The recent trial of several U.S. Marines for the killings of Iraqis in Haditha focuses attention on an especially serious cost of the Iraq War – its impact on our young soldiers. For many years, the direct and indirect effects of this war will take its toll on them and our country. It is only one part of this war’s immeasurable fallout.
Golda Meir, former prime minister of Israel, used to say, “We can forgive the Arabs for what they do to us, but we can never forgive them for what they make us do to them.” The statement, of course, was political, designed to focus attention on the Israeli moral high ground.
Still, her words made a point then, and still do today. One cost of this war has been to make violence more palatable for many of our former soldiers. This is undeniable, regardless of one’s overall view of the war. One wonders if this cost was taken fully into account, among many others, during the forced march into this morass.
I refer not only to physical and psychological wounds, but also wounds of people’s faith in their country – its leadership, its institutions, its mission in the world. Thousands of young people volunteered to risk death and injury, to serve their beloved country. It may be a long while before they do it again, once the dust clears.
I found a recent interview with the central defendant absolutely chilling – not because of any murderous gleam in this marine’s eye. On the contrary, what I found so unnerving was how normal this young man came across, if anything more solid and thoughtful than I was expecting.
He seemed sorry about the people that had died that day, though not overly apologetic for his role – like a good soldier doing his unpleasant duty as he had been trained to do it, to the extent he actually had been prepared. Irrational situations produce irrational outcomes, even by rational people acting in understandable ways.
Was this his first combat assignment? “Yes sir”. Was this his first actual exposure to death and injury? After a slight hesitation, “Yes, it was.” Here was a young man, without any previous relevant experience put in an impossible situation, defending himself and his men. What happened in Haditha, and Abu Grahib, and also Mai Lai, makes me sad and angry. Putting the major blame on this young man makes me even angrier. He is a victim along with the Iraqis.
What was the urgency that forced us to put unprepared fighters into the field? There was no imminent threat of attack to this country, certainly not by the people we were attacking. Yet we rushed in – with untrained young troops, inadequate equipment, an almost total vacuum of information about what we would find on the ground, almost non-existent planning, insufficient systems for keeping track of millions of dollars, and even weapons, both of which whose destinations are now uncertain.
This administration was going to have its Iraq War, come what may. The 9/11 attack made it easier to sell, even if a few facts had to be altered or created to make the pitch. The real reasons are still not entirely clear to me. The level of miscalculation and error seems too enormous to be taken at face value. Yet no other explanation seems plausible. The main visible beneficiaries from this fiasco have been Iran and Halliburton. Do you smell a plot?
What to do? History seems to be catching up to the long-time position of Senator Biden, that the only possibility of not leaving Iraq in even worse shambles is to encourage the development of a looser confederation among the three rival groups – the pre-colonial strategy. Ethnic cleansing may have a comeback after all.
However and whenever we end our military role, and end it we will, there will be one big mess left behind, over here as well as over there. It will be important to remember, and for the Democrats to help everyone remember, that the mess will be a result of the thoughtless and arrogant actions that got us into this quagmire, not of our strategy for getting out.
One way or another, we still need to do what we needed to do in the first place and never did – set some clear and realistic objectives from this point. And clearly they must involve extracting ourselves from this mess ARAP (as responsibly as possible) and ASAP.
© 2007 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.