Humvees Aren’t the Problem

There has been a lot of talk about Humvees lately, ever since an American soldier asked Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld why soldiers were going to war in unarmored vehicles.

“We’re digging pieces of rusted scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass that’s already been shot up, dropped, busted, picking the best out of this scrap to put on our vehicles to take into combat,” Specialist Thomas Wilson said at a town hall meeting in Kuwait.

Rumsfeld’s response, that “you have to go to war with what you have” sparked a furor in policy circles in Washington, as did his minimization of the importance of armor: “If you think about it, you can have all the armor in the world on a tank and a tank can be blown up,” he told the troops. “And you can have an up-armored Humvee and it can be blown up.”

Rumsfeld has been widely denounced for this comment, with everyone from Senator Trent Lott to Weekly Standard editor William Kristol calling on him to go.

When Congress comes back into session this month, policymakers will likely call him to testify as to why – according to a Scripps Howard survey – 275 American soldiers have died while in Humvees.

Donald Rumsfeld should be straight with the American people. The United States soldiers who patrol Baghdad’s streets are at great risk, not only because their Humvees lack armor, but also because they are the most visible – and as such, easiest to target – portion of an increasingly unpopular military occupation.

“Every night, a group of us get together and wait for the Americans to drive by in their Humvees,” an auto repairman in Baghdad’s Sunni-majority Adamiya neighborhood told me in May. “Then, when the Humvees come, we hit them.”

The repairman told me he joined the resistance when it became clear the U.S. military wouldn’t be leaving Iraq soon after the fall of Saddam Hussein.

“We have to fight for our country and our religion,” he told me, “so when an American Humvee goes by, we attack it. Sometimes there are American snipers on top of the police station, so we hit the police station. Sometimes there are no Americans around, so we just hit the police. When anyone puts himself on the Americans’ side, he’s a traitor.”

But why are the Americans on patrol to begin with? Officially, we are told they are patrolling the streets, hunting down insurgents. My experience in Iraq leads me to believe that the Humvees themselves create the insurgents.

“We have a problem,” former Iraqi general Farouk Mu’aden told me in May, “which is that the American military goes door to door and captures people for cooperating with the resistance. This causes more people to join the resistance and makes it more difficult for us to make a peace here.”

At that time, General Farouk was part of a team of notables from Diala – in the heart of the Sunni triangle – who tried to negotiate a ceasefire with the Americans. His group told the local American commander that if he stopped his patrols and gave jobs to the local people, his group would stop the resistance in Diala. But the offer was refused.

What, exactly, is the point of these Humvee patrols? Why are American soldiers being sent out night after night to be attacked by Iraqi nationalists? If America suspended these Humvee patrols and pulled out of Iraq, these fighters would go back to their regular jobs. As it is, no amount of armor will keep American soldiers from dying in Iraq.