Hard going

November 04, 2003

THE SHOOTING down of an American helicopter near Fallujah on Sunday inspires sadness on so many different fronts that it's difficult to know how to sort it all out. That 16 soldiers died and 20 were wounded, some seriously, in one quick act: That's foremost, naturally.

But what else does the attack underscore?

That the hostile forces in Iraq are growing bolder and more sophisticated and more successful. That the population of ordinary Iraqis, passively or actively, provides sufficient cover for these forces to operate. That men and boys cheered at the crash scene. That, according to the Associated Press, people living nearby said U.S. soldiers threatened yesterday to shoot up their entire village if there was any trouble.

That officials in Washington talk about renewing American resolve and turning the Iraq security effort over to Iraqis - echoes, however faint, of an earlier disaster, the one in Vietnam. That the U.S. government let wishful thinking govern its postwar planning, to the extent that the postwar period is bloodier than the war itself. And that an administration that propelled the United States into a war that was both wrong and mistaken has now mired Americans in an ugly and increasingly dangerous thicket from which there is no easy way out.

Consider the choices:

Option 1: Stay the course and hit the enemy, hard. This would invite more bombings, more helicopters shot down, more raids, more resentment, more resistance, more calls to hit the enemy - but harder.

Option 2: Stop sacrificing lives and get out. This would embolden America's enemies, incite the Iranians and North Koreans, betray millions of Iraqis, and most likely destabilize the entire Middle East.

Option 3: Recruit the international community to take on the job of securing and rebuilding Iraq. This may be the best option, though it has pitfalls aplenty; it's hard to imagine the Bush administration adopting it, and it's even harder to imagine the administration having the diplomatic skill to pull it off successfully.

That's all there is. It's not pretty. After the helicopter went down Sunday, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said the war is going to be "difficult and complicated," and that must make Americans sadder still.

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