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.