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April 6, 2004, 8:00 P.M.

[Ed. note: This post was written around April 6, but not posted until April 12]

In thinking about the mounting casualty count from post-invasion violence in Iraq, it is important to remember that in addition to Americans, thousands of Iraqis, and scores of British, Spanish and other victims of continuing violence deserve to be counted. Only yesterday reports of a massive attack on Spanish and Salvadoran troops by supporters of an anti-U.S. Shiite Muslim cleric resulted in at least 20 deaths, including one U.S. and one Salvadoran soldier. At the same time, protesters also clashed with British and Italian forces in what seems to be a major offensive aimed at destabilizing Iraq and undermining U.S. efforts to turn over power to its post-invasion quisling state.

I can’t stop thinking about and comparing this to the last great quagmire. The consequences of leaving Iraq in the hands of an unpopular cobbed-together government will have far more far-reaching implications than the same strategy did in Viet Nam.

There is a strong, violent and apparently popular anti-U.S. movement in Iraq, and while it continues to thrive, there is no hope for a successful turnover of power to a U.S. backed regime.

Spain seems committed to withdrawing its troops from Iraq unless command for peacekeeping activities is turned over to the U.N. The U.S. will not give up command of its occupying army, but now wants U.N. assistance. Why would the U.N. step in at this time?

The comparison between the current occupation of Iraq and the Viet Nam war certainly points up some similarities. The major difference is that Viet Nam began with at least a semblance of international support and American involvement began with support for an existing government. Iraq began with an invasion, based on lies and falsehood, and there is no plan for ending the conflict. Iraq is a politically, religiously, and geographically diverse country. The U.S. government claims that its goal is to create a “free” and a “democratic” Iraq. The problem is that the majority of Iraqis (if there is such a group) are Shiite Muslims and they want a Muslim theocracy, and they certainly don’t want a government resembling a U.S. style representative democracy. The growing violence by fundamentalist Shiites directed at U.S. and “coalition” forces is intended to get the U.S. out of Iraq.

These groups are becoming increasingly effective, and the U.S. response is not looking very democratic. Following a deadly attack on a Spanish garrison near Najaf, the U.S. issued an “arrest warrant” for Muqtada al-Sadr, the anti-American fundamentalist Shiite cleric said to be responsible for the Najaf raid and other violence. Following the shutdown of a radical newspaper, the U.S. is not looking like “democracy” in the true sense of the word. The U.S. has resisted one-person-one-vote elections, because the result would clearly create a Shiite theocracy, would alienate and marginalize the Kurds and the Sunni minority, and would no doubt result in civil war.

An interesting note on CNN this morning: Jack Cafferty read a series of e-mails chastising Senator Ted Kennedy for his remarks about Iraq in a speech at the Brookings Institute the day before. Kennedy called Iraq Bush’s Viet Nam and thus drew the ire of conservatives. All of the e-mails that Cafferty read were critical of Kennedy. Bill Hemmer turned to Cafferty and asked if all of the e-mails were anti-Kennedy, because there were apparently over a thousand. Cafferty answered “no.” Hemmer then challenged Cafferty on why only the negative e-mails were presented. As the show progressed, some of the more Kennedy-favorable comments began to come out. It should be the first instinct of journalists and commentators to be balanced. It should not take a public admonishment. Kudos to Hemmer.

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.

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