“We must be willing to trade a few soldier’s lives in Iraq for our nation’s security.”

You see this argument being made all the time by various right wing denizens and war supporters, but I thought that with the end of the election season, and the overwhelming victory for Democrats, we’d be seeing them tone down their testosterone filled rhetoric just a little bit. Well, I thought wrong, apparently. They are still challenging the cojones of Democrats on the issue of the war. Here’s a sample from a conservative hack political writer, business consultant and former Illinois Director of Insurance, Philip R. O’Connor, Ph.D. attacking Barbara Boxer for calling for our withdrawal from Iraq:

Following the Democratic mid-term triumph, California U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer told National Public Radio that the recent average daily loss of three military people in Iraq necessitated disengagement as soon as possible. Sen. Boxer has posed a fundamental question: What price in American lives are we prepared to pay for our national security policies?

There is a cold-blooded calculus at the heart of decisions that must be taken by the leaders we choose. No one likes to talk about it but it’s the elephant in the room. Let’s stipulate that every life is precious and every one of us cringes when we switch on the TV and hear casualty reports. Let’s also stipulate, however, that we expect our elected leaders to make life and death decisions mindful of the interests of the broader society and of generations to come. […]

As things stand, the conflict with Islamic radicalism involves the lowest average daily military fatality rate of any long run national security era. It may worsen, it may improve. If Congress had been asked on September 12, 2001, to endorse a national defense posture against Islamic radicalism that traded up to 2 military fatalities per day over the subsequent five years in return for no additional homeland attacks, the deposing of terror friendly regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq, the ending of Libya’s nuclear program, what would they have done? Would Congress accept that bargain today? […]

If we choose to resist Islamic radicalism and to help others, especially in the Islamic world, to resist and defeat it, and if we believe that freedom and democracy at home and abroad will certainly demand military force – then what daily military fatality rate are we willing to accept as a matter of policy?

So much flawed analysis, so little time.


First, however, let me establish Dr. O’Connor’s bona fides as a national security expert. I couldn’t find any references to his previous military experience, but he has written a book about World War II (A Loyola Rome Student’s Guide to World War II in Rome and Italy). Indeed, in 2004 he favorably compared the Iraq war to the US Army’s campaign in Italy in 1943-45:

The Allied Italian Campaign was, as Iraq is now, a separately managed conflict in a global war. In 1944, the enemy was a coalition seeking to impose frightful and dehumanizing regimes — paradise for them and hell on earth for everyone else. Those looking for an apt analogy for the Iraq War can look to Italy 1943-45. […]

Historians still debate the Italian Campaign and whether it was “worth it” and will surely debate Iraq for decades to come. So each of us must take our own lessons from the Italian Campaign for understanding Iraq. Mine is that news stories and presidential elections come and go and that no matter the mistakes, the disasters and even crimes along the way, there is no reasonable alternative to perseverance and an unyielding commitment to freedom’s mission. We live in dangerous times and can no more go back to our pre-9/11 somnolence, than Americans in the first week of June 1944 could will themselves back to pre-Pearl Harbor innocence.

Strange, but I don’t remember any local insurgency in Italy which fought a guerilla war against US Troops after we invaded and occupied the Italian peninsula. Perhaps that was left out of the history books I read. And I’m not sure if we can equate the Wehrmacht and other Nazi forces in Italy with their tanks, planes and large conscript armies with the “terrorists” in or out of Iraq who are allegedly* our enemies in the so-called War on Terror. But I make no claim to expertise regarding military history or national security. Still, Dr. O’Connor’s analogy between our present military occupation of Iraq, and the Italian campaign of 1943-45 seems a bit of a major stretch if you ask me.

But I digress.

What’s wrong with the good Doctor’s argument that Democrats calling for the withdrawal of our troops are simply not tough minded enough to fight the terrorists “over there” or over here? Isn’t it true that the casualty rate is so much less than in other conflicts Americans have fought?

Yes, it’s true that our casualties have been less than other conflicts in the aggregate. But that begs the question (which O’Connor elides), is the Iraq war really advancing the national security interests of the United States, or is it making us less secure? O’Connor makes the implicit assumption that Iraq is merely one campaign of Bush’s greater “War on Terror.” In essence, he’s arguing that, though it may not appear to be helping us, Iraq is tying down “enemy forces” that could other wise be deployed against us elsewhere. In effect, his argument claims that, like in Italy in WWII, the war in Iraq may seem a futile waste of American lives and treasure, but by occupying Iraq we are limiting the terrorists from striking us elsewhere. Thus, a few deaths are a small price to pay for our freedom and security.

The principal problem with this argument (among many problems) is that it just isn’t true:

A stark assessment of terrorism trends by American intelligence agencies has found that the American invasion and occupation of Iraq has helped spawn a new generation of Islamic radicalism and that the overall terrorist threat has grown since the Sept. 11 attacks.

The classified National Intelligence Estimate attributes a more direct role to the Iraq war in fueling radicalism than that presented either in recent White House documents or in a report released Wednesday by the House Intelligence Committee, according to several officials in Washington involved in preparing the assessment or who have read the final document.

The intelligence estimate, completed in April, is the first formal appraisal of global terrorism by United States intelligence agencies since the Iraq war began, and represents a consensus view of the 16 disparate spy services inside government. Titled “Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States,’’ it asserts that Islamic radicalism, rather than being in retreat, has metastasized and spread across the globe.

An opening section of the report, “Indicators of the Spread of the Global Jihadist Movement,” cites the Iraq war as a reason for the diffusion of jihad ideology.

The report “says that the Iraq war has made the overall terrorism problem worse,” said one American intelligence official.

Put aside from all the other fallacies of Dr. O’Coonor’s argument for a moment and just focus on this statement: “[T]he Iraq war has made the overall terrorism problem worse …” We’re not talking about tying down the German Army in Italy so it has less forces to attack us elsewhere. Indeed, today’s terrorists simply don’t equal the threat posed by Nazi Germany, nor do they employ the same tactics strategies or armed forces. To think that invading a country with no connection to the 9/11 attacks in order to “fight the terrorists over there” was a sound strategy, one would have to believe that all the peoples of the Middle East are our enemies and are equally responsible for the tragedy of 9/11. In short, it’s an absurdity.

In the end, O’Connor’s argument that Democrats and other opponents of the Iraq war (or the “War in Terror” in general) are weak because we can’t stand to see a few dead or wounded American soldiers is nothing but an unwarranted and intemperate slur. What we who oppose this war want is for our country to abandon a flawed and counterproductive policy which has weakened our armed forces even as it has strengthened our enemies. We want to end a war which has killed , maimed or made homeless hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians in addition to the thousands of casualties suffered by US soldiers. We want our country to abandon the unlawful policy of engaging in aggressive wars when our national security is not at stake, and when we are not in imminent danger of attack.

So Philip R. O’Connor, Ph. D., your admonition to us to suck it up and watch more people die in the name of “national security” when there is no evidence to suggest that this war is in our national interest (and plenty of evidence that it is not) is quite simply obscene.

End Note

* I say “allegedly” here, because I think it’s safe to say that in Iraq most of those who currently oppose our presence there were not aligned with Al Qaeda at the time of the 9/11 attacks, and were not engaged in terrorist attacks against anyone.

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