Iraq...Third Anniversary

It’s third-anniversary time marking the beginning of the Iraqi War, which actually isn’t a war, just as the Korean War was not actually a war, but something perhaps categorized as a “police action” or a “conflict.” War is something that is declared by Congress, but actually no one in any branch of government wants to take the responsibility for bloodshed codified as something as ominous as war anymore, so wars have become more or less documented as “conflicts deemed necessary by the president and agreed to by the Congress (Vietnam?).” A resolution of some kind is all that’s necessary now. There’s nothing wrong with this. Rooting out Al Qaeda required bloodshed in Afghanistan, but did not require a declaration of war against that country, only the use of its turf to destroy the Taliban. The blood is just as red, of course.

Though it didn’t happen, it would have been perfectly legitimate to declare war on Iraq, with or without any kind of coalition. United States involvement was justified by the Iraqi missile attack May 17, 1987, on the USS Stark, in which thirty-seven crew members were killed. Baghdad apologized and claimed that the attack was a mistake. Yeah, sure. After the end of the Gulf War in 1991, no-fly zones were established by the United Nations in which no Iraqi aircraft were allowed in large segments of space over both North and South Iraq. These zones were policed by planes from the U.S. and other countries and were periodically fired upon from Iraqi ground installations. Those firings were all acts of war that endangered Americans, who were operating in neutral airspace in a non-belligerent activity…just peace-keeping in the interest of keeping Saddam from dropping poison gas on the Kurds and Shiites. The installations were dispatched forthwith, but even then American pilots were in danger, as they were any time they were flying armed aircraft for whatever purpose, especially from naval aircraft carriers, on which takeoffs and landings can be as precarious as dogfights.

So…the “mainstream” media have spent the last few days “celebrating” the third anniversary of the beginning of the “Iraq War,” making assessments concerning it, and engaging in speculation about it, as well as what’s bound to happen short-term and long-term…all this usually within the context of Bush-bashing of one kind or another. This activity will continue for some time yet. Tim Russert of NBC’s Meet the Press had only two guests on Sunday – Army General George Casey, commander in charge of the Iraqi War, and following him (where else for the last word?), Pennsylvania Congressman John Murtha, currently the most outspoken against-the-war national office-holder. He could have had the two men side-by-side, using the marvelous current technology, but he didn’t…or, maybe they wouldn’t. So…it was not a back-and-forth debate, which might have been helpful, but a chance for the general to try to state the government’s position, as well as for the congressman to state his position…and…well, this is an election year. Generals aren’t elected but congressmen are.

As usual, Russert had the prepared media clips from other days, using the participants’ previous words to either explain or deny their more current words. To Casey, he quoted – of all outlets – the Los Angeles Times and TIME magazine, hardly conservative journals expected to agree with Casey on anything. In fairness, he did the same with Murtha, who had the seldom-used-by-officials good sense and honesty to admit that he had been wrong in voting for the Iraqi resolution. Actually, there was nothing new in the interviews, the general recounting ways in which the conflict has eventuated in attaining desirable objectives such as three free elections in one year with greater numbers voting each time. Seventy percent of eligible voters cast ballots in the last election in December. He acknowledged the problem with insurgents and said, “My, my general sense, Tim, is, is probably it—I did not think it would be as, as robust as it has been.” Indeed, no one could have foreseen the maelstrom caused by the insurgents, sucking in its throes of death hundreds of women and children.

The subject of drawing down the number of troops, of course, was a major part of the conversation. Casey indicated that the draw-down had actually started, though without adherence to any sort of timetable, which would tip the enemy as to how long it could wait before attacking an entirely vulnerable populace. Casey explained, “It has happened, Tim. We—right after—right before Christmas we off-ramped two brigades. We did not, we chose not to bring two additional brigades into Iraq, and our, our forces are 7,000 to 10,000 less as a result of that. And so we have started that process. And that process is a process that—again, go back to your base assumptions, as long as those two things continue to hold—that process is going to continue, I expect through 2006 and into 2007.”

Murtha made it clear at the very outset of his appearance that the war is President Bush’s war, notwithstanding that he voted for it, and notwithstanding that democrats in Congress called for Clinton to get rid of Saddam years ago. He indicated that the troops in Iraq don’t know why they’re there, inferring a certain stupidity on their part. Murtha said that the president should engage in mass firings right now of the people responsible for the poor conduct of the war and that Defense Secretary Rumsfeld should resign. Claiming that Iraq was never a threat to U.S. security, he claimed that civil war is already raging in Iraq. He even claimed that he had it straight from folks at the Pentagon just how wrong things are in Iraq and even threw in Katrina, the usual ploy engaged by Bush-haters to make the point that the administration is in dire straits.

There’s no good answer to the Iraqi problem. Without question, the withdrawal of U.S. troops should gradually begin taking place…no announcements, just a quiet “moving them out,” with the clear message to the Iraqi government that it will either step in and take control of the country or let it devolve into the theocratic chaos many have long predicted, no matter what happens. Just as in the case of Katina’s destruction, no one could have foreseen that Iraqis would prove to be as unpredictable as they are.

Murtha’s insistence upon bringing Vietnam into the conversation on MTP was unconscionable, however. In the three years since March 2003, an average of two GIs have been lost each day in the Iraqi conflict. In the eight grueling years (1964-72) in Vietnam, that number was 20 per day. Loss of even one life should not be tolerated, but the comparison – including in other areas such as topography, demographics, etc. – is strictly out of order. This country is justifiably yearning for relief, but the nation still stands behind the president, who correctly said in the beginning that Saddam was a threat to national security and that the war against terrorism would be a long one.