Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Body count arithmetic

Only 500 to go

There are few less appealing tasks than trying to keep track of the body count in the Iraqi war. We are naturally fixated on our own fatalities, now above 2,500 American military personnel and rising steadily, but there are tens of thousands of non-fatal casualties and a much greater number of deaths and injuries among the Iraqis (combatants and otherwise).

The Bush administration has offered several different rationales for our invasion of Iraq, each new one being cobbled up after its immediate predecessor is discredited. First, of course, it was our great war on terror and Saddam's non-existent weapons of mass destruction. The flow of rationalizations has never stopped.

I thought, however, that the “flypaper” excuse had fallen out of favor, so it surprised me to see it resurrected in the letters column this morning. From The Bee's Letters to the Editor for June 21, 2006:

Bravery there for safety here

I write with deep regret and sympathy toward the troops and families who have sacrificed so much for this war in Iraq and Afghanistan. They will always hold a special place in my heart for their bravery. With that said I find the 2,500 troops dead during the war in Iraq to be a curious milestone statistically for many reasons.

First, reported in the U.S. uniform crime report over the same three years since the war began, there have been more than 48,000 people in the United States murdered. Also more than 4 million Americans have been victims of violent crimes. That comes to 1.8 people per 100 lives disrupted in the United States every year. These are murders and violent crimes where we live. This does not include how many people die in auto accidents or natural disasters.

Considering the fact that 3,000 people died on 9/11 because of a terrorist attack and zero in the United States since, I hold a selfish logical conception that our brave 2,500 troops gave their lives over there to allow us to live our lives in virtual safety in our homes over here.

Ken Steers, Cameron Park

Mr. Steers really should be more careful about throwing around the adjective “logical” to describe his notion that spilling American blood overseas is keeping us safe at home. He's saying we've swapped civilian casualties for a similar number of military casualties, but these military casualties do not represent any net benefit to our nation. These were mostly young men and women, torn away from their families and friends and sent on a fool's errand to Iraq. (In case that was too subtle, the fool's name is George Bush.) Are we to be pleased that these young people are dying conveniently out of sight? (That, too, is Bush administration policy.) How nice that we are also spared any of that messy collateral damage involving buildings and vehicles. Our people are now being blown up over there, not here. What a brilliant strategy.

At the current rate of American fatalities, we'll still be ahead of the game until we reach 3,000 dead soldiers (presumably in about 8 or 9 months at the current rate).

No attacks in the U.S.

There is a reason that the United States has suffered no homeland attacks since the singular events of 9/11. The main one is that al-Qaeda exhausted many of its resources in this one big hit. The most dedicated jihadists among their ranks died with their victims, making it a costly undertaking. (Good riddance to you, Atta and company.) Furthermore, the combination of terrorist fanaticism and Bush administration inattention (“Bin Laden determined to strike in the U.S.”) was a rare alignment of hostile opportunity and domestic incompetence. While the will for another massive attack is undoubtedly there, some tricks work only once. An entirely new approach is needed in the wake of hardened airliner cockpits and the on-board presence of federal air marshals.

Our biggest continuing problem is that George Bush is still in office, appointing hacks and cronies to lead important federal agencies like the Homeland Security Department, Federal Emergency Management Agency, and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency. (Even some of the most extreme right-wingers have found cause to complain about Bush's unqualified nominees.) Fortunately for us Americans, there are legions of dedicated men and women in the lower ranks who do their work behind the scenes to preserve our domestic tranquility while the clown show continues in the executive suite. Still, we are plagued by delays and inattention when it comes to progress in homeland security. One of the most significant examples of Bush administration malfeasance (or nonfeasance?) is the vital issue of port security. Years later and almost nothing has been done. At least our nail-clippers are still being confiscated at airport security checkpoints.

As for the idea that terrorists have been irresistibly drawn to the conflict in Iraq and are therefore too busy to plot against targets in North America, it should not be that difficult to see that most of the activities in Iraq are purely homegrown. Opportunists like the late al-Zarqawi have taken advantage of the situation, of course, but Iraq now has an abundance of citizens who are willing to fight against the occupation. In the latest news we hear about how our soldiers are being killed by the very Iraqis whom they trained. Our presence in Iraq is resulting in the deaths of our soldiers, but it's highly questionable that it's done anything for homeland security.

Flypaper is for household bugs, not foreign policy.

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