Losses outweigh gains

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 10, 2003

All Americans today are remembering where they were and what they were doing when terrorists murdered more than 3,000 people, destroyed New York’s World Trade Towers, crashed four jetliners, and damaged the Pentagon.

That horrific attack will remain etched in the minds of every American, just as the attack on Pearl Harbor was and just as the murders of President John F. Kennedy and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. were. But because of the stunning televised images of these attacks, 9/11/01 is even more vivid in our minds than those other horrific tragedies: The Pentagon burning, the twin towers falling, citizens fleeing through the smoke and dust, firefighters valiantly rushing into the cataclysm to save people, the tear-streaked faces of stalwart firefighters and police officers….

It’s only been two years. It seems like yesterday; it seems like forever.

That act of war has been answered. So, where are we now?

The Taliban, the ruling junta of Afghanistan that harbored and supported the al-Qaida terrorists, has been ousted from power by our military might. Many of al-Qaida’s senior members have been captured or killed. There have been no new terrorist strikes within the United States. As President Bush put in his speech Sunday night, &uot; We have exposed terrorist front groups, seized terrorist accounts, taken new measures to protect our homeland, and uncovered sleeper cells inside the United States… Since America put out the fires of September the 11th, and mourned our dead, and went to war, history has taken a different turn. We have carried the fight to the enemy. We are rolling back the terrorist threat to civilization, not on the fringes of its influence, but at the heart of its power.&uot;

The War on Terror proceeds. We’ve had some successes, but we’re not where we need to be. Yes, President Bush did tell us this war would be lengthy, on many fronts and a different kind of war, so we can’t judge success by where we are just two years later, but the turn the War on Terror took this year is likely to be a Pyrrhic victory – costing us more than we gained.

The victory in Iraq was easily predictable. Our military is better trained, better equipped, and more professional than any other force in the world. They easily rolled over what little Iraqi resistance there was and achieved a swift, decisive victory with few casualties and with as few civilian casualties as was humanly possible.

Unfortunately, now we are perceived by Iraqis, the Islamic world, and most of the rest of the world as occupiers that attacked another nation without provocation, without reason, and in violation of international law, such as it is.

More of our brave men and women have killed or wounded since President Bush declared victory than were killed in the war. The old Iraqi regime is responsible for some of these casualties, but terrorists from foreign nations are responsible for some and religious zealots are likely responsible for others.

President Bush has insisted all along that Iraq was a hotbed of terrorism that directly threatened the United States. He still clings to that as justification for his war. He said Sunday, &uot;And we acted in Iraq, where the former regime sponsored terror, possessed and used weapons of mass destruction, and for 12 years defied the clear demands of the United Nations Security Council. Our coalition enforced these international demands in one of the swiftest and most humane military campaigns in history.&uot;

The problem with that statement, of course, is that before we conquered Iraq, there were not terrorists there and there was no threat to the United States. The Iraqi military had been decimated in the 1991 war, weapons inspectors had apparently done their work even better than they believed, and the &uot;no fly zones&uot; effectively crippled Saddam’s ability to wage war against other nations.

There were no terrorists in Iraq because al-Qaida hated Saddam almost as much as they hated the United States and because Saddam didn’t want foreign agitators in his country. Anyone who might mount resistance to his thirst for absolute dominion over Iraq was brutally exterminated.

Now there are terrorists in Iraq. Not because they were there before, but because now they see Iraq as the one place in the world where they can strike directly at the United States. And as resentment against the American occupation grows – and it grows daily – more and more Iraqis will become terrorists bent on harming US interests or people.

In his speech, President Bush said, &uot;The Middle East will either become a place of progress and peace, or it will be an exporter of violence and terror that takes more lives in America and in other free nations.&uot;

His actions are making that statement true. His willingness to now consider letting in the United Nations is a good first step toward short-circuiting the potential mess the Bush regime has fostered in Iraq, but he must be willing to have a truly international coalition of peacekeepers in place if Iraq stands any chance of becoming a friend to the US and the Western World.

Insistence that the US have complete control is unreasonable. Bush denigrated the UN as irrelevant just six months ago, but he now expects the nation-states of the UN to put troops in harm’s way and help us pay the billions needed to fix the damage caused by the US invasion. That’s just not reasonable.

So, this year the war on Iraq will cost somewhere on the order of $100 billion and the lives and health of no one knows how many US soldiers.

Meanwhile, Saddam and Osama bin Laden roam free, the terrorist threat in Iraq grows daily, and the forces needed to stem the terrorist threat in Afghanistan are in Iraq – and the soldiers, many of them reservists, must now spend at least a year in Iraq because US forces have been spread too thin. The US budget deficit is setting unprecedented records as the spending increases. North Korea still poses a real and immediate nuclear threat to the United States. Iraq is now developing nuclear weapons – something Iraq couldn’t even seriously consider.

What a mess. What a sad legacy for all those who died or lost loved ones two years ago today. What a mess!