Thursday, March 09, 2006

A War That Is "Going Poorly"

I am going to analyze the current situation in Iraq from purely a numbers perspective in the context of history, of course. We are going to dispense with all the extraneous issues that cloud people's thought processes. This includes the reasons for going to war in Iraq. Regardless of where you stand on this issue, it is in the past and we have to deal with the here and now. So the battle of over it being a right vs. wrong decision is for another place and time. The reconstruction of Iraq is another issue and we will save this for another day and time, indeed. These issues are interesting and worthy of debate because all is not well in Iraq. For now, I want to talk about things "going poorly" strictly from a numbers perspective.

The media uses the phrase "going poorly" all the time in statements like this: "The American people have now become less supportive of the war and President Bush because things are going poorly in Iraq." So what does this really mean in a combat sense versus a mainstream media sense?

"Going poorly" simply means, in the medias lexicon, that people are dying and that we are still there. Fair enough right? I mean ideally we would not be there, nobody would be dying and everybody would all join hands and sing Kumbaya. But a war going poorly indicates, to me, it is not the fact that we are at war, but that the war is going awry and more people are dying than should be expected.

We have been at war for 3 years. After the first few weeks, this war became an urban, guerilla war. Anybody will tell you that this is the hardest to fight, hardest to defend against and hardest to win. It is even harder to maintain troop morale in this type of war. We have lost 2,306 brave, honorable and selfless Americans and every loss is one we feel. I don't know how many terrorists we kill everyday and have killed, for some reason that number is not flashed on the TV screen every night. I do know that is exponentially higher than our own casualties, based on my readings and reports from individuals I know who have been in the mix.

So here we are in the worst kind of war, if your boots are on the ground. Maybe that is why they say things are "going poorly". We are averaging approximately 2.3 soldiers/marines/airmen/sailors deaths daily. That's "going poorly" for sure if you are one of those casualties or a family member but let's stay focused on the war, not the tragedies that are the story of every war. That 2.3 death rate strikes me as an extremely low number considering the type of war we are fighting and the number of troops in theatre. In 2003 total casualties (dead and wounded) were 2,409, in 2004 the count was 7,989, in 2005 it was 5,944 and in 2006 we are at 311. If things continue to go as "poorly" as they have so far this year, we will have a total casualty count of roughly 1,659 for the year 2006. That would be an all time low. The overall low casualty count is indicative of a highly skilled fighting force doing things right and making progress.

Now for a little perspective, between 1950 and 1953 we had a total casualty count of 169,365 with over 54,000 deaths in Korea. Yeah, it went "poorly" too, but somehow we managed to suck it up and accomplish the mission. Guess what else, we are still there!

What of morale? As I mentioned, it is very hard to sustain morale in war, especially a counter-insurgency guerilla war. It is even harder when a large portion of your country is trying their best to undermine your efforts and turn you into the bad guys. Just ask the Viet Nam vets. Re-enlistment rates are at an all time high. What is this all about? Is it all the money Uncle Sam offering? I am sure that sweetens the deal but the bottom line is, even with the war "going poorly", the folks in combat want to stay. That is the biggest indicator of troop morale and troop morale is a good barometer of how things are going on the ground.

What about Iraqi civilian casualties? Those numbers are flashed on screen almost as much as our own dead, but tend to be very inconsistent, so I really don't know. The last I read was around 35,000 over the 3 year period. Things are definitely "going poorly" on that end too. Many of those were the direct result of US military action, especially early in the war with the numerous air strikes by US planes. Now most of the civilian deaths are the results of enemy terrorists, the same ones our troops are fighting. But surely there would have been fewer civilian deaths if we were not there, right?

Of 250 reported mass grave sites from Saddam's regime, 40 have been examined so far. Conservative estimates are that over 200,000 civilians were executed, gassed or bombed by Saddam. Sounds like things have been "going poorly" for civilians for the past 20 years in Iraq.

Now back to the 1950's, there were between 3.5 and 4 million civilian casualties resulting from the Korean War. It was definitely "going poorly", none-the-less we stuck it out and so did the South Koreans.

So are things "going poorly" in Iraq? Yes, things go poorly in all wars and Iraq is not exception. I would argue that things have gone much more poorly in past wars in regard to US combat casualties, troop morale and civilian casualties, yet we managed to have the intestinal fortitude as a nation to push ahead an accomplish the mission no matter how "poorly" things were going. The one time we did not was Viet Nam. That was simply because of the lack of popular support for a war that was "going poorly".

What really determines success is desire for success, no matter how "poorly" things are going. I argue that things could be going, and historically have gone, much more poorly and we have managed to prevail with the support of the American citizenry. The one time we lacked the support of the citizenry we failed to accomplish the mission. All wars go poorly, it is the nature of the beast and no reason to quit.
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