What We’ve Done Right

Friday, January 30, 2004

As of early January, 216 American troops have been killed in Iraq by hostile fire since President Bush declared an end to major combat last May. As someone who spent 35 years wearing a police uniform, I know full well the anguish felt by the families and comrades of those who die trying to protect us.

Yet it seems to me that the overall impression conveyed by the media—of our forces surrounded by chaos and slowly being annihilated by fanatical guerrillas—is misleading and dangerous. Although each casualty our forces suffer is properly marked as tragic, we should keep in mind that 16,204 Americans were murdered in 2002 in the United States, 264 in the nation’s capital alone. And during the eight months following the end of major combat in Iraq, when 216 soldiers were being killed in attacks, almost 10,695 people were murdered in this country.

Why do so many commentators project a sense of failure when a war zone in a formerly genocidal dictatorship suffers a relatively small number of casualties, especially in comparison to the millions tortured and murdered by Saddam Hussein? Can war critics possibly be so naive as to believe that a tribal society that has never known freedom and justice would peacefully blossom within a few months into a full-fledged democracy? Did the critics really expect American military deaths to be fewer than the 300 murders committed in Chicago, or the 299 in New York, or the 250 in Los Angeles during the same period, or to be at a lower rate than the 124 killings among Washington, D.C.’s, population of 500,000 than for Iraq’s 25 million?

Many who opposed the war would now abandon the triumph won by dedicated young men and women of our military who fought so skillfully under hellish conditions. If the United States withdraws prematurely from Iraq, Baathist terrorists will return to power to repeat the bloodbath that followed the premature withdrawal of U.S. forces after Desert Storm. Iraq will again shelter terrorists. Countries in the area that have begun curtailing violent revolutionaries from using their land to stage terrorism attacks against the United States will regress, and we will all be in more danger.

The new diligence of Iraq’s neighbors against terrorism is not because that these countries have become fond of the United States. The presence of nearby American military units under the leadership of a commander in chief who has demonstrated that our soldiers will decisively destroy terrorist bases wherever they are located has sent a strong and necessary message.

Americans should not complacently believe that even the most efficient domestic law enforcement can prevent every act of suicidal terrorism. But for the more than two and a quarter years since September 11, 2001, the United States has been free from a successful foreign terrorist attack. Our intelligence and police agencies may have prevented some planned attacks, but it was mostly the speedy and conclusive military victories and intelligence gathering in Afghanistan and Iraq that disrupted the most dangerous state-supported international terrorism networks.

No self-respecting terrorist would have failed to take advantage of the anthrax scare, the Washington, D.C., sniper shootings, the eight-state electrical blackout, or even Hurricane Isabel. A few well-placed bombs or other strikes during any of these events would have escalated panic and created serious economic damage. Fortunately, those who would destroy us were impotent, thanks largely to our military.

Sadly, snipers are active and bombs are exploding in Baghdad. But it is a measure of U.S. success that the attacks are not happening in New York, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Los Angeles, or elsewhere in our homeland. The government must be doing something right. Let’s hope that it doesn’t let the all-too-pervasive negative media coverage lead it to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Those heroes who sacrificed so much to defend us deserve better.