Monday 7 July 2003

Red, white and worried

Post-war euphoria gives way to new realities as Fourth of July finds America troubled and confused

The smoke had cleared from the last burst of fireworks, the barbecue was turned off and the final strains of "God Bless America" had drifted into the night.

But somehow, the annual outpouring of jingoism sounded hollow this year, with far more doubts on the horizon this July 4 than anyone would have foreseen a few short months ago.

Euphoria over the show of military might is evaporating and the sense of self-esteem that comes with doing the right thing is being openly questioned.

Americans are heading into the summer's heat facing some new realities.

Their troops in Iraq are facing increasingly brazen and deadly attacks and don't know when they can go home.

Since George W. Bush congratulated troops on their job well done in his infamous photo op aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier on May 1, American soldiers are facing an average of 13 ambushes and attacks per day. Seventy have died, 27 from enemy fire.

The long Independence Day weekend opened here with television images of jubilant Iraqis jumping on the roof of a burned-out U.S. Humvee and a threatening audiotape from Saddam Hussein. That wasn't supposed to be happening.

The Taliban is regrouping in Afghanistan. No one here talks much about Afghanistan any more, but the job is not finished.

Americans also appear headed to Liberia to try to halt a bloody civil war. They are busy trying to foment rebellion in Iran, where the country's nuclear capabilities cause concern.

North Korea remains a preoccupation along with Syria, where U.S. troops recently engaged in a firefight with Syrian troops.

The Middle East? It's one step forward, two steps back as Bush tries to forge a shaky peace in an overarching bid to reshape the region.

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