by KEVIN TAYLOR & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & T & lt;/span & he question is blunt: Why did Brandon Tobler, Timothy Kiser and James Riekena die in Iraq? It's not meant to be a combative, partisan or an especially tricky question.
We know the how -- how Tobler, 19, of Portland, and No. 7 on the Coalition Casualty Count, was killed on the night of March 22, 2003 because he didn't have a 3-volt lithium battery to fire up his night-vision goggles.
Or how Kiser, 37, from Redlands, Calif., and No. 1,753, was shredded at dusk April 28, 2005 by an artillery shell from an IED that tore into the up-armored model 1026 Humvee he was driving just as he was laughing at a joke about a lightning storm.
Or how Riekena, 22, of Redmond, Wash., No. 3,272, was blown up by an IED on a Baghdad street Jan. 14, volunteering for a second tour so soon after speaking so earnestly about becoming a high school English teacher to help kids much like himself have more options at graduation than just the military.
For the why, we asked some of the members of the House and the Senate from Washington and Idaho in advance of this week's reports Iraq from Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker (who was born in Spokane in 1949).
Q. Why are people dying or being injured in Iraq? What's it for?
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.: "I can go back to four-and-a-half years ago when I voted against the war to begin with because I believed we did not have sufficient planning, were not prepared for the outfall and did not budget adequately and certainly didn't prepare for what happened in Iraq politically once we eliminated Saddam Hussein. Everyone shared the same goals to eliminate Saddam Hussein, I didn't object to the goals in that way, but to go in and forcibly remove him without a plan, to me, was irresponsible and that, I think, has proven out."
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Eastern Washington: "It's always a difficult decision when you decide to go to war. The reality is our young men and women die in war. I would also suggest the No. 1 duty of the federal government is to protect its citizens and that is why we are in Iraq. I believe this is absolutely part of our greater effort to fight a war on terrorism. If we were not in Iraq, we would be creating a safe haven for terrorists."
Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho: "I don't think there is any question we are in a global war with terrorists in the Islamic extremist movement, whether under al-Qaeda or others. I believe our national security is at stake in Iraq today. Because of that I believe it is important that the way in which we handle the war and any ultimate withdrawal is critical. If we commit troops to war, we should do what it takes to win."
What is winning?
"In my opinion -- and I am relying here on military experts as I understand their advice -- we must establish control or stability that allows the Iraqi military and economic and political establishment to stand up and maintain that control on their own."
Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho: "From a contemporary American standpoint it's probably difficult for us in any way to understand that there is a role for our country, as the world's most powerful country, to play in certain regions of the world for the purpose of general stability, whether it's for our allies or whether it's for the stability of a world economy that we are all beneficiaries of and on and on and on. It's hard to focus on that and understand that when you have just lost a loved one."
But is that how the men and women who are called to fight the war see it? Not so long ago, two men from North Idaho were among 4,300 civilians who had their lives interrupted for the better part of two years when the Idaho National Guard's 116th Brigade Combat Team was mobilized for training in Texas and Louisiana and then sent to Iraq. They are Master Sgt. Michael Kish, 36, a full-time recruiter at the Idaho Guard's Post Falls armory, and Kootenai High School counselor Kevin Kincheloe, 50, who left the Guard once he came home from Iraq after having risen to sergeant first class and platoon leader.
Q. Is it a global war on terror?
Retired sergeant first class Kevin Kincheloe: "Pssshhh. It is not. It is not a war on terror, but we are vulnerable right now."
Master sergeant Michael Kish: "Speaking not as a member of the military but as a personal thinker, at this point it's become more a global war on terror than it was at the beginning. We created a vacuum, absolutely. They have taken a target of opportunity to fight the American horde, fight the coalition in the name of whatever."
Q. Should there be a draft?
Kincheloe: "Oh yes. If we had a draft from the get-go, this war would have been over a long time ago -- just from public sentiment."
Crapo: "I don't think we are in a position to reestablish the draft or national service. The Army needs to step up recruiting if it needs numbers. I believe one way to reduce the stress [on the military] is to reduce the level of engagement as quickly as possible."
Craig: "I think the draft is a thing of the past and will stay there. Early on, when Paul Wolfowitz was telling me and others how they planned to use the Guard and reserve, I said 'You are bringing the war to my little Main Street Idaho and the kid who works at the tire shop will go and the teacher will go, and that will change whole communities. You are changing the game ... yes, they knew there was an obligation, but these are civilians.' It's an issue we continue to debate. I don't have an answer. I don't see the nation doing a draft, but at the same time I think for the sake of the country, we might look at universal service."
Rodgers: "I don't support a draft. I believe the volunteer army serves us well."
