[Mb-civic] EDITORIAL A Thousand Troops LATimes

Michael Butler michael at michaelbutler.com
Wed Sep 8 15:31:38 PDT 2004



A Thousand Troops

 September 8, 2004

 Six U.S. soldiers were killed, two Italian aid workers were kidnapped and
warplanes bombed a Sunni enclave in Fallouja, a city mostly off-limits to
coalition troops. It was just another day in the war Tuesday, except for the
numbers. By this morning, Iraq time, the Associated Press count of
casualties stated that 1,000 U.S. troops had been killed in Iraq, aside from
more than 100 other coalition soldiers and thousands of Iraqi noncombatants.
And many thousands more have been wounded.

 It is an obvious point at which to ask: To what end are U.S. personnel
continuing to die? What is it that commanders should tell their troops as
they head into lethal streets?

 Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Tuesday that violence was
increasing because insurgents viewed peaceful balloting, set for January,
and a democratic constitution as enemies. That conclusion is debatable,
perhaps even a smoke screen. What's not in doubt is insurgents' view of U.S.
troops as the enemy. It's a belief that unites adherents of the Sunni brand
of Islam, who have forced coalition troops out of much or all of the cities
of Fallouja, Ramadi and Samarra, and the Shiite Muslims who fought the
Americans in the sacred city of Najaf.

 U.S. withdrawals have been not the result of military defeat but of
political calculation, with interim Iraqi governments fearing the anger that
all-out assaults would generate. That's a valid calculation, but it raises
the question of mission. Rumsfeld says soldiers and Marines conduct
thousands of patrols a day. They arrest insurgents, he says, and also help
repair water and sewer lines and build schools. But as other writers have
noted, imagine the Republican reaction to the withdrawals and pullbacks if a
Democrat in the White House had ordered them.

 The U.S. will not win a war of attrition. Such wars do not favor occupying
armies. Enclaves off-limits to soldiers give insurgents staging areas; it
was just outside Fallouja that seven Marines in a military convoy died along
with three Iraqi national guard members Monday, the deadliest attack on U.S.
forces since late April. An attempt to put Iraqi soldiers into the city to
battle the Taliban-like Sunnis who run Fallouja failed.

 Congress approved $18.4 billion last November to rebuild Iraq, but because
of the danger in working for the U.S., little of it has been spent. Now the
White House may spend some to bolster security. Another proposal is to
create more jobs for Iraqis. If more had been spent on jobs in the
beginning, Iraq might be a different place now.

 Invading nations have an obligation to try to repair the damage they cause,
but armies also need a clearly defined mission. How much are U.S. troops
supposed to rebuild? Are they still meant to install democracy? Or will the
U.S. settle for any kind of political stability, even if repressive clerics
rule the country? Such an outcome was unthinkable as the first troops rolled
into Baghdad, yet it's now seriously discussed.

 More Americans will die. Soldiers and Marines deserve to know, as they head
out to face snipers and roadside bombs, what they're meant to accomplish for
that price. 

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 Copyright 2004 Los Angeles Times

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