"We're winning, and we will win, unless we leave before the job is done." These were the words of our president on Oct. 25, near the end of a month where the death toll of American soldiers regressed to a higher level from two years ago.
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Do the Iraqis think we're winning? In a study released a few weeks ago by the British medical journal Lancet, there may be 392,000 to more than 900,000 civilians who have been killed by violence in Iraq since America invaded in 2003. Can there be a winner in a war that results in the loss of so many innocent lives?
The range of these numbers, and the magnitude with which they disagree with other estimates, such as the Iraq body count, should not be a news story to be debated by politicians and the journalists who write about them. The death toll of innocent people is a tragedy that we as a nation of responsible citizens should be concerned with, especially when in all estimates it's recognized many were caused by the coalition forces dominated by our military.
Before the invasion, President Bush found a rallying point around the death of innocent Iraqis under the regime of Saddam Hussein. But a different attitude of our nation's leaders was clearly echoed earlier in Afghanistan when Gen. Tommy Franks said, "We don't do body counts." This is a political, not a compassionate ideology, because denying the importance of the civilian death toll allows the government to deflect criticism for the tragic results of its decisions. There is no honor in fostering a culture of ignorance, nor courage in accepting it.
That we've tolerated such an irresponsible approach to the effects our war has brought to the people of Iraq is sadly contradictory to the rage we felt on Sept. 11, 2001. The world was told how many Americans died, and the vast majority of humanity cared as they should. How do they look upon us now when indifference has settled upon a country supposedly dedicated to truth and justice?
Did Osama bin Laden keep a scorecard that showed his side winning on 9/11 and call on his supporters to keep focused on the mission he defined? Such a notion is disgusting because it's so obvious there can be no good, nor winners, in a conflict that claims the lives of innocent people.
So what are we winning and what job is the president referring to now? If winning is defined equally by the enemy losing, then who is the enemy in Iraq? Bush suggests from the safe confines in the world's most powerful mansion that "defeating the terrorists and extremists is the challenge of our time." This is certainly different than the mission he declared accomplished in May 2003.
If there is any truth to the Lancet estimates, it's not hard to imagine the Iraqi people having difficulty determining who the terrorists and extremists are. Perhaps Iraqis don't believe America should try to protect ourselves from our enemy by fighting them on their soil. Maybe the extreme views they worry about is the obsession with the narrow definition of winning as a military victory, because that's the one common view between the terrorist-extremists and the president's goals.
If we believe the callous disregard for human life possesses an allegiance to the enemy, then our failure to demand our government honestly acknowledge the dead in Iraq is to allow those values to fester in our collective soul. By not caring enough to know the pain experienced by peoples in another nation, we will never again be able to seek the compassion from the world for ours.
There will be no winners in Iraq, because to imply there can be is to suggest the sacrifice of the innocent was justified. There are only politicians seeking victory for the sake of their place in history. The history that will judge President Bush won't be told by Americans but by the larger world. How ours will be told depends on how long we remain silent in regard to the loss of civilian lives in Iraq.
Rich Moniak is a Juneau resident.
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