Once Again, the “Mistakes” of War Are Costing Us Our Credibility
Only a week after I published an essay entitled "Civilian Deaths and the Just Use of Force," we have read about the deaths of at least 15 Afghan children in U.S. raids. And, as I predicted, furious Afghan leaders are warning that such “mistakes” (our euphemism) will undermine the U.S.-backed government. In Iraq, meanwhile, a Shia cleric was crushed to death by a U.S. Army tank while sitting in his car. Iraqis are understandably incensed.
All the while the president’s triumphalism continues. Speaking to troops late last month, Bush said, “Working with a fine coalition, our military went to Afghanistan, destroyed the training camps of al Qaeda and put the Taliban out of business forever.” Let’s see here, the Taliban has been “put…out of business forever”? The facts, of course, prove otherwise. The Taliban in Afghanistan is on the rise and their attacks are steadily increasing.
At the beginning of the war we were informed that our government was not “keeping score,” that is, it would not release figures on Iraqi military or civilian casualties. All of a sudden things have changed with the “deaths” of 54 guerillas in Samarra whose bodies were never recovered (the eight bodies at the local hospital were all civilians). Writes Derrick Jackson of the Boston Globe: “American scorecards are about as trustworthy as Vegas odds. Even the military admits the sudden interest in counting the bodies of Iraqi soldiers is a political ploy. It comes after the deadliest month for American soldiers since we commenced the bombing of Iraq. Eighty-one American soldiers perished—more than the 65 in March or the 73 in April during the actual invasion.”
Paul Woodward recently observed that the U.S. military, which is never quick to accept its mistakes, may express regrets but rarely assumes responsibility. And on Sunday, Jim Lobe, a correspondent for Inter Press Service in Washington, DC, reported this about the Samarra incident:
More worrisome perhaps for the occupation’s prospects, however, was what the townspeople told reporters about both the battle and their general assessment of the occupiers. “Were the French happy under the Nazis?” the U.S.-appointed police chief in Samarra asked the Financial Times after the battle. “It is the same thing here.”
Another policeman found the military’s contentions about guerrilla uniforms incomprehensible. “These are just lies,” he told Knight-Ridder. “Everyone who was wearing a kafiyeh was to them a Fedayeen. This is ridiculous.”
Others interviewed by reporters had much harsher words and vowed revenge for however many people were killed and injured in the fighting.
Could it be that our troops are not adequately trained to fight the kind of war we are currently engaged in? This is the opinion of an anonymous combat leader who participated in the attack on Samarra and who described the tactics employed by U.S. troops for the Soldiers for the Truth website: “We drive around in convoys, blast the [expletive] out of the area, break down doors and search buildings; but the guerillas continue to attacks (sic) us. It does not take a (Gen.) George Patton to see we are using the wrong tactics against these people.”
And now it seems we have decided to adopt tough new Israeli-like tactics against the guerillas in Iraq, arresting relatives of insurgents and destroying houses used to plan attacks against American troops. And things are only likely to heat up before they get any better. The top U.S. commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, warned of a surge in attacks against coalition forces before a July 1 deadline to transfer authority to Iraqis. He cautioned that strikes might not end even if troops kill or capture Saddam Hussein. “We expect to see an increase in violence as we move forward toward sovereignty at the end of June,” Sanchez said.
Inevitably, innocent civilians will pay the price for their “sovereignty.” Ludwig von Mises, author of Omnipotent Government, once noted: “Modern war is not a war of royal armies. It is a war of the peoples, a total war. It is a war of states which do not leave to their subjects any private sphere; they consider the whole population a part of the armed forces. Whoever does not fight must work for the support and equipment of the army. Army and people are one and the same. The citizens passionately participate in the war. For it is their state, their God, who fights.”
In April, CNN aired footage of a Marine in Baghdad shouting to a crowd of angry Iraqis. His words were, “We’re here for your [expletive] freedom.” Of course, they can’t understand what he’s saying. Maybe, just maybe, it has something to do with those “mistakes.”
December 10, 2003
David Alan Black is the editor of www.daveblackonline.com.