Lessons of Fallujah

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(Host) Commentator Barrie Dunsmore reflects on the American reaction to the terrible images in the news from Iraq this week.

(Dunsmore) The sight of the burned bodies of two American security men suspended from a bridge across the Euphrates River while a mob of Iraqis cheered – was both chilling and heart- breaking. Chilling because it suggests a level of hatred toward this country that points to ever more death and destruction in Iraq. Heart-breaking because most Americans, regardless of their position on the war, genuinely hope that life for the Iraqi people will eventually get better.

But after such an event, it is difficult to be positive about the future of Iraq. It is also hard to escape the feeling that if they really hate America so much, what is the point in being there.

That’s the way many people in this country felt after seeing the bodies of American troops being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu a decade ago. Such public revulsion was a factor in President Clinton’s decision to withdraw U.S. forces from Somalia. And it’s like the public horror that followed the 1983 bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut which killed 241 Americans and ultimately prompted President Reagan to remove U.S. troops from Lebanon.

As it happens, those two incidents are now textbook cases of what not to do in the face of barbarous behavior toward Americans. It is now documented that several Mid-East countries and a number of terrorist groups have specifically designed their strategies based on the belief that the U.S. can be defeated by inflicting relatively heavy or articularly gruesome casualties on American forces.

That said, any notion of U.S. withdrawal from Iraq at any time in the foreseeable future is not an option. It can certainly be argued that invading Iraq was the wrong thing to do, but given the enormous investment this country has made in blood and money, America simply cannot walk away from the situation it has created there.

There will come a time when the U.S. will have to leave. But the time certainly isn’t now when American security and credibility are so directly at stake.

However, as we approach next week’s first anniversary of the day Baghdad was “liberated” by American forces, it is not unreasonable to wonder how it is that things have gone so badly. In my view there is one fact that is beyond partisan dispute. Namely, that the U.S. was totally unprepared to deal with post-war Iraq.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his deputy Paul Wolfowitz, who pushed for the war and assumed control of post-war planning, stand condemned by their own words. Rumsfeld, joking about the early looting and anarchy saying, “Democracy is messy….” Wolfowitz testifying that the U.S. would be welcomed as liberators and that the costs of the operation would be mainly paid for by Iraqi oil.

The fact that one year after major military operations ended Americans and Iraqis are still being killed on a daily basis, is proof enough for me that those people responsible for securing the peace after the war, have hopelessly failed and should be held accountable.

This is Barrie Dunsmore.

Barrie Dunsmore is a veteran diplomatic and foreign correspondent for ABC News, now living in Charlotte.

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