Politics & Policy

Wallowing in Haditha

Getting at the truth.

It’s time to focus on the American warrior. No, it’s not Memorial Day, which just passed. It’s not Veterans Day, which is months away. Nor is it simply an unprompted occasion to marvel at the bravery and professionalism of America’s fighting men and women.

Oh, no, it’s one of those very special moments for our military that arrives only upon credible allegations of an American war crime. It appears a handful of Marines murdered two dozen civilians in the Iraqi town of Haditha. Without question, this is big news. But it will be treated as the story of the century, or at least the biggest story since Abu Ghraib. Souls will be searched, hands wrung, and overly broad statements about our stained national honor made. Let the wallowing begin.

There is an obvious agenda here, aside from the instinctive glee much of the media seem to take in any failing of the U.S. military. Haditha is a chance to drive a stake into the heart of the Iraq war. As Newsweek puts it in its Haditha cover story, “The pressure is likely to grow on the Bush administration to bring home the troops, not just to save their lives, but to rescue their honor and decency.”

The old story line on Iraq was that the Bush administration didn’t send enough troops. The new story line is that it sent too many troops who don’t realize it’s wrong to shoot girls in the head. Unfortunately, Gen. Pete Chiarelli’s decision to give all troops in Iraq “values training” plays into the notion that U.S. personnel are blissfully unaware of the prohibition against murder. This training is redundant and insulting. What’s next? Forums reminding troops not to pillage and wantonly burn and destroy?

No military in the history of the planet has ever been as observant of the rules of warfare and as discriminate in its use of force as ours. But no large organization can be utterly free of weak or evil men. In their rush to find a broader meaning in such horrible events, liberals weirdly attenuate their own ability to condemn the perpetrators.

During Vietnam, John Kerry wanted to spread responsibility for the massacre at My Lai far and wide in his attempt to tar the entire war effort and American society. “I think clearly,” he told the Senate, “the responsibility for what happened there … lies in large part with this country, which allows a young child before he reaches the age of 14 to see 125,000 deaths on television.” Similarly with Abu Ghraib, liberals were sympathetic to abuse ringleader Charles Grainer’s excuse that he was just following orders, since that put the blame on President Bush and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld rather than on a few National Guardsmen out to have perverted kicks.

Already, the excuses are starting for Haditha. Antiwar Rep. John Murtha says of the Marines there that “strain has caused them to crack,” and argues that the only way to end this atrocity-causing strain is to get out of Iraq. Two related but contradictory excuses are that the Marines were unprepared to fight an insurgency, and that they were fatigued from being on their third tour. But you can’t be both unprepared for Iraq and there for the third time.

A combat environment presents stresses unimaginable to the civilian, and perhaps no combat is more difficult than fighting an urban insurgency. But tens of thousands of American troops have faced it without going door to door killing people in cold blood. Pointing to Haditha and saying that it means we have to leave Iraq would be a little like pointing to the New York City police officer who sodomized a suspect with a broomstick and saying that the NYC Police Department should exit New York because the stresses on its officers are too great.

If Marines in Haditha did what they are accused of, it’s a terrible crime unrepresentative of the American military. Period.

— Rich Lowry is author of Legacy: Paying the Price for the Clinton Years.

(c) 2006 King Features Syndicate

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