Sunday, October 08, 2006

Please adjust your metrics accordingly

More than 20,000 U.S. troops have been wounded in combat in the Iraq war, and about half have returned to duty. While much media reporting has focused on the more than 2,700 killed, military experts say the number of wounded is a more accurate gauge of the fierceness of fighting because advances in armor and medical care today allow many service members to survive who would have perished in past wars. The ratio of wounded to killed among U.S. forces in Iraq is about 8 to 1, compared with 3 to 1 in Vietnam.

"These days, wounded are a much better measure of the intensity of the operations than killed," said Anthony H. Cordesman, a military expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
This news comes bundled with this news:

Last month, 776 U.S. troops were wounded in action in Iraq, the highest number since the military assault to retake the insurgent-held city of Fallujah in November 2004, according to Defense Department data. It was the fourth-highest monthly total since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003.
And why is the fighting so much worse than before? We're still staving off the acceptance that we've lost control of Iraq. We have a euphemism or a metaphor for everything in this occupation. The chosen metaphor for chaos is: "Civil war."

The sharp increase in American wounded -- with nearly 300 more in the first week of October -- is a grim measure of the degree to which the U.S. military has been thrust into the lead of the effort to stave off full-scale civil war in Iraq, military officials and experts say.
"Civil war" in this case means it's no longer our fault that we can't control Iraq; but it also means we set the spark, that we started the conflagration. So it is both our sin, and our excuse; our guilt, and our exculpation. It's a curious sort of cover-up for many reasons, not least of which is a majority of Americans believe Iraq is in civil war already. And what seems to be the problem? Well, it can, again, be attributed to the brute calculus of war:

"The Baghdad security plan and the general spiral of operations is driving us to be more active than we have been in recent months," said Michael E. O'Hanlon, a military analyst at the Brookings Institution, a Washington-based think tank. "We have more people on patrols and out of base, so we get more people hurt and killed in firefights," he said, explaining that U.S. military offensives -- more than other factors such as shifting enemy tactics -- tend to drive the number of American casualties.
But if you want to hang it on one person, there's always Donald Rumsfeld:

In March, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said that Iraqi forces -- not U.S. troops -- would deal with a civil war in Iraq "to the extent one were to occur." Today's operations in Baghdad demonstrate that that goal was not realistic, experts say.

"In a sense, the Baghdad security plan is a complete repudiation of the earlier Rumsfeld doctrine where he said the Iraqis would prevent the civil war," said O'Hanlon.
That's too easy, however. The people responsible are the American people. The people who paid for this invastion, supported it, continued to support it, and now fear it and the consequences it will inevitably bring, has brought, is bringing. The people who agreed that the root cause of America's problems was in insufficient show of force:

"The Baghdad security plan will only be a temporary fix," said a Pentagon official who has served in Iraq. "You need to address the root causes," said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly.
Force has it limits? Huh. Whodathunk it?

"We made decisions to take an indirect approach, which is great if you want low U.S. casualty rates," said the Pentagon official. However, he said: "Passing responsibility to Iraqis does not equal defeating terrorists and neutralizing the insurgency. Period."
Which leaves the question unanswered: just what are we trying to do in Iraq? Stand down as they stand up? Defeat terrorism? Redeem Vietnam? Raise our casualty rates meaninglessly? Because this is what war is, and it isn't a matter of having the "stomach" for it, or not. It's a matter of killing people, but of killing more of their than they do of yours. Except that brute calculus only works for awhile, only works when one side is exhausted before the other is, only works when neither side is fighting for its hearth and home and family.

Which is what we should have learned in Vietnam. Now what?

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