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  xWednesday, June 25, 2003

oops


A recent attack on a convoy believed at the time to possibly contain Saddam Hussein or his sons apparently didn't get the former Iraqi leader, according to SecDef Rumsfeld, although it did waste a one-year-old girl. Congratulations, guys.

The attack spilled over into neighboring Syria; that's known as a "border incident" in some circles and an "act of war" in others, although Syria doesn't seem inclined to press the issue.

The real tragedy is that this attack didn't have to happen this way. The US has complete miltary supremacy in Iraq; any attacks it makes, and any methods it uses, are because the US military chooses to do them. And that goes for the bombing that claimed civilian lives during the war. Yes, surrounding the caravan with light armored vehicles would have posed a risk for US troops. Yet it would have reduced the risk to innocent civilians -- who weren't even Iraqis, for crying out loud -- carried a much greater level of certainty, and left the proportion of force in the hands of our soldiers, who are, I believe, well-trained enough to make such a determination. (Example: If they'd surrendered, there would have been no need to blow the convoy to kingdom come.)

Jim Henley has an excellent post saying that not only are these attacks immoral, but that they're also counterproductive -- long-distance saturation attacks don't offer the necessary certainty that we indeed got our man.
I do know that we're doing too much of this. Blow it up first, then see if the corpses are the specific people you were aiming for.

...The New York Times says it was a Predator drone firing a Hellfire missile. Bomb first, swab later. It reduces the risk to American infantrymen at a known cost in lives of innocent foreigners. No surrounding the convoy and demanding surrender, no up close and personal. Hit them with a Hellfire or a helicopter autocannon. Act on "intelligence" that you lack the knowledge and experience to vet. Pick through the cinders to see how you did.

This is wrong. It is the callous policy of an evil government. This was not a wartime operation to capture a strategic crossroads. This was, supposedly, an effort to detain specific fugitives in a country where "major combat operations have ended." In that context it is not moral to kill strangers because one or two of them might be in your deck of cards. Too often now our government behaves as if what we can do and what we are justified in doing are the same thing. They are not.

Indeed, the pattern all too often has been that -- even if the target was in the area at the time -- he's long gone by the time we figure out that we miss. And it's funny that the Administration was sooooooo concerned about tipping "sources and methods" during the runup to its coveted war, but is perfectly willing to do so in near-miss attacks. Every time Saddam or bin Laden survive one of these, it not only enhances their reputation among forces unfriendly to the US, but also gives them valuable experience in eluding capture in the future.

Next time, send in the troops. I'm not at all happy about the rising death toll due to guerilla warfare in Iraq, but if US servicemen and -women are to die, let it be for a reason, like the capture of the thug who murdered 3,000 Americans and others in the 9/11 attacks.

Update: Jim Henley responds to my response, and offers a plausible alternative to the near misses:
This is true if any of these attacks are actual near-misses. The other theory, that they are publicity stunts timed to buck up homefront morale, becomes harder to dismiss as the pattern continues. Just last week two things happened: 1) the "Trailers of Mass Destruction" story went sour; 2) days later, it was announced that troops found Mukhbarat files that may pertain to Iraqi special weapons programs. How? From what period? Army spokesmen didn't say. But they were calling in people who could actually understand the documents to figure that stuff out.

Then of course we had the latest "we may have killed Saddam story a few days after that.

Of course, if the various publicised "we think we got hims" are not near misses - if they bear no geographical or temporal relation to the actual physical presence of Saddam or Osama or Fu Manchu, that too tells our antagonists something valuable - we have no idea where the hell they are.

A much more disturbing scenario, and unfortunately impossible to dismiss out of hand.





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