The video depicts U.S. soldiers taunting Iraqi boys from the back of their truck by acting as though they would give them bottled water if they ran fast enough to catch up.
Unfortunately, these soldiers chose to have "fun" by mocking these children and then made a point of publicizing it. How will an increased American military presence ever make a constructive difference in Iraq, or anywhere else, if even a few U.S. troops behave like this?
In the past, this kind of image damage would have been relatively contained to the local area. Today, by making and posting an internet video, these young men have exponentially amplified their regrettable deed. Obviously, winning hearts and minds cannot be achieved by a nation whose representatives do not model a minimum standard of decency, especially towards children.
No doubt these soldiers are trying to distract themselves from constantly thinking about being maimed or killed. They must also be feeling the effects of being caught in the middle of a major political conundrum. Besides, other troops are already paying the price for far worse deeds. Perhaps these "innocent" taunts could be overlooked as battle stress if they were not so dangerous.
Didn't they realize they were providing these young Iraqis with a personal negative experience of the "infidel American pigs" to share with their family and friends? Why should these Iraqi boys care about Americans who treat them like this, especially when someone offers them $100 to hide an explosive device on the roadway? Unfortunately, a few individuals can and do spoil the reputation of the majority of dedicated service personnel and of the U.S.
As U.S. Army Colonel H.R. McMaster told the troops under his command, "Every time you treat an Iraqi disrespectfully, you are working for the enemy." Americans can and need to help ensure members of our armed forces heed those words. In fact, it would behoove all Americans to behave as respectful guests in foreign countries, not only because it is the right thing to do, but because to do otherwise grows more enemies.
American military leaders certainly do not encourage or condone activities like this. As Lieutenant General Peter Chiarelli stated, "We have to understand that the way we treat Iraqis has a direct effect on the number of insurgents that we are fighting...." However, our military commanders cannot effectively drive this point home with our troops when popularly publicized incidents like these are not covered by the mainstream media. Granted, if they are ignored fewer Americans will see them but that won't stop our enemies from sharing them far and wide and effectively using them as recruiting tools.
By making a federal case out of what may seem a relatively minor incident, the negative effects of such acts can be minimized and several additional things accomplished. Focusing on a standard that sets the bar high for decency can amplify the indecency of the daily bloodshed. In addition, it can provide us with an opportunity to publicly align in disapproval of such acts with the overwhelming number of non-violent moderate Muslim and Arab groups who are in the best position to help quell the more violent factions. It can also undermine the power of others' criticisms by proactively drawing attention to them ourselves.
By vigorously denouncing these behaviors, our nation's spokespersons would be standing up for respected principles and preventing the rest of the world as well as members of our armed forces from interpreting our attitude as one of tacit approval. Congress, the press, business moguls, and clergy from all religions, for instance, could publicly decry such deeds to leave no doubt about the values we stand for among our troops, allies, and enemies alike.
While the U.S. is still a model for the world in many respects, our global stature and leadership role has waned. Calling attention to our own shortcomings takes courage and humility. Every demonstration of noble qualities such as these serves to temper anger towards the U.S. and helps to mend America's image in the minds of those who no longer view the U.S. as standing for noble ideals. This is the right thing to do even when nobody is watching.