Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was offensive enough
when he intimated last week that US troops were
as interchangeable as automotive factory parts.
Irritated at a question from a reporter about
why 20,000 American troops had to stay 90 days
longer than expected in Iraq, he said: "Oh, come
on. People are fungible. You can have them here
Bush administration has used the term "fungible"
before. It withheld $34 million from the UN Population
Fund. "Money is fungible," said State Department
spokesman Richard Boucher as the administration
hid behind reports of coerced Chinese abortions
to deny funds to the rest of the world. Rumsfeld
has said that any accusations that the United
States invaded Iraq to control its oil supply
are "utter nonsense. Oil is fungible. People that
have it will want to sell it, and it doesn't matter
who they sell it to."
soldiers are the latest commodity in a war where
it did not matter who the United States sold it
to. Rumsfeld says America needs to keep troop
numbers up to quell the chaos in Iraq. The last
three weeks have been the deadliest for the Americans
in the 13-month invasion and occupation of Iraq.
Since March 31, about 100 US soldiers have died
-- as of yesterday, one-seventh of the war's 706
fatalities. "In the end, it will be successful,"
soldiers are already successful at killing Iraqis.
In the invasion itself, from mid-March to May
1, 2003, US and British forces killed Iraqis at
a rate of 60-1, according to the Cambridge-based
Project for Defense Alternatives. Rumsfeld boasted
that Iraqi military personnel would become our
loyal friends once "they are persuaded that the
regime is history."
the winter Saddam Hussein was captured. But chaos
continues. In the latest insurgency, we have killed
at least 1,000 Iraqis. Despite the American fatalities,
we are still killing Iraqis at a 10-to-1 ratio.
Yesterday, the commander of US forces in Iraq,
Ricardo Sanchez, boasted that the insurgents have
"seen the might of the American military unleashed."
Rumsfeld needs more soldiers to unleash more might.
We have been here before. In 1966 in Vietnam,
we killed North Vietnamese soldiers and the Viet
Cong at a 14-1 clip. The US military was convinced
it would win a war of attrition. We escalated
the war. But in 1967, 1968, and 1969 -- the years
where Americans suffered the most battle deaths
-- the kill ratio remained one US soldier to 14
fighters for North Vietnam.
1968, Army General William Westmoreland said:
"The enemy can be attrited, the price can be raised,
and it is being raised to the point that it could
be intolerable to the enemy." American soldiers
were "fungible." To Westmoreland's surprise, the
other side decided they were equally so.
makes you wonder about Rumsfeld, who a year ago
declared that he knew where Saddam's weapons of
mass destruction were. Last week, Rumsfeld said:
"I certainly would not have estimated that we
would have had the number of individuals lost
that we had lost in the last week." This is the
same Rumsfeld who said last year: "It is precisely
because of our overwhelming power and our certainty
of victory that we believe we can win this war
and remove the regime while still striving to
spare innocent lives. Our military capabilities
are so devastating and precise that we can destroy
an Iraqi tank under a bridge without damaging
the bridge. We do not need to kill thousands of
innocent Iraqis to remove Saddam Hussein from
by the most conservative estimates of human rights
observers, we did not spare innocent lives while
removing the regime. The Project for Defense Alternatives
estimated between 3,200 and 4,300 civilians were
killed in the invasion. Other groups claim that
around 10,000 civilians have been killed in the
invasion and occupation. That would translate
into a kill ratio during the invasion of at least
23 civilians for every US soldier during the invasion.
the 10,000 figure, used by Medact, the British
arm of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning International
Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War,
is accurate, then we are killing Iraqi civilians
-- not Iraqi soldiers but Iraqi women, children,
and nonmilitary men, at a clip of 14-1. That is
the same rate at which we killed North Vietnamese
soldiers are becoming "fungible" in another way.
Even though Britain was the only nation to provide
more than 5,000 troops to aid the Americans, who
currently number about 134,000, the Bush administration
has boasted of a mighty coalition.
once Spain's new prime minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez
Zapatero, announced he will pull out that nation's
1,300 troops, the role is suddenly not so critical.
Sanchez said the loss of Spain's troops "is clearly
manageable. It is not a significant military problem."
In the fungible world of Rumsfeld, the unmanageable
is manageable because he thinks he can throw soldiers
at the problem. Rumsfeld said oil is fungible
because it will end up in the hands that can pay
for it. Now he says soldiers are fungible. But
the way we have manhandled the Iraqis, the war
may already be lost, no matter how many troops
we put in there.
Posted: April 28, 2004