The media is full of detailed, individual accounts of our servicemen who have died in Iraq as U.S. casualties crossed the 2000 mark this week. I'm sure that the goal is to help bring home the tradgedy of the Iraq War by humanizing the soldiers who have died- by telling their stories in ways that make their deaths more than just statistics to the American people.
I guess that's a good thing. I mean, of course these deaths are tragic. I guess I'm just annoyed at the fact that somehow the number 2000 is supposed to carry some kind of magic significance. If a war is a mistake (as I resolutely believe this one to be), then even one death during its execution is tragic.
Part of what has made this war such an insidious affair is the fact that, for the most part, American casualties have not come in large lump sums or in the wake of calamitous events. Instead, casualties have come in a slow, steady trickle- the kind of small numbers which may seem almost insignificant on a daily basis (after all, the military suffers a small number of casualties back in the U.S. every year during peacetime training or simply by virtue of the dangerous jobs that our servicemen are required to perform). So maybe there haven't been that many times when large numbers of casualties accrued in one day, but that hasn't stopped the Iraq War from slowly bleeding us to death.
And the slow bleed hasn't simply been a matter of combat deaths. Tremendous quantities of American resources and funding have been tied up in Iraq for years, and are likely to be tied up in Iraq for many years to come.
This morning on my drive in I heard Rush Limbaugh touting the new Iraqi constitution as a justification for our 2000 deaths and as proof that democracy is taking hold in the region. For once, I hope Rush is right, butI just don't see it. A constitution is worth nothing more than the paper it's written on if the people who created it don't have the authority, power, and skill to effectively implement the system of government which it lays out. That's hard to do when insurgents keep killing off your leaders and threatening your nation with civil unrest. It's also hard to do when your nation is deeply divided and polarized (mostly by competing religious and tribal factions).
So the U.S. military stays in place to keep the peace. The problem is, if Israel and/or Afghanistan are any indication, the insurgency could last decades if doesn't simply become a permanent part of the culture for whichever group of people end up feeling dispossessed by the new government.
And that could mean a very long term occupation for the U.S. in a part of the world where Americans are already seen as meddlers who want to control everything.
Anyway, all of this is just a long way of coming around to my assertion that the U.S. needs a viable exit strategy for Iraq. We can't just keep claiming that concrete plans for extraction amount to intelligence information for the insurgents. If nothing else, the new Iraqi government needs to have a timeline which includes deadlines for establishing various aspects of its own autonomy. They need to know that eventually they must stand on their own. The American presence as an occupying force in Iraq is bad for the morale of the U.S. (as well as having more practical negative consequences in terms of resource allocation) and it's bad foreign policy in a region where we are widely distrusted already.
We need benchmarks and a timetable to measure them against. And if we do our job effectively, it shouldn't matter all that much that the insurgents know what we're up to, because we're supposed to be preparing the new Iraqi government to deal with these problems on its own. We owe our troops some kind of realistic timetable, because the slow but steady trickle of deaths in Iraq is nothing new. It's what happens to occupying forces in the Middle East (or anywhere that occupying forces face a determined insurgency). If you don't believe me, ask the Russians.