Kincheloe: "Look at all the money they throw at these kids [in recruitment incentives and bonuses]. They are raising the age limit and lowering the [enlistment] standards ... do we have a volunteer army or a mercenary force?"
Q. Do we stay or pull out?
Murray: "It's a major question. I have supported a deadline of March 31 of next year to have all our troops home. But that would mean we have to start planning today to get our men and equipment out."
Rodgers: "It is our goal to stabilize Iraq and withdraw troops from a position of strength and success, not a position of fear and failure. But we must be careful not to create a humanitarian crisis or create further instability in the Middle East."
Crapo: "I believe very strongly we should not have a permanent occupation in Iraq, and our withdrawal should be facilitated as rapidly as possible. I don't believe it is in our national security interest to announce a date ... [but] ideally I would like to see us start withdrawing as the economic and political establishment in Iraq is filling in."
Craig: "It's a mess, and the question is, is it the right mess and is there going to be an outcome? We Americans want successes ... at the same time we've got to take a deep breath and redefine are we in or are we out?"
Kincheloe: "We need to define the mission: What is the mission? Are we doing combat patrols or pulling back. We are on the edge. How long do we keep American troops and Marines in the combat zone? In my mind these guys in the Iraqi Army are totally capable -- it's their war."
Kish: "A lot of Americans want this to be a fast food thing like the first Gulf War where we dropped some bombs, rolled in some tanks and they cried uncle. I think whether we pull out in one year or five years, there are going to be struggles -- people will try and find out how stringent the rules are, or how tough they are, or how much influence they have. I think if we pull out now, we will have done a lot in vain -- injuries, death, time away from home and sacrifice of families. A lot in vain."
Kincheloe: "We want to make Iraq a microcosm of America, and it's not. And it never will be. Iraq has a tradition and it has a history and it has a culture -- and that is tribal and sectarian. What do we have to do in Iraq? Partition it. Make it a federal state. I remember talking to one of the interpreters one day, some off-the-cuff remark that you Iraqis are all the same. I think it was David, and he was the most mild-mannered of the interpreters, and he said, 'I am not Iraqi. I am Kurdish."
Craig: "We may ultimately have to let that [partition, civil war] happen. Having said that, can they coalesce at some level of nationalism for stability and border control? If they factionalize and regionalize, where does Iran fit in, and Syria and Turkey? Can we turn to the American people with a definable mission if we can't find a way out?"
Q. What are we doing in Iraq?
Craig: "By mistake or benign neglect or intent, the one resource we depend on from that region of the world for our lifestyle is energy. If that region collapses, a substantial amount of energy flow will be taken offline, and $5, $6, $7 a gallon gas is not unrealistic. If I have one criticism of George Bush it is that he has lacked definition in that area [energy]. We have neglected ourselves and become increasingly dependent on the politics -- I call it petro-nationalism -- and we are now a great, powerful nation subject to tinhorn oil dealers."
Kish: "We committed to something in Iraq, and I am not talking about the generals or the government officials but the people with the purple fingers, the average farmer or shopkeeper trying to earn a living and raise their kids. We told them we're here until we can create a better environment for them. What's the message if we pull out? In my mind the message is, 'Hey, we cared about you once, but now the pressure is on and we don't care any more.'"
Q. What's ahead?
Kincheloe: "Iraq is an invention to begin with. We need to let it be a federal state and say, 'Here is your slice of the pie.' And there will be a struggle and there will be power plays, but I think in the long run it will be a more unified, stable Iraq. A single central government? No."
Craig: "Will Americans allow us the cost of war? And I'm not talking dollars and cents, but human lives."
Kincheloe: "I don't know how many people our battalion killed, but we killed a lot when we were on traffic control points, and it was all because of that 300-meter standoff zone. So you tell a 19-year-old kid at nighttime that a vehicle can't get closer than 300 meters and you have an area weapon, the .50-cal, which is not accurate and you say, 'Shoot into the front of that vehicle and disable it.' And there goes the top of that guy's head. What kind of points do you score? Why do we keep doing cordon-and-searches in the same village? Home invasion raids accomplished nothing but terrorizing women and children. We're just pissing off the locals. Petraeus, he gets it. He understands it's a counterinsurgency and you don't kill the people."
Kish: "I have no regrets about going to Iraq. And in a real perverse way, I'd like to go back and do it again. But I also know what I would be asked to do ... (pause) There's ... (pause) ... Everybody is injured in war. It doesn't matter if you're bloody or have broken bones or you are killed ... everybody has a smell or a circumstance or a landscape that reminds me of things on a regular basis. Like I said in my journals, if my kids don't have to have that experience, then it's all worth it to me."