What truly frightens governments sending their citizens off to war is mutiny or the threat of mutiny. It was soldiers shooting their officers and sailors pushing planes off aircraft carriers that prompted the Pentagon to run up the white flag in Vietnam. Along that same spectrum are draft resistance and the refusal to go to war. Already, amid the soaring unpopularity of the war in Iraq, they have had an effect. The Pentagon says the reserve system is in ruins.

Gold Star mothers like Cindy Sheehan could be leading sit-ins at military recruitment offices across the country and in the home district congressional offices of Democrats and Republicans. How about Sheehan moving Camp Casey from Crawford, Texas, to Sen. Hillary Clinton's offices in Washington or New York? Only this time the demand would not be for a meeting but for a reversal of HRC's pro-war position, which has her putting up a bill to increase U.S. forces overall by 90,000.

One of the greatest achievements of the antiwar movement in the Vietnam era was to make it untenable for a Democrat, LBJ, to run again for the presidency, or for Hubert Humphrey to run and win on a pro-war platform. Question: Would the MoveOn operation take the slightest interest in any vigils outside HRC's offices, or those of any other prominent Democrat? Of course not.

Cindy Sheehan frightens the Right and stirs them to venom, and she frightens the Democrats, too, because she's so clear. Contrast the timeline of Sheehan as against that of even a relatively decent Democrat like Sen. Russ Feingold. Feingold calls for a start to withdrawal from Iraq maybe 16 months from now. How many dead troops and new Gold Star mothers can you fit into that calendar? A thousand or more? Sheehan's Out Now call should be the bright-line test for any antiwar spokesperson.

Noting the huge wave of sympathy for her, Democrats in Washington are now fretting about the party's pro-war stance. Only one congressional Democrat, Ruth McKinney, has visited Camp Casey.

Meanwhile, the Bush White House continues its efforts to smear Sheehan. One of the White House's favorite attack dogs, Christopher Hitchens, has slimed Sheehan viciously. He even called her a LaRouchie! Why? No reason given. He obviously reckoned "LaRouchie" is one of those let-her-deny-it slurs. When challenged, Hitchens hastily retracted that particular charge.

He also attacked Sheehan for "paranoid anti-Zionism" and made sure he got her name in the same paragraph as David Duke's. Challenged once again on this tactic, he says piously, "I have not said that she is anti-Jewish."

Now Hitchens is a fellow who knows perfectly well the role Israel plays in U.S. policy but who does not scruple to insinuate Sheehan is an anti-Semite because, maybe, she dared mention the word Israel. She lost a son? Hitchens says that's of scant account, and it's no reason why we should take her seriously. Then he brays about the horrors let loose in Iraq if the troops come home, with no mention of how the invasion he worked for has already unleashed them.

With his columns smearing Sheehan I reckon Hitchens lost the last of his former fans on the Left. Here, pure and crude, was Hitchens as White House hatchet man (probably getting his usual marching orders from Cheney aide Kevin Kellems), marching shoulder to shoulder with Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly.

There's no useful debate to be had with Hitchens. The man's been shipwrecked by reality, but on his fantasy Titanic, Commodore Hitchens still paces the bridge, swearing against all the evidence that his ship's on course. He urged a war that has plunged a country, Iraq, ever deeper into death and ruin. How long will he go on saying the attack was worth it and that America should stay the course? On "staying the course" the people of Iraq gave their view in the elections, which they hoped would spell swift American departure.

Of course Saddam Hussein was a bloodthirsty tyrant who brought misery and death to the Iraqi people. What will it take beyond the present 100,000 dead Iraqis -- 500,000 dead, a million, two million -- for Hitchens and those like him to concede that between Saddam or invasion and American occupation, the former, indubitably horrible, was the preferable option? And at what point will the hammer of "Islamo-fascism" concede that no greater boost was ever given to Islamic fundamentalism in Iraq than the American attack?

Alexander Cockburn is coeditor with Jeffrey St. Clair of the muckraking newsletter CounterPunch. He is also co-author of the new book "Dime's Worth of Difference: Beyond the Lesser of Two Evils," available through www.counterpunch.com. To find out more about Alexander Cockburn and read features by other columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com. COPYRIGHT 2005 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.