Wednesday, November 16, 2005

In defense of cutting and running....

The right claims that 9/11 took place in large part because terrorists have been emboldened by our 'running' from Vietnam, Beirut, and Somalia

Well, let's suppose that is what happened. And, let's suppose that even knowing what we now know, that cutting and running, and not 'staying the course', turns out to have been the right choice.


Let's look at the numbers. We lost just shy of 3,000 lives on 9/11. Add to that the other casualties that we've suffered from terrorism over the years: the Cole attack, the Beirut bombings, the Khobar Tower bombings in Saudi Arabia and so on. For the sake of discussion, let's add 1,000 lives to the total, for a total of about 4,000 American lives lost to terrorism because we 'haven't stayed the course'.

Now let's look at what might have happened had 'stayed the course'. In Vietnam, we were taking casualties at the rate of about 5,000 per year (58,000 dead over a roughly 15 year period).... so 'staying the course' in Vietnam for just one year longer than we did would have cost us more lives than have been lost to terrorism in the 30 years since we pulled out of Vietnam.

In Beirut, we lost 241 Marines within a year of their landing in Beirut. Since Lebanon was a bloody mess for years to come, 'staying the course' could have meant keeping the Marines in Beirut for two, three, four years... and, with one such bombing every year, that's another 1,000 lives we saved by not 'staying the course'.

In Somalia, 18 Rangers lost their lives in just one battle. As with Lebanon, Somalia remained a problem for years; many more battles would have been in the cards had we 'stayed the course'. So let's project out our losses over a couple of years and we end up with hundreds of soldiers losing their lives so we could 'stay the course'.

And finally, let's look at Iraq. We've lost over 2,000 American lives there, most of which have been lost after the initial invasion (after Bush's "Mission Accomplished").... roughly 1,000 a year. Since the right is ridiculing the Senate's call for a transition to take place in 2006, I'll assume Bush figures on keeping us there until at least 2007, if not until the end of his term. At the rate our troops are taking casualties, that's another 2,000-4,000 military men and women who will die in order to 'stay the course'.

So what would happen if we left Iraq with the job undone? How many attacks would it take before the terrorists were able to kill as many Americans as they would kill by our staying in Iraq? Maybe if we weren't in Iraq (and thus so relatively easy to kill), the terrorists would make more of an effort to attack the United States proper. But let's remember, 9/11 was a fluke. It ain't happening again (for one reason, plane passengers and crew will no longer sit passively during a hijack situation). The terrorists haven't been able to attack us since. And even if they did, it would take a awful lot of attacks before we ended up losing more lives than we would have saved by 'cutting and running'.

There might be some reasons for sticking around in Iraq.... but the numbers don't support the claim that we're doing so to protect American lives.