All day long it seems we have been hearing more and more of a drumbeat about American soldiers accused of atrocities in Iraq. In one case that we heard about today, all the allegations were investigated and determined to be false, while the investigation continues into the Haditha incident that started all of this, and which a preliminary report out last Wednesday concluded that the underlying allegations were true. Then today we hear that a pregnant woman and her cousin were shot to death on the way to the maternity ward to deliver her baby.
To begin with, I would like to state for the record that all allegations must be fully investigated, and if it is determined that anyone (including those in a position of responsibility for making sure that events are reported accurately) is found to be involved in atrocities, then they should be tried and subject to the full degree of punishment that their actions warrant. And as readers of this blog are aware, I have been consistently opposed to George Bush's war in Iraq, believing that we were railroaded into it by means of cherry picked intelligence reports, that the mission our troops were supposed to carry out has changed as often as the White House has decided it would be politically convenient to redefine it, that the war has been poorly planned from day one, and that the incompetent leadership at the top (meaning from Don Rumsfeld on up) has continued to screw things up at every opportunity and that the price for their ineptitude has been and is continuing every day to be paid in blood.
That said, I have received a number of disturbing correspondences in my mailbox, in which the tone ranges from a smug sense of self-righteous indignation, to outright glee about all these reports. Most disturbing is the overall thread that seems to be running through them that what is happening in these incidents is typical of what is happening in Iraq and that somehow most or all of our troops are in some way involved.
I would like to say that any such suggestion that this is typical, is a lie. In fact, it is a damnable lie. I have had friends and family who have been deployed to Iraq, and I know friends, family or comrades in arms of at least four of the Americans who have died in Iraq. And what we have been hearing on the news is absolutely not what our army has been doing there.
Let's begin with numbers. Over half a million Americans have served in Iraq since the start of the war (in fact, that number is a bit dated.) It's not surprising that if there were a few such incidents, once one came out and started the ball rolling, we would hear about others, but even if they are all true (and as one of the stories out today shows, they may very well be mostly not true), it would involve at most a few hundred individuals. If you took any group of over a half million Americans (the population of a good sized city), the chances are that you would find a few bad apples, or at least a few who under a great deal of stress might become bad apples. The number of Americans who now stand accused of these actions is about fifty total, which represents less than 0.01% of all the Americans who have been deployed to Iraq since the start of the war. Any number greater than zero is of course unacceptable, but realistically, this is a very small number and the rest of our troops should not be judged by the actions of one out of ten thousand (because that is what this number represents), but rather by their own record of selfless commitment and sacrifice.
That isn't to make an excuse for them. But just as classroom teachers, who put in a great deal of dedication and effort for not very much pay, should not be judged because of the occasional child molester who is found in a school, or police officers, who do a dangerous job, also for not very much pay, should not be judged because of an occasional rogue cop, our military men and women in uniform, who do a job that is at least as dangerous as any police officer's, and which requires at least as much dedication as any teacher, and also for not enough money, should not be judged because of the actions of a few. The few should face justice, absolutely, if they did what is alleged. Then we must focus on the larger problems at hand, starting with how as a nation to extricate ourselves from this whole bloody mess we are in.
Let's also consider the situation. As I've said, it's a situation they are in due to the incompetence of George Bush and Don Rumsfeld, but it is also a daily struggle with life and death. In fact, I believe that the soldiers who shot the two women today, though it is a tragedy and will certainly be perceived very badly in Iraq, will be cleared. The reason why is that while the women were in a hurry to get to the hospital (for obvious reasons), they failed to stop at a checkpoint. Why does this matter? Because in Iraq there have been many hundreds of suicide car bombings. A device to read brain waves has not been invented yet, so it is impossible for a soldier to know whether the car running the checkpoint is trying to get to the maternity ward, or has a trunk packed with a thousand pounds of high explosives headed for either the soldiers themselves, or for a civilian target later on. And several of these car bombs have been driven by women. It would be wonderful if our soldiers could always make the right call, but sometimes they have been blown up by bombers who they did not shoot. I thank God I'm not in their shoes, but to blame the soldiers is disingenuous. To blame those whose decisions have brought about this situation three years after what was supposed to be a weeks long war, is fair.
As I've blogged before, the root of this problem is not anything that the soldiers themselves (many of whom are nineteen and twenty year olds who would be turned away as too young if they wanted to buy a beer) have done, but Don Rumsfeld's decision to ignore Eric Shinseki's advice about having needing four hundred thousand soldiers pre-invasion to prevent an insurgency (and then make a public example of Shinseki to prevent any other general from giving him similar advice). So now we have the insurgency that Shinseki sought to prevent from getting started. Under the circumstances, I believe that our soldiers have done everything we have asked of them remarkably well. But rightly or wrongly, the few soldiers involved in the events we've been hearing about will more and more become the face of Americans for the people who live there (and don't blame American media for that, they have their own media and other communications networks, and the religious ones-- which is most of them-- still consider us infidels, lest we forget that). The battle is not even for hearts and minds anymore, even many of the Iraqis who supported us now consider us to be part of the problem. The thing that would endear us the most to Iraqis anymore would be a withdrawal announcement.
Like a person who sticks their hands into a beehive and continues to get stung with or without the honey, we have to as a nation recognize that it is time to get out. What we could possibly accomplish at this point is hard to see. Iraq has a government up and running, but it is fighting anti-government insurgents, just like in dozens of other conflicts around the globe. The number of foreign terrorists in Iraq is small, and anymore, our presence their feeds their recruiting and training effort as much as it damages it. We are pouring more lives and money after the lives and money we have already poured in there, and even if we stayed there for a decade or more, I doubt if things would change very much.
And to the 99.99% of American servicemen and women who have served in Iraq without violating the Geneva convention, I would only add that we must recognize them as the heroes they are. No matter in what circumstances they come home from Iraq, we must remember that they did their best, and it was on our behalf.