Escalation breeds peace stagnation
Four American civilian contractors died in Fallujah, Iraq, last week, but it was the way they died that drew horrified and angry responses from Americans and the U.S. government. Murdered and mutilated, the bodies bounced through the dust as Iraqis triumphantly dragged them through the city and hanged the corpses. In a scene brutally reminiscent of Somalia more than a decade ago, the barbaric mistreatment and slaying of those contractors bodes ill for the restoration of peace in the troubled state.
Some Americans, including Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, wish to insert more troops in Iraq. While this gut reaction is somewhat understandable, increasing the number of troops in Iraq will hinder efforts toward stability and will increase anti-American sentiment among the country's non-violent citizens. Casualty rates haven't decreased significantly in the past six months, and in the last three days 200 Iraqis and more than 30 coalition forces have been killed. The recent upsurge in violence is an ominous indication that Iraq is not ready to take over its own governance on June 30, the deadline set for the transfer of power.
Even if the transfer is completed on time, to whom will it be transferred? Will an influential cleric or government official take over? How will the Iraqi people react to their new leader? How much power will he (in all likelihood, it will be a male) command? All these questions cannot be answered right now, but it doesn't appear that President Bush has any sort of a coherent plan to address them - or if he does, he hasn't let anyone know about it yet. If the country does not have a strong and competent leader, it will continue to lie in shambles.
Instead of creating a stable, democratic Iraq, American civilians are being killed and American soldiers are firing bombs at mosques. Retaliating to the brutal killings by bombing a mosque center is simply stupid. First of all, Iraqi citizens who did not take an active part in anti-American actions and sentiment now have a compelling reason to hate U.S. troops. Second, if the perpetrators were really fringe extremists, they most likely would not congregate in a mosque complex in the center of the city. U.S. troops are certainly working hard every day, but the so-called minority of extremists who constantly ambush and battle them has only seemed to grow larger. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) said recently to reporters, with good reason, that the situation in Iraq is "one of the greatest failures of diplomacy and failures of judgment that I have seen in all the time that I've been in public life." The longer the conflict is prolonged, the more troops will be killed. Sending in more troops will only heighten tensions and make things worse - for Iraqis, for U.S. troops and for the world image of this country.
The pre-emptive war in Iraq has not turned out to be a rosy conquest, but rather a troubling occupation that is on the brink of spiraling out of control. Of course Kerry will say bad things about Bush and his decisions, but consider this quote about the possibility of increasing troops that comes from the mouth of Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W. Va.), reported by Steve Holland for Reuters wire service: "Surely I am not the only one who hears echoes of Vietnam in this development." He is not the only one. If Bush and co. do not take more responsibility for their actions, they will eventually have another situation similar to that of Vietnam. Many people predicted this would happen before we invaded Iraq, and so far it has not come to pass. However, the situation has become worse, and Vietnam allusions are arising once again.
Much must be done before the proposed June 30 deadline for the Iraqi power transfer. Can enough be done to stabilize the area before the deadline? If the last 12 months are any indication of the next three, don't count on it. Bush can throw around all the hot-air rhetoric about fighting terrorism he wants, but it won't change the fact that he has made the United States, Iraq and the world more dangerous than they were before he took office. Here's hoping there won't be any more brutal massacres of civilians - Iraqi or American - and that U.S. troops will be exiting Iraq in higher numbers than they arrive.