Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Exchange rate

From my favorite source of materiel to post on, the StarTribune, comes an article about a speech by Senator Norm Coleman on Monday at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey Institute. But I'm not going to take issue with the article. My issue is with Sen Coleman. Keep in mind, I voted for him.

The speech was unrelated to the war in Iraq, but during a question and answer session afterwords, Iraq nonetheless came up. The question, posed by Lawrence Jacobs, a locally well known political scientist and the director of the Humphrey Institute, was whether the United States can 'win' in Iraq.

Coleman said yes, then defined winning as the emergence of a stable Iraqi government with a workable Sunni-Shiite power-sharing arrangement; with Al Qaida being denied a foothold in the country; with neighbors like Saudi Arabia and Egypt recognizing that they have an interest in preventing extremists from winning the war; and with U.S. troops able to move out of the front lines of the sectarian bloodshed in Baghdad.

Good answer, in fact I might have given it myself. But the follow up question got interesting.

When Jacobs pressed Coleman on how long U.S. troops might remain in Iraq, Coleman replied that they would be there for years.
"The battle in Iraq is where the war on terrorism is being fought," he said. He said he disagrees with "those who believe that America will be safer if we just left."America will be less safe," Coleman said.
Yet he said troops will be out of Baghdad sometime in 2008, one way or the other.

Excuse me Senator? We are in the process of putting more troops into Baghdad right now, not pulling them out. And although 'sometime in 2008' could of course refer to December 31st 2008, I don't think that's the date he had in mind. More likely he's thinking prior to November 4th, 2008. That date may have some special significance.

Now, I've said before that Sen Coleman is in a tough spot, politically speaking. He generally supports the mission in Iraq, but he also represents a state that had 2600 Guardsmen extended in country. That was even tough for me, and I support the mission completely. And Senator Coleman is a Republican senator is a very pink state. Opinion polls show the war losing support at home, and he faces a well known (if rather goofy, in my opinion), Democrat next year, Al Franken. Say what you like about Mr Franken, but he has good name recognition, he's actually from Minnesota, and he has great fund raising potential. Be that as it may, Sen Coleman needs to do what he thinks is right, not what will get him re-elected. Hopefully those two things are one and the same.

But, back to the 'troops out of Baghdad by 2008'. What did he mean by it? The article goes on to explain, although it's not very clear how much is Coleman's words, other than the direct quotes, and how much is supposition by the reporter-

One way: The current "surge" strategy tamps down sectarian violence in Baghdad pretty soon, and the Iraqi government takes the legislative steps that Washington has been urging it to take, designed to further reconcile Sunnis and Shiites, so that Baghdad ceases to be the focus of internecine violence.
In that scenario, the U.S. command is able to make an orderly handoff to Iraqi forces for Baghdad's security.
The other way: President Bush's reinforcement plan doesn't work; the Iraqi government doesn't pass the bills; the reconciliation fails; and the United States runs out of patience.
In that scenario, Coleman said, the United States would "take a step back" from Baghdad without the orderly handoff; there will be a "Rwanda-style bloodletting" between Sunnis and Shiites; and U.S. troops would take up positions elsewhere in the country.

Now, unless the Senator has been misquoted, he has just advocated a US military withdrawal from Baghdad in the full knowledge that a civilian massacre would follow. Let's review for a moment his reference, 'Rwanda style bloodletting'. The 1994 genocide in Rwanda saw 800,000 to 1,000,000 dead, almost 10 percent of the population. Another 2 million fled the country. Assuming the same 10 percent death rate, Baghdad could expect to see 400,000 to 700,000 killed, and another 800,000 to 1,400,000 living in refugee camps. Even if we stay much more conservative, and look at 1 percent killed, we are talking about 40-70 thousand dead.

Congressional Democrats last year called for an end to the genocide in Darfur.
We went to war in Kosovo based on 100,000 missing and presumed dead Kosovars.
Dozens of Congressmen condemned the Armenian Genocide during WWII and a few years after.

Yet genocide in Baghdad seems not only likely if we retreat, but now seems politically acceptable. Not a genocide but a 'bloodletting'.

There have now been 3395 US military deaths in Iraq. That's a sobering number, and we can never take it lightly. But 4000 KIA over 4 years is not even comparable to the 40,000 civilian casualties that represent the low end of the spectrum if we withdraw from Baghdad, let alone all of Iraq. So here is my question, and it's not meant to be rhetorical.

What is the exchange rate for coffins?

Why is 40,000 dead Iraqi civilians acceptable, yet 4000 dead US troops is not? Why did we sit by while 1,000,000 were killed in Rwanda, but we invaded Kosovo to safeguard 100,000? What is the ratio, between US servicemembers killed and Iraqi civilians killed, that would make it morally wrong to leave Iraq? 1 to 100? 1 to 1000?

How can we pledge to ourselves 'never again' when remembering the Holocaust, yet actually be calmly discussing pulling out of Iraq, when we know full well the slaughter that will follow?

1 comment:

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