Have we lost our way in Iraq?
Vail CO, Colorado
War is hell. We see flashes from Iraq, Afghanistan, Africa, and elsewhere daily in the news. And with the thwarting of the attack on JFK Airport in New York this weekend (buried on page 30 after the obituaries in the NY Times), we know we face constant threats. We feel violated by this invasion of our peace. This state of war is our brave new world, up close and personal.
Some suggest a retreat into our shell, a head-in-the-sand isolationism and somehow the world will love us. Others want to pursue an aggressive, bombastic, our-way-or-the-highway military solution, and somehow the world hates our wars of freedom (based on an American model of democracy, of course).
I received a copy of a letter from Iraq this week. The recent son-in-law of dear friends, a classmate of my kids, writes his fifth letter about his admittedly narrow, subjective experiences of 11 months on the front lines in Al Anbar province (Al Ramadi, Al Fallujah, Haditha), the hotseat of Sunni insurgency. More than 75 percent of the troops in Iraq are support personnel, living on bases with exercise facilities and three meals a day at the dining hall. Their mission is vital, but C. is a grunt officer, first lieutenant in the battle zone ” in action every day. C. is ROTC, first in his class, first in his Ranger training, a dedicated, committed officer in the U.S. Army.
“You know how good God was to me and my men as we have personally survived multiple IED explosions ” one that totally destroyed my truck ” and our unit has had great success in killing or capturing the enemy. Some say we got lucky making a name for ourselves, and that we were just in the right place at the right time. Two days after the loss of my first soldier to indiscriminate mortar fire, our station survived the largest single attack in the multi-national forces ” West history, with no fatalities. General Petraeus has personally talked to my battalion commander and has mentioned that the unit is one of the strongest he has seen in theatre and that other units should learn from us.” The local Iraqi police, the unit that C. is there to support, call him the “Lion of Karmatown” for his fearlessness in battle.
And yet he writes: “It seems we are wandering and we really have lost our way. We know we are fighting for the Iraqis, but all we see is that they don’t fight for themselves. It is understandable ” they live here and are constant targets. If we left today, their station would be without electricity, water, and fuel for their trucks. They would be overrun in no time. The reality here in Iraq is that soldiers continue to die daily for an overarching mission that seems very vague. Are we here to rebuild Iraq or kill the insurgents? It is very difficult to do both at the same time, and frankly impossible to do the first before you do the latter. At my level, the small-unit level, where each day we fight to live another day, it is about survival. My goal is to get all of my soldiers home. The greatest Army in the world has been rendered castrated and become only a shadow of its former self. We do not have the troops or the equipment to do the job.”
And so once again, our military is fighting a war with one hand tied behind its back. We must recognize that we are at war. Setting timetables will not work, but leaving a highly qualified and motivated Army with little or no support also does not work. We are fighting a holding action, that at some date in the future will allow us to arbitrarily declare that our mission has been accomplished and leave the Iraqis to fend for themselves. We have invested so much in lives and money, and for what purpose?
Has this war improved our foreign policy position in the Middle East? Have our actions in Iraq and Afghanistan reduced the risk of further terror strikes against the United States?
Twenty-five years after Vietnam we learned that the sacrifice of 55,000 lives was part of a global geo-political plan to demonstrate to our European allies that if the U.S. was willing to commit so heavily to a small, insignificant country like Vietnam, how much more would we invest in Europe should the U.S.S.R. get out of line.
Have we lost our way in Iraq, or do we have a clear policy and an implementation plan that makes the commitment of Lieutenant C worth his and every American life in the Middle East worth it?
Heather Lemon of Eagle-Vail writes a biweekly column for the Vail Daily. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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