Hell no, we won’t go!

Last week’s elections reminded me of a principle that I find I need to remind myself of fairly often: if you’re assigning blame for something, start with the person or persons who actually committed the action before you start blaming others for not stopping it. They have the primary responsibility.

It’s one that needs to be brought up on the subject of 9/11. Arguments about who is more to blame — Clinton or Bush — overlook the fact that neither of them actually did a damned thing TOWARDS the attacks. The arguments about their responsibilities are about which had more of a chance to prevent it. The real blame: the actual hijackers, Al Qaeda collectively, and militant Islam in general.

Last week’s elections are another. People are blaming Bush for the Republicans’ losses. That overlooks the fundamental point that while Republicans lost, such elections are a zero-sum game. That they lost means that, of necessity, the Democrats won. I would have to say that Howard Dean and the Democratic party carry at least as much, if not more, responsibility for the election results as Bush.

And now on to my main point: the talk about the US pulling out of Iraq.

Fact A: Recently, the Lancet published a report saying that 650,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed since the United States led the invasion that overthrew Saddam’s decades-old reign in a matter of weeks. Those numbers have been rather thoroughly discredited, but just for the sake of argument let’s say they’re valid.

Fact B: The number of US casualties in Iraq is rapidly approaching 3,000.

Now, there is no disputing that there are a lot of killings going on in Iraq. And I think I can safely divide the folks doing the killing into three distinct categories:

1) Soldiers from the US and our allies. Their focus is on killing the terrorists and insurgents.

2) The growing and developing Iraqi security forces. Their focus is on killing the terrorists and the insurgents.

3) The terrorists and insurgents. Their focus is on killing #1, #2, those seen as sympathetic or helpful to #1 and #2, members of the Iraqi government, and anyone else they can for whatever reason they can.

So, the argument goes, because of Fact A and Fact B, we should get Group 1 the hell out of the combat zone. Logically, it follows that this will have a beneficial effect on Fact B, but what will happen to Fact A?

It’s pretty obvious that Group B aren’t up to the task of managing Group 3 on their own. They’re a hell of a lot better than they were before, and getting better all the time, but they are facing a huge challenge. They are simply not ready.

On the other hand, Group C has made no commitments and no statements about reducing their level of attacks once the US leaves. In fact, it’s just the opposite — not only will they be emboldened, but they will have fewer targets to go after. I feel fairly comfortable predicting that the attacks on Iraqi security forces, Iraqi government officials, and Iraqi civilians will skyrocket without the US presence.

So, with a US withdrawal, Fact A will in all likelihood increase. But let’s get selfish — so what? As long as our boys (and girls) are out of harm’s way, who cares what they do to each other? Isn’t their safety more important?

My instinct is like many of yours, I bet — to say “to hell with them” and keep our troops safe. But there’s another factor involved — what do the troops themselves think?

Active-duty military personnel are, by and large, restricted from speaking freely. It’s the nature of the beast — they forfeit some of their Constitutional rights and become, in essence, government property from the instant they take the oath until they are released from service — most by discharge, some by death. But we’re talking about the military here, and if there’s one thing everyone should know, it’s that their actions often speak far louder than their words.

Take a look at the actual personnel serving in Iraq, and take a look at their service records. More specifically, their terms of enlistment. On the average, more troops in Iraq re-enlist — volunteer for several more years of duty — than those who aren’t in Iraq.

Simply put, those who are facing death or injury or maiming — their own or, worse for them, their buddies — are saying, by their deeds, that they are willing to stay in Iraq and keep working towards fulfilling their mission. They don’t WANT to be protected. They see themselves as the protectors, and they don’t like the idea of their charges acting to “shield” them from their duty.

In Viet Nam, we saw just the opposite. Soldiers counting down the days until they could return to “the world.” Trying desperately to avoid going to Viet Nam. Desertions. “Fragging.” Injuring themselves to get out of combat. It was a very small percentage that took the issue so far, but that any beyond a trifling handful was a very troubling sign.

I’ve never set foot in Iraq, and quite frankly I am not ever likely to. I have absolutely no talent for learning other languages, and it strikes me as rude to go to another country where I cannot speak their tongue. So I don’t have much of an idea about how things really are.

But those in the best position to know seem to think that it’s worth their personally sticking around, despite the risks and the deprivations and the constant attacks. I’ll defer to them.

And I’ll remember that the lion’s share of blame for all those civilian deaths lies on the groups that killed them.

The Real Donald Rumsfeld
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18 Comments

  1. Judith November 13, 2006
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