U.S. casualties in Iraq need perspective

The intelligence was bad. Pre-invasion planning was fundamentally flawed, with confusion about what followed the initial invasion’s success. There were severe shortages of critically needed equipment. The field generals lacked confidence in their superiors. The enemy’s strength was underestimated and their tactics surprised U.S. planners, dashing hopes for a quick victory. And more than 4,000 Americans died as the operation dragged on and on.

Sound familiar? No, it’s not Iraq, which has required five years. This was Anzio, the U.S. Army’s bungled landing behind German lines in Italy during World War II. The area they were trying to secure wasn’t 167,400 square miles — the size of California — but a small beachhead north of the fabled Gustav Line in southern Italy.

It was supposed to result in a lightning thrust to liberate Rome and the crushing of suddenly outflanked German forces. Instead, it degenerated into a bloody stalemate that dragged on for more than four months. More than 4,400 Americans had died as the operation neared its end.

Now here we are this week with TV news and mainstream dailies beating into our heads the refrain of “4,000 dead, 4,000 dead,” in the five years of the war in Iraq. The subtext of tragedy is correct. It is a terrible thing to lose even one of our fine young men and women fighting in a foreign land, much less 4,000 of them — and it is terrible, too, that so many more have been seriously injured. Each one of them is one too many.

Nevertheless, the losses mean nothing without context. The American military is securing the peace in a large country halfway around the globe ruled for decades by a terrorist-supporting dictator who invaded his neighbors and used chemical weapons on his own people.

Our losses in five years are, by historical standards, astonishingly low. And securing a peaceful democracy in the Middle East will change everything for the better in that unhappy part of the world.

Far more Americans would have died in Iraq but for two factors. First is the training and valor of our service personnel themselves. Our forces are the best-equipped and trained in history. Second is the modern technology developed through years of effort. Unmanned drones, infrared scopes, satellite-guided precision missiles: All make warfare more precise and less deadly to noncombatants than ever before.

This is possible only because Americans wisely supported “peace through strength” as articulated by President Ronald Reagan and Sen. Henry “Scoop” Jackson, among others. To ensure that fewer brave Americans die while continuing to achieve great things, American voters must continue to elect leaders who will provide our troops the training and technology they need. National security always will be the first responsibility of any national government, regardless of party.

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