April 5, 2004, 7:40 P.M.
Timing Is Everything: Almost a year ago the President declared that the conquest (he called it liberation) of Iraq was complete. In the eleven months since that declaratory, 616 American service personnel have been killed and 3457 Americans wounded. Because of the use of sophisticated body armor and the rapid access to advanced medical technology, many injuries that would have been life threatening in earlier wars are no longer fatal. The result is a dramatic increase in the number of seriously wounded soldiers included in the casualty count. This was the subject of an excellent Chris Matthews report that aired recently on MSNBC and included a visit to a rehabilitation hospital for wounded US military personnel.
Despite the fact that there are large numbers of U.S. ground, air and naval forces actively engaged in operations within Iraq, the media seems to have bought into the Bush administration’s line that the war is over and the demilitarization has begun. This flies in the face of the reality of tens of thousands of troops being rotated into Iraq to replace those who have been deployed for a year or more. To these new troops, Iraq is no less dangerous than it was when we invaded in March of 2003, and in many ways it is worse. The attacks against U.S. troops now are the result of a well organized, well funded and apparently widespread attempt by numerous factions to attack and kill Americans. This does not only apply to soldiers, as the recent killings of contractors in Fallujah demonstrate.
My observation that the media is buying the Bush line about the war being over relates to recent reports, most notably the CNN documentary that aired this past weekend, which sought to examine the effects of war on the soldiers who fight it. These discussions are badly timed, and they detract from the current and ongoing hardships faced by Regular, Reserve and National Guard troops currently serving in and around Iraq and Afghanistan. Obviously, this type of research and analysis is premature when there are still soldiers on the ground fighting. The people who are in Iraq are no different and face no less hardship than the original contingent currently being rotated out, and they deserve the same support and encouragement. That is not to say that there are not questions to be asked and stories are told however timing is everything, and at this point, the timing of these stories is just bad.
This is especially true in light of an increasingly obvious and effective strategy on the part of terrorist organizations to politically isolate the U.S. The train bombing in Spain had the effect of helping to topple an already unpopular pro-U.S. Spanish government and the timing could not have been better. It is a matter of question whether or not the train bombing was the reason for the fall of the previous Spanish government, because there wasn’t much popular support for the invasion or the government there anyway, but the bombing clearly brings home the relationship between supporting the U.S. and the fear of terrorist attacks. It also brings home just how powerful a well timed message can be in influencing public opinion. It will be interesting to see if the plots uncovered after the election are evidence that schemes were put in place that now can’t be stopped, or if there are additional motives, unrelated to the previous government’s support of the U.S., at work here. If the bombing plots are truly attempts to isolate the U.S., more frequent and aggressive attacks should be expected here and abroad and the momentum only looks to be building.
Meanwhile, the frequency, success and intensity of attacks against U.S. forces and contractors in Iraq increase. There doesn’t seem to be any political solution on the ground in Iraq and the American military is mired in a war that it is ill-equipped, in the sense that there is no clearly visible or definable enemy, to fight. While this is happening, CNN’s Aaron Brown has the temerity to ask “When is it appropriate for U.S. soldiers to shoot wounded Iraqis?” It is not the actions of our soldiers, put in untenable, life and death situations on a daily basis that should be questioned. It is the actions of the government that put them there that requires scrutiny.