Monday, September 10, 2007

America is Not at War

America is not at war. America has gone to the mall. America is at the football game. When the evenings news broadcasts switch to coverage of the day's events in Iraq, Americans switch to MTV. I am laying 8-to-3 odds that if I walked out on the street right now and asked the first passerby how many troops the U.S. had in Iraq, that person could not answer correctly. I'd lay even longer odds that if I showed the next passerby a map of the middle east, they would have a hard time identifying Iraq.

America, frankly, is bored with the Global War on Terror. They do not know that there are U.S. special forces working in the Horn of Africa and the Phillipines, because they do not care. The war is boring to Americans because the war does not affect them. It annoys them to have to pay attention to it. They do not care about the war because so few of them understand the stakes.

This week, General David Petraeus, Commanding General, Multinational Forces - Iraq, provides both open and closed door testimony to Congress. His civilian counterpart is Ryan Crocker, Ambassador to Iraq. He will also testify before Congress. Petraeus will provide information on the progress of new counterinsurgency tactics and operations made possible by the surge in troop levels. Crocker will provide his opinions on the political reconciliation process that the surge was supposed to provide time and space for. Some Americans know who Petraeus is. Precious few know who Crocker is. Despite the fact that their time on Capitol Hill this week will be both historic and crucial to the national decision on whether the U.S. maintains combat effectiveness in Iraq, few Americans will even bother to watch.

Anti-war factions on the left are fond of pointing out the cost of conducting military operations in Iraq. They point to the $880,000 million and tsk-tsk. What most Americans don't realize is that the U.S. economy produced nearly $14,000,000,000,000. That is not a typo. That is Fourteen TRILLION dollars. This economy leaks more in a month than the war in Iraq costs in a year. Anti-war factions are also fond of waving the bloody shirts of the nearly 4,000 troops lost in Iraq (not all of which are combat-related). The full time, active duty Armed Forces of the United States has abour 1.4 million men and women. There are roughly another million or so in reserve capacity, for a total of well over two million. While every death is a tragic loss of a brave soldier, the fact remains that casualty rates are extremely low in this conflict. These figures represent the lowest casualty rates ever in a prolonged armed conflict. The average monthly loss of about 70 represents a casualty rate of 0.04% to 0.06% (depending on how you calculate the average troop strength). Express that properly, please: About five one-hundredths of a percent.

That the war costs us so little in the blood and treasure of America, and that it is being conducted in another hemisphere, is part of the reason why America is bored with the war. Why should they care? Of the 300 million people living in this country, only 170,000 are serving. That's only 170,000 brave families who pray for the safe return of their sons, daughters, brothers, sisters. Why should they care? The "war tax," which represents the cost of the war vis-a-vis the economic output of America, stands at a infinitesimally small 0.0014%. That's not a typo, either. One-point-four one-thousandths of one percent. Or, for every $100,000 produced by Americans, they fork over $1.40. Ouch, huh?

Another part of the reason for their boredom is that Americans are safe. Since President Bush began combat operations in the wake of 9/11, not one American has died from a terrorist attack on U.S. soil. In the days following that tragic event, Americans were convinced that other attacks were a matter of when and where, not if. Not any more. They're safe because we are fighting those who attacked us on their soil, not ours. Instead of Americans dying by the thousands, terrorists are dying by the tens of thousands. In the six years since 9/11 the daily routine of dozens of terrorists being killed or captured has become so droll to Americans that it goes virtually unnoticed.

America is not at war. America is at the beach. At the lake. At the mall. At the football game. God forbid that we falter and fail to fully prosecute this war. In Vietnam, when we left the enemy stayed put. If we leave Iraq before our job is done, we can be certain that the Islamic radicals--who had been attacking us relentlessly since the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993--will not stay in the Middle East. They will follow us. A lot of them are already here, legally. A lot more will come. And then, America will wake up and realize that we have been at war for a long time.