A longer look at Chinook

Posted: Nov 05, 2003 12:00 AM
Let's say the obvious by acknowledging that it is obvious. If my son had been killed on that Chinook helicopter, the loss would have destroyed my life, and his mother's. "Destroyed" is the word one uses when enduring calamitous losses. Though one does endure such losses. Consider Jackie Kennedy. She survived it; so will the mothers, fathers and spouses of the victims of the Fallujah missile.

What is one shade less than absolutely predictable is whether our foreign policy will survive that anti-helicopter missile. What happened during the Tet offensive in Vietnam in 1968 was categorically different from what happened in Fallujah on Nov. 2. The Tet offensive in fact failed. And it was a major, concerted offensive aimed at, no less, 100 targets. The North Vietnamese didn't prevail over the South Vietnamese, but they can be said to have prevailed over U.S. policy. After Tet, the way was paved for the retreat of 1972 and the surrender of 1975.

Fallujah has been called by one observer "the battlefield of all Iraq." It is perhaps the central stronghold of Saddamization. The papers depict youth there throwing rocks at U.S. military tanks and trucks, and shouting out their joy at the news of Americans dead. One's instinct is to curse the moral cretins and to remove from them further occasions of pleasure by shipping U.S. military out of their sights. They can't hit U.S. helicopters flying over ... what? The Appalachians? Iowa?

But the idea is that U.S. aircraft should be safe wherever they fly, and we are in Iraq because of its infestation. You cannot fly safely there, the reason being a Stalinist dictatorship of which Fallujah was a flower before the youth captured on camera throwing stones were even conceived. It is not fair, and certainly not wise, to be angry at youth who are simply doing the spastic thing: firing at U.S. soldiers because they are "foreign," and safer to throw stones at than it ever was to have thrown stones at their indigenous oppressors. These Baathist emissaries taught them how to think and to react, and deadened their sensibilities to the meaning for them of U.S. liberation. To get perspective, recall pictures of Muscovites weeping on hearing that Stalin was dead.

The problem in Iraq, raised by the Chinook missile, derives from 500,000 Iraqis trained by Saddam to fire missiles. Not by any means all of them are proficient at it, and the great majority would not want to fire them against Americans. But the diehards are numerous enough to threaten targets, whether American or native. Baghdad is unsafe for Iraqi patriots who are willing to undertake civic responsibilities. And low-flying aircraft are unsafe -- the Chinooks are now flying only at night. The Baghdad airport, though rebuilt, is closed to most commercial traffic. The Sunni triangle is a hotbed. Tranquillity will come only after major developments, among them the training of a new Iraqi army and a consolidation of a plausible Iraqi government that will engender loyalty from Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds.

That clearly takes time. However dramatic the loss of the helicopter, and the loss every day of American lives, there is no alternative but to look at the figures in perspective. Our casualties since the beginning of the war have reached 400. Last year, 16,000 Americans were murdered within the boundaries of the United States. That same year, 43,000 Americans were killed in automobile accidents.

If all surveillance of the Iraqi theater were to end today, and begin again when Iraq is a settled state, governed by its own people making their way toward freedom, it is inconceivable that the losses sustained during the hiatus would appear to Americans as disproportionate to the ends achieved. What's needed is to nurture that moral perspective that the idiot children of Fallujah were deprived of.