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March 24, 2009

Six Years and Counting

Roy Meachum

On March 18, the gap between St. Patrick's and St. Joseph's days, New Orleans keeps on partying, defying the church calendar to celebrate three days off from Lent. Green beer flows into red wine.


March 19 in my family summons up familial pride and joy. Grandson Jack brought joy into our lives 17 years ago. And he's still doing it, only now much more so. I'm looking forward to joining my daughter (his mother) to watch him Friday in the musical "Beauty and the Beast."


Sadly his older cousin Christopher I will not see; he's alive but totally out of touch with the family. He went to Iraq and never really came back. In that conflict he drove a tank for elements of the Mississippi National Guard. The war started on March 19 six years ago.


As readers with good memories may recall, I fought against another American military adventure in the Middle East. I simply didn't buy the official reasons after United Nations inspectors certified that Dictator Saddam Hussein did not possess weapons of mass destruction. He had never received arms support from Iran. There was no proof that Saddam planned a war against Israel. And there was a promise to eliminate the dictator himself. The last excuse did it!


Claims and counter claims, with all U.S. forces not in the area, sources told Vice President Richard Cheney that Saddam Hussein, together with his two sons, would be eating a meal together, three-for one. What a bargain?


Mr. Cheney prevailed on the Department of Defense, with the acquiescence of the White House, to "git" the Hussein boys. They didn't. The administration swallowed the line of Ahmed Chalaby and the other Iraqis who had been pushed from power in Baghdad – by the dictator – and fled. They were the only ones who directly gained by the U.S. goof. The errant bombing took the war from speculation and made it real.


Mr. Chalaby came back at least once more; he "suggested" all the nation's army be banned and the soldiers sent home. The vice president bought the line that all the armed forces were controlled by Mr. Hussein's Ba'athist party and lost to the West, especially the U.S. Of course removing the single meaningful party would make it easier for Mr. Chalaby and the other exiles to form their own organizations and political parties.


In the days after the March 19 invasion, many an American was baffled by the absence of pretty maidens tossing roses in their direction. The reality is: almost none of the street people wanted another country to tell them what to do. They died anyway.


Estimates give the numbers of our dead at about 3,200; depending on sources, the range of Iraqi and Afghan dead are given as either 100,000 or 700,000. Some 31,000 U.S. forces were wounded and not returned to duty the same day. Using the same percentile ratio for dead natives, we come up with approximately 730,000 on the low and about five million on the higher estimate. Was anything gained worth these casualty lists? I think not.


We never settled the Sunni and Shiite inclination to do each other in. One thing we had going in was Kurdish support; they seem no more accepting of a unified government than they were six years ago. There are indications they are out the door when the Americans pull out.


Let me make clear: As long as any general values his stars, the president will never receive military agreement on pulling out short of total victory. No career officer wants to be the first to invoke the nightmare that's hung over Vietnam for 35 years. The 50,000 troops that have been claimed necessity for the years of transition are really sop for generals’ and admirals' egos.


At the end of six years all our vaunted financial and military prowess has produced virtually a stalemate. Causalities are lower in Iraq, I suggest, because those fiercely nationalistic people now believe we will not hang around for 40 years as the British did after World War I.


In Afghanistan, we and our allies perform before the English and Russian dead; they may feel the Americans deserve comeuppance. We could rationalize for years that the redcoats did not have our war-making capability. The Russians did. But they gave up in 1989. Only our national pride can foster the illusion that we will "tame" the Afghans.


While the horrible financial situation demands Barack Obama's full attention, I would hate to see him get in a position where his brave campaign words turn to ashes in his mouth. We have absolutely no business in that part of Asia. Pulling out is not cowardly, it is the best thing we can do for this country's standing in the world.


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