Thursday, December 23, 2004

On Faith and Hope

On December 16 a suicide bomber blew up the mess hall at an American base in Mosul. 22 people were killed 13 US troops, five contractors, and four Iraqis. This was exactly one week ago. This morning the brother of one of the slain soldiers was interviewed on TV. The last question was: is there any anger in your family towards the military for not doing a better job of protecting the troops, specifically your brother. No, the brother said. I just can't imagine that if this were preventable that the government would allow it to happen.

I am continually amazed at the morale of our troops at home and abroad given the circumstances, and also the unending faith their families put in the government's altruism given its long list of war prosecuting failures. However it seems that the tide is slowly turning: for the first time the majority of Americans believe the war in Iraq was a mistake and people are calling for Rumsfeld to step down. I wish there had been this level of agitation about two months ago. But like the Titanic, this country is hard to turn.

I was in the military and served on a base that anyone with malicious intent could have infiltrated. This was not necessarily the government’s fault. After 9/11 they scrambled to put up chain-link fences around the bases, and staff enough security personnel to keep the right people in and the bad people out. As threat levels go up, more security people are needed to guard not only the gates but also buildings and equipment. Even when all these measures are in place it is very hard to keep a determined terrorist from unleashing death as every day in Iraq.
I am amazed and thankful that there have not been more events like the one in Mosul on more US bases. Still, given the ingenuity and determinism of terrorists, and the laundry list of failures by the administration in this war, I personally did not feel safe, and if I had relatives in a combat zone I would have a hard time believing that the government was really capable of keeping them safe.

I am not surprised at the fragile hope in our government most people cling to. Certainly the Bush administration banks on it and it pays off. They set the stage of uncertainty and people look to them for leadership—an amazing formula. If you had a loved one in a combat zone you would buy into it too. You would have to. How would you get through the day with the sinking belief that your son or daughter was precariously unsafe and the administration woefully inept when it came to keeping them safe? It is so much easier to manufacture hope in the form of a strict faith in the government than to deal with the truth.

The government’s altruism and ability to keep your kids safe is what is at question. Of course it is not in the military’s best interest to allow suicide bombers to penetrate bases and kill soldiers. The government would like to keep these people out, but does it know how? This is the same group of people who have sent our native sons into the breech with too few troops and inadequate armor. They search junk piles for scraps to arm their Humvees with. Does this government really have the wherewithal to keep our kids safe? Or have they tragically underestimated not only what is needed to turn the tide in Iraq but also the determination of those who want us out?

I’ve often wondered why so many in the military almost automatically supports President Bush. One reason is that he is their boss. I think they have a hard time getting it up for serving their country and also voting against their president. Also, many in the military simply believe what they are told—along these lines they attend church more than the average American. If the administration tells them they are doing all they can to keep them safe, they believe it.
But this is the same administration that rushed to war on faulty or cooked intelligence, mocked the UN and embarrassed the country to the rest of the world, cracked open a secular Muslim country which is now a cauldron of religious fanaticism and terrorism, took too few troops to war, under equipped and armed those troops, and does not allow those troops to come home when their service time is up. What gives you any idea that this administration knows when to go to war, how to fight a war, much less how to keep a determined terrorist out of its bases?
Robert McNamara was Secretary of Defense during the Vietnam War. Recently he listed 11 lessons he learned from that failed conflict. I can not see one that we are not breaking in Iraq. But my favorite is number four. “Our judgments of friend and foe alike reflected our profound ignorance of the history, culture, and politics of the people in the area, and the personalities and habits of their leaders.” We coalition’t win in Vietnam because we didn’t understand Vietnam, and we don’t understand Iraq. Our troops will never be safe under an administration that does not know when to use them, or how to use them properly.

The families of 22 people received terrible news this Christmas. Their sons will never walk across their threshold for another family Christmas. If any of those 22 slain were parents, they will never have another Christmas with their families. What are the answers here? Slowly, it is becoming painfully obvious that we should never have gone to Iraq at all. We should have let UN sanctions continue to keep Saddam anemic. But if we were to go, we should have gone with a better plan to win the war and keep the civilians and soldiers safe during the rebuilding.
None of this has happened, and the people who are forced to put all their trust in the president because he has sent their children into harm’s way have given him four more years to try to connect with the pitches this complex world is throwing at him. Perhaps it is better to accept the hard truth, than to hide from it so you can sleep at night.

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