with military deaths of the North and South combined totaling at least 620,000. By comparison, the total for World War II was roughly 406,000; Vietnam, 58,000; Korea, 37,000; World War I, 116,000.
The outgoing Republican chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. John Warner of Virginia, a veteran of World War II and a former Navy secretary, noted solemnly at a recent hearing of his committee that today would mark the day when U.S. was involved longer in the Iraq war than it had been in World War II.
Yet the October 2002 congressional resolution that authorized the Iraq war "addressed the Iraq of Saddam Hussein, which is now gone, and no more a threat to us," Warner said.
While the United States is helping the Iraq's current government to assume the full reins of sovereignty, "we need to revise (our) strategy to achieve that goal," Warner said.
U.S. involvement in the Iraq war has outlasted that of the Korean War (three years, one month); the War of 1812 (two years, six months); the U.S.-Mexican War (one year, 10 months); World War I (one year, seven months); the Spanish American War (eight months); and the first Persian Gulf War (one and a half months).
Democrats and Republicans are divided about what to do next in Iraq.
Many Democrats and some Republicans have called for a phased withdrawal. Some lawmakers, including Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a 2008 presidential hopeful, are urging that more U.S. troops be sent to help stabilize Iraq.
Sen. Carl Levin, the Michigan Democrat who will be the next chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, argues for beginning to bring troops home soon. "We should put the responsibility for Iraq's future squarely where it belongs, on the Iraqis," Levin said. "We cannot save the Iraqis from themselves."
Experts of various political stripes have suggested that the options are few.
"No mix of options for U.S. action can provide a convincing plan for 'victory' in Iraq," said Anthony Cordesman, an Iraq analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "The initiative has passed into Iraqi hands."