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Why John McCain's idea won't work

December 30, 2006|by Robert Gary

Sen. John McCain's new position sounds an awful lot like Bush and Cheney's old position on Iraq. McCain says that we need to send more troops over to Iraq to really pacify the country, and the reason is that if we don't fight the militant Islamists over there in Iraq we are going to have to fight them on the streets of U.S. cities.

This argument has a lot of flaws. The people who are shooting at us and bombing our soldiers in Iraq are largely ragtag recruits who get a few dollars from Muktada al Sadr, or some other America-hater, and just go out with a rifle, an improvised explosive device, or a car bomb to see if they can bag an American or two.

These are low-level pot-shot artists and if we weren't wandering around in the back streets of Baghdad they would have no chance of killing any Americans. Things being as they are, however, half the economy of Iraq these days is composed of hiring punks, thugs and amateur hitmen to go out and kill Americans. The people who are killing us in Iraq would have no chance of killing us if we left Iraq and came back home. So McCain's premise that if we leave Iraq they will follow us home is ridiculous and false.

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The people who have the reach and the covert military strength to hit Americans in New York, Boston and Washington, D.C., don't set up their operations in a place as chaotic and randomly violent as Iraq for a very simple reason - they don't want to get killed.

They realize that no serious person can hope to do any serious thing in a madhouse of homicide and lunacy. Those who could really hurt us have their training camps in Asia and Africa and do their planning in Europe, where it's quiet and safe and secure. They are not in Iraq, nor martyrs in training there.

So wasting our defense resources on being an extremely costly sitting duck in Iraq is making us less secure. It's not tying up our real enemies who could hurt us here. It's tying us up so we can't focus our energy and resources on making our homeland more secure.

Leaving Iraq does not mean we have to let the place become a training ground for terrorists. It's true that Iraq would devolve into a full scale civil war the day after we left - a war of everyman against everyman.

This would have two results. It would make Iraq a very poor place to set up training camps. It would be a less-than-ideal location to try to organize anything other than one's survival. No serious international terror organization would go near the place.

Second, Iraq would be a sort of free-fire zone in which we could decapitate and incapacitate any terror effort that rose to the level of a trans-oceanic threat. We could do this from the air - not necessarily with manned aircraft.

Iraq would become an Air Force and Navy problem, not an Army problem. It would be a problem for the National Security Agency and the National Reconnaissance Office and the Defense Mapping Agency, not a problem for the Marines or the Special Forces.

It goes back to a situation such as the one just before G.W. Bush's "shock and awe" day when we had the bad people in Iraq pretty well bottled up, contained and incapacitated.

What we are doing now - and would do by sending more troops - would give us almost no advantage. Actually we have a disadvantage because the enemy can shoot first from secret locations. We are being ambushed every day. The enemy always has the element of surprise. The enemy has an almost inexhaustible supply of high-explosive powder in Iraq. The weapons they use against us cost a few dollars and are mostly home- made.

Now let's get to the ethical aspects of the McCain position. It's true that we have an all-volunteer force. It's also true that economic duress plays some role in causing young men and women to join that force. Is it really more ethical to send a few hundred thousand more to bear completely unreasonable risks of being killed at the hands of Islamists or thugs instead of accepting some degree of risk for our entire national community - which we already must do anyway?

When military people are going to be used in a nonmilitary way (such as police officers) and when they are drawn mainly from the ranks of the economically disadvantaged to do ultrahazardous jobs, is it ethical for some citizens of a country to use their fellow citizens in such a way? I think not.

If we are going to do the McCain thing and send a lot more men and women to Iraq, let's have a draft. Let's have a lottery draft and have it apply to all citizens from age 18 to age 60. Let's make sure that all the economic segments of our population are correctly and proportionately represented in the lottery so they have a correct and proportionate chance of being selected for service in Iraq.

So it will be old and young, rich and poor, men and women, all treated alike. How many of you like McCain's idea now? One? Two? I don't see very many hands raised here - what's wrong? Did the idea suddenly become not so good? Why was it good before now?

Robert Gary is a retired attorney and a resident of Hagerstown.

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