as we see it

My dad and I occasionally argue about the successes and failures in Iraq. Predictably I suppose, I see a plethora of failures, while he tends to see success. I don’t buy into a second of the Bush administration’s propaganda-like attempts to link Saddam Hussein with Al Qaida. I generally see this war as a grotesque manifestation of a personal vendetta, with 9-11 used as an excuse. My dad legitimately believes we are a safer country, even world, because of our occupation of Iraq.

But in reality, I don’t understand Iraq much better than the average person, and probably neither does my father. Neither of us has ever been anywhere near a situation as dangerous and dire and politically complicated. Sure, there are plenty of complicated political matters that happen in the U.S., but very few (if any) ever become matters of the imminent life or death of thousands of U.S. soldiers and, just as importantly, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians.

I’ve been quite bothered the last few days as the much-anticipated reports from Ambassador Ryan Crocker and Gen. David Petraeus have urged Americans to have continued patience with the situation Iraq, while making a lame quasi-commitment to bring 30,000 troops home by next summer. But the surge sent 20,000 soldiers to Iraq a few months ago, and at that time the President communicated that this troop increase was going to somehow turn around the situation, and put us in a different place. But has that really happened? If nothing is happening, and nothing is changing, and we are arguably doing more harm than good, then we need a change of policy. Unfortunately, the status quo is always easier than change. And a 30,000 troop decrease by next summer seems like a big affirmation of the status quo. Drawing back the surge, and a little bit more for good measure. Not much else it seems.

That bit of rambling has been inspired by recent listens to NPR stories and commentary on Iraq, and a solemn reminder today after reading the thoughts of none other than a group of U.S. soldiers stationed in Iraq during the past 15 months.  The New York Times originally ran this controversial op-ed on August 19, one week after one of the soldiers was shot in the head during an operation. Sgt. Jeremy Murphy is still recovering. Tragically, two of the other authors were killed Monday, prompting the article’s re-print on Salon.com. I’m not sure if I can print the entire piece, but I encourage everyone to read it. Here are a few powerful excerpts:

“As responsible infantrymen and noncommissioned officers with the 82nd Airborne Division soon heading back home, we are skeptical of recent press coverage portraying the conflict as increasingly manageable and feel it has neglected the mounting civil, political and social unrest we see every day.

The claim that we are increasingly in control of the battlefields in Iraq is an assessment arrived at through a flawed, American-centered framework. Yes, we are militarily superior, but our successes are offset by failures elsewhere.”

“… we operate in a bewildering context of determined enemies and questionable allies, one where the balance of forces on the ground remains entirely unclear.”

The ability of, say, American observers to safely walk down the streets of formerly violent towns is not a resounding indicator of security. What matters is the experience of the local citizenry and the future of our counterinsurgency. When we take this view, we see that a vast majority of Iraqis feel increasingly insecure and view us as an occupation force that has failed to produce normalcy after four years and is increasingly unlikely to do so as we continue to arm each warring side.

It doesn’t make anyone happy to read this stuff, but I’m impressed that these soldiers seem to be analyzing the conflict both in American and Iraqi terms. Ultimately, whatever the results of this war are, they have to be lived every day by all Iraqis, not by Americans, and Americans tend to be incapable of thinking outside how this is affecting us. But very few Americans have ever lived in an environment where one is constantly wondering if they will be blown up today. We can’t even fathom it. We have been brain-washed into believing we are dealing with an imminent security threat in Iraq — one that affects average Americans — when really we are dealing with an insurgency that is relatively local, primitive and sectarian. I hope more and more people will continue to question what is going in Iraq, listen to soldiers and analysts who are not politically driven, and create a more effective, productive path onward and outward.

