Monday, November 07, 2005

The High Cost Of Winning The War

Italy's Repubblica satellite news station is set to air stories tomorrow, November 8th, of further questionable acts by the U.S. military in Iraq.

Via "paper tigress" at DailyKos:

In soldier slang they call it Willy Pete. The technical name is white phosphorus. In theory its purpose is to illumine enemy positions in the dark. In practice, it was used as a chemical weapon in the rebel stronghold of Fallujah.


A US veteran of the Iraq war told RAI New correspondent Sigfrido Ranucci this: "I received the order 'use caution' because we had used white phosphorus on Fallujah. In military slang it is called 'Willy Pete'. Phosphorus burns the human body on contact--it even melts it right down to the bone."

Now, I am not terribly familiar with Repubblica, nor am I inclined to believe any story that relies heavily on anonymous sources. I can certainly think of several plausible explanations for why civilians in Fallujah sustained phosphorus burns during the U.S. assault on the city that do not involve the intentional use of phosphorus as a chemical weapon. Sadly, however, that is not the point.

The point, unfortunately, is that after Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, the U.S. just doesn't have the goodwill left to argue for the benefit of the doubt. Certainly stories of this nature are being reported around the world, particularly in countries with vested interests against those of the United States. However, Italy normally isn't one of them, which lends a bit more credence to the claims.

The tragedy of the various abuse scandals, compounded by a facetious initial cause for war, is that those in authority at the Department of Defense and in the Bush Administration have accepted no responsibility for these egregious breaches in military protocol. Such accountability is the hallmark of leadership, something on which Bush continues to poll well. Yet, too many examples persist of front line soldiers being the sole responsibility for lapses in judgment in the field. This creates an atmosphere of distrust, from which stories like the one above gain credence in the international media.

If Italian cable news services are anything like their American counterparts, then a heavy degree of skepticism is certainly called for concerning the phosphorus story. However, that doesn't mean it didn't happen. Such atrocities are why war should always be a last resort in foreign policy, something that nearly every president prior to George W. Bush recognized. There is only so much controlled violence that can be wrought in a warzone; the essence of war is chaotic destruction. Thus, American entry into any war should only be a most deliberate undertaking, done with as much gravitas and precaution as possible. That certainly has not been the case with the Bush Administration's illegal invasion of Iraq and our men and women in uniform are shouldering the responsibility that the civilian leadership eschews.

Clearly, supporting the troops is little more than a campaign tagline for the Bush Administration and certainly doesn't reflect the reality on the ground.

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