Friday, September 1, 2006

Philippines: The First Iraq?

At the July 11 funeral mass for Christopher Rose held at the St. Augustine's Church in South San Francisco, Brig. Gen. Joseph Schroedel of the US Army Corps of Engineers spoke of the "ultimate sacrifice" Private Rose made when he stepped on an explosive device in Baghdad on June 29.

"Chris didn't want to die," Gen. Schroedel assured us. "He didn't want to leave his family. But he knew that by serving something bigger than himself, even if it meant the ultimate sacrifice, Chris knew that was an honorable thing to do with his life."

Chris' father, Rudy Rose, a Vietnam War vet, agreed with the General. "A lot of soldiers have died already," he told a San Francisco Chronicle reporter. "Finish the job there. We cannot leave now. It's too late."

Although the San Francisco Chronicle reported that Chris Rose was the first San Francisco casualty of the Iraq War, Fr. Ramon Mores, the officiating priest at the church, told me that the Rose funeral was the 5th funeral mass for an Iraq War vet held at St. Augustine's Church since 2003.

I remember not too long ago attending the funeral mass for Joseph Menusa in Tracy, California, less than two weeks after the Iraq War began. Joseph was the first Fil-Am Iraq war casualty from the Bay Area.

Along with Chris Rose and Joseph Menusa, more than 2,642 American soldiers have been killed in Iraq since President George W. Bush ordered the US invasion of that country in March of 2003. Those of us who do not have Alzheimer's still vividly recall the Bush rationale for war: Iraq was an immediate threat to the US because it had weapons of mass destruction and because it was involved in the 9/11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.

Neither of those charges turned out to be true but no US general will dare tell grieving parents that their son died because of a lie or a mistake. It is more reassuring to the family to hear that their son died "serving something bigger than himself."

President Bush says again and again that we have to "stay the course" in Iraq. According to Pentagon officials, this means that American troops must be prepared to stay in Iraq at least until 2016. At the rate of 800 American soldiers killed a year since the Iraq war began, Americans must be prepared to suffer another 8,000 soldiers killed in the next 10 years.

The Congressional Research Service reported that more than $325 billion has already been spent to prosecute the war in Iraq. At about $80-B a year, in a decade, this would add up to $800-B, making the Iraq War a trillion dollar investment.

What about the people of Iraq? Since January of 2006, more than 18,000 Iraqis have been killed, averaging about 100 victims a day. A recent U.N. study, cited by Ted Galen Carpenter in his San Francisco Examiner article, reported that more than 14,000 Iraqi civilians were killed in the first six months of 2006. The death toll is rising ominously: in January it was 1,778; in June it was 3,149.

Carpenter noted that "this is occurring in a country of only 27 million people. A comparable pace in the United States would be a horrifying 1,200 deaths per day -- 438,000 per year. If political violence were consuming that many American lives, there would be little debate about whether the United States was experiencing a civil war."

As the de facto civil war between the Sunnis and the Shites intensifies, there is little compelling argument left to "stay the course" in Iraq. One argument being peddled by the neo-conservatives who pushed the US into the war is the "Philippine model". If we hang in there long enough, they now argue, Iraq can end up as a successful democracy just like the former US colony of the Philippines.

Even Iraq war critics like Thomas E. Ricks, the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for the Washington Post, accept this argument. In his new bestseller, "Fiasco: The American Military Misadventure in Iraq," Ricks believes that although the war has been a disaster, he is still opposed to pulling out because of the US experience in the Philippines where a military misadventure evolved into a democracy.

But Jon Wiener, in an op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times ("Iraq is not the Philippines", 8/30/06), debunked the comparison:

"First, it neglects the massive differences between the Philippines in 1900 and Iraq in 2006. The guerrillas in the Philippines fought the Army with old Spanish muskets and bolo knives; today's insurgents in Iraq employ sophisticated improvised explosive devices, rocket-propelled grenades and heat-seeking shoulder-fired missiles that can shoot down helicopters. And combat in Iraq takes place in a fully urbanized society where "pacification" is much more difficult than in the mostly rural islands of the Philippines.

"Also, the Filipinos who fought the U.S. Army at the turn of the 20th century had no outside allies or sources of support. Today's Iraqi insurgents are at the center of a burgeoning anti-Americanism that has spread throughout the Arab and Muslim worlds, with supporters in Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere.

"And of course today there's also the media. Images of resistance fighters in Iraq, and of the victims of American attacks, are broadcast hourly throughout Iraq, Arab and Muslim countries and the rest of the world. Compared with the Philippines guerrillas of 1900, the Iraqi insurgents are much stronger and more capable and have a much broader base of support that extends beyond national boundaries."

Weiner, a Professor of History at UC Irvine, also noted that in the Philippine War, "the U.S. did not count Filipino casualties, but historians today estimate 16,000 deaths for the guerrilla army and civilian deaths between 200,000 and 1 million,” a horrifying toll.

We don't have to hold our breath until 2016 to realize that Iraq will not be the 2nd Philippines.

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