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4 Responses to as we see it

  1. jack Bruss says:

    There were several good reasons for going to war in Iraq, and a link to 9-11 was never one of them. The reasons for going to war there, and the reasons I think the world is safer for our having done so, can be seen in the following quotes of past and present US leaders:

    “One way or the other, we are determined to deny Iraq the capacity to develop weapons of mass destruction and the missiles to deliver them. That is our bottom line.”
    President Clinton, Feb. 4, 1998

    “Iraq is a long way from [here], but what happens there matters a great deal here. For the risks that the leaders of a rogue state will use nuclear, chemical or biological weapons against us or our allies is the greatest security threat we face.”
    Madeleine Albright, Feb 18, 1998.

    “He will use those weapons of mass destruction again, as he has ten times since 1983.”
    Sandy Berger, Clinton National Security Adviser, Feb, 18, 1998.

    “As a member of the House Intelligence Committee, I am keenly aware that the proliferation of chemical and biological weapons is an issue of grave importance to all nations. Saddam Hussein has been engaged in the development of weapons of mass destruction technology which is a threat to countries in the region and he has made a mockery of the weapons inspection process.”
    Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D, CA), Dec. 16, 1998.

    “We begin with the common belief that Saddam Hussein is a tyrant and a threat to the peace and stability of the region. He has ignored the mandate of the United Nations and is building weapons of mass destruction and the means of delivering them.”
    Sen. Carl Levin (D, MI), Sept. 19, 2002.

    “Iraq’s search for weapons of mass destruction has proven impossible to deter and we should assume that it will continue for as long as Saddam is in power.”
    Al Gore, Sept. 23, 2002.

    “Without question, we need to disarm Saddam Hussein. He is a brutal, murderous dictator, leading an oppressive regime …. He presents a particularly grievous threat because he is so consistently prone to miscalculation … And now he is miscalculating America’s response to his continued deceit and his consistent grasp for weapons of mass destruction …. So the threat of Saddam Hussein with weapons of mass destruction is real ….”
    Sen. John F. Kerry (D, MA), Jan. 23. 2003.

    “In the four years since the inspectors left, intelligence reports show that Saddam Hussein has worked to rebuild his chemical and biological weapons stock, his missile delivery capability, and his nuclear program. He has also given aid, comfort, and sanctuary to terrorists, including al Qaeda members. It is clear, however, that if left unchecked, Saddam Hussein will continue to increase his capacity to wage biological and chemical warfare, and will keep trying to develop nuclear weapons.”
    Sen. Hillary Clinton (D, NY), Oct. 10, 2002.

  2. lois bruss says:

    Thanks for your insights Laura – Many Americans in my opinion fail to see the reality of why the US is in Iraq. I believe they are still in the thinking mode of America as the good guy trying to bring peace & democracy to the entire world. They don’t see that this is a political ploy in order for us to mainly pursue our own interests. The US does do good things to help others BUT and it’s a big BUT – we are not the good guys on the white horse.

  3. laurafern says:

    Okay dad, despite all that, what are we doing there NOW? I don’t understand why the opinions of these Senators are relevant to the discussion of what is going on in Iraq today. Every indication from the last few years is that the situation is not improving as our time there extends.

    Sure, there was general agreement (even if there was also opposition) to going there in the first place, but years after the Saddam regime has been destroyed we are fighting an entirely different battle, akin to a civil war.

    If we ever want to leave we need some innovation and some risk, not more of the same, occupation, high troop levels, BS rhetoric from the administration and politicians in general, etc.

    Maybe we need to force the hand of Iraqis to take care of their own country, but I would also argue that we should take a more humble approach — no one in the administration (or all the people you quoted above) anticipated that this would become the near-quagmire it is today, and maybe we should admit that we were thinking in overly simple terms when we invaded. My point is that we need to do something different, because what Petraeus and Crocker have suggested is just more of the same, and that, even for another year, is unacceptable.

  4. john calypso says:

    The thing that boggles my mind is how ‘civilized’ man in the 21st Century is still warring – I realize this is quite a generalization – but what a general indictment of mankind – Give Peace a Chance!

    John Calypso

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