A Price Too High
By Bob 0aHerbert
The New York Times
Thursday 21 August 2003
How long is it going to take for us to recognize that the war we 0aso foolishly started in Iraq is a fiasco tragic, deeply dehumanizing and 0aultimately unwinnable? How much time and how much money and how many wasted 0alives is it going to take?
At the United Nations yesterday, grieving diplomats spoke 0abitterly, but not for attribution, about the U.S.-led invasion and occupation. 0aThey said it has not only resulted in the violent deaths of close and highly 0arespected colleagues, but has also galvanized the most radical elements of 0aIslam.
"This is a dream for the jihad," said one high-ranking U.N. 0aofficial. "The resistance will only grow. The American occupation is now the 0afocal point, drawing people from all over Islam into an eye-to-eye confrontation 0awith the hated Americans.
"It is very propitious for the terrorists," he said. "The U.S. is 0anow on the soil of an Arab country, a Muslim country, where the terrorists have 0aall the advantages. They are fighting in a terrain which they know and the U.S. 0adoes not know, with cultural images the U.S. does not understand, and with a 0alanguage the American soldiers do not speak. The troops can't even read the 0astreet signs."
The American people still do not have a clear understanding of 0awhy we are in Iraq. And the troops don't have a clear understanding of their 0amission. We're fighting a guerrilla war, which the bright lights at the Pentagon 0anever saw coming, with conventional forces.
Under these circumstances, in which the enemy might be anybody, 0aanywhere, tragedies like the killing of Mazen Dana are all but inevitable. Mr. 0aDana was the veteran Reuters cameraman who was blown away by jittery U.S. troops 0aon Sunday. The troops apparently thought his video camera was a rocket-propelled 0agrenade launcher.
The mind plays tricks on you when you're in great danger. A 0acouple of weeks ago, in an apparent case of mistaken identity, U.S. soldiers 0akilled two members of the Iraqi police. And a number of innocent Iraqi 0acivilians, including children, have been killed by American troops.
The carnage from riots, ambushes, firefights, suicide bombings, 0aacts of sabotage, friendly fire incidents and other deadly encounters is 0agrowing. And so is the hostility toward U.S. troops and Americans in 0ageneral.
We are paying a terribly high price for what?
One of the many reasons Vietnam spiraled out of control was the 0afact that America's top political leaders never clearly defined the mission 0athere, and were never straight with the public about what they were doing. 0aDomestic political considerations led Kennedy, then Johnson, then Nixon to 0aconceal the truth about a policy that was bankrupt from the beginning. They even 0aconcealed how much the war was costing.
Now we're lodged in Iraq, in the midst of the most volatile 0aregion of the world, and the illusion of a quick victory followed by grateful 0aIraqis' welcoming us with open arms has vanished. Instead of democracy 0ablossoming in the desert, we have the reality of continuing bloodshed and 0aheightened terror the payoff of a policy spun from fantasies and lies.
Senator John McCain and others are saying the answer is more 0atroops, an escalation. If you want more American blood shed, that's the way to 0ago. We sent troops to Vietnam by the hundreds of thousands. There were never 0aenough.
Beefing up the American occupation is not the answer to the 0aproblem. The American occupation is the problem. The occupation is perceived by 0aordinary Iraqis as a confrontation and a humiliation, and by terrorists and 0aother bad actors as an opportunity to be gleefully exploited.
The U.S. cannot bully its way to victory in Iraq. It needs 0aallies, and it needs a plan. As quickly as possible, we should turn the country 0aover to a genuine international coalition, headed by the U.N. and supported in 0agood faith by the U.S.
The idea would be to mount a massive international effort to 0asecure Iraq, develop a legitimate sovereign government and work cooperatively 0awith the Iraqi people to rebuild the nation.
If this does not happen, disaster will loom because the United 0aStates cannot secure and rebuild Iraq on its own.
A U.N. aide told me: "The United States is the No. 1 enemy of the 0aMuslim world, and right now it's sitting on the terrorists' doorstep. It needs 0ahelp. It needs friends."
Jump to TO Features for Friday 22 August 2003