As but one theater of the greater war that Congress gave President Bush cart blanche authority to wage after Nine-Eleven, Iraq has devolved into an order-less hodgepodge of mixed national objectives inflamed by ethnic rivalries in the region. It has become an al-Qaeda tar baby for us. Could we not have seen this coming?
NOTE: For those who are unsure as to the meaning of the term, “tar baby,” please be assured that I am referring to the character in the second of the Uncle Remus stories from African-American folk lore, the one about Br’er Rabbit and Br’er Fox. In this sense, the term metaphorically implies a situation or problem from which one finds it virtually impossible to become disentangled.
Home alone this year on a rainy Memorial Day, I morosely sat in front of the TV watching war movie after war movie in which the “good guys” always win. Growing increasingly glum, I pondered the prospects for success by our military in Iraq. War! I thought, remembering my own experience in Vietnam where the enemy wore no uniform and could be anybody, man, woman or child, is this even the right name for it?
In something akin to agony, I concluded that patriotism today, and all that it implies for us veterans of American foreign wars, is definitely not as simply defined as it once was. In the wake of WWII and Korea when I was still a boy, none of us doubted the righteousness of America’s military might. We played soldier in neighborhood vacant lots and proudly marched in our Boy Scout uniforms in Fourth of July parades. We read comic books featuring defenders of Truth, Justice and the American Way. Our high school history books glossed over details of the Mexican and Spanish-American Wars. These were but side shows to the great American Civil War which was fought, so we were taught, to end slavery in this country. In college U.S. History courses we learned something else. Then came the nightly news programs on TV, Vietnam and the Bay of Pigs. Students of draft age and others, many in the media like Jane Fonda and future politicians like John Kerry, began to question American foreign policy and demonstrated against it. As the war in Southeast Asia dragged on year after year, soldiers returning for state-side rotation assignments were spit upon and called, baby-killers. I know, I was one of them. So, to be proud of our men and women in uniform today, which I am, and to continue affording them moral support on the one hand while doubting the mission for which they are dying or coming home from in pieces on the other hand… well, Memorial Day this year hardly seemed like an occasion to celebrate.
More than four years ago now, as our armed forces were pre- paring to launch “Iraqi Freedom,” one of my World Geography students here in Waxahachie, Texas raised his hand and asked, “Mr. Garry, are we going to win this war?” I hesitated only briefly, thinking back on Vietnam, then responded, “Yes, we will win this war, but I seriously doubt that we’ll ever be able to win the peace.” I knew that my student didn’t understand the dis- tinction that I was making, but I wanted to be reassuring to my class without fostering naivety.
According to a CNN news story, in a recent polling of 1,027 adult American opinions conducted by the Opinion Research Corporation, fewer than half said that they thought the United States can win the war in Iraq, forty-six percent. Another forty-six percent said they thought we could win. However, only twenty-nine percent said they thought things were going well in Iraq, and nearly sixty percent said that they want to see U.S. troops leave Iraq either immediately or within a year. Had I been included in this polling, I’d have had to cast my lot with the majority. Frankly, I think the pollsters asked the wrong question. I think they should have asked, “Can Iraq ever have peace if we don’t get out of the way so that they can resolve their own differences?”
Writing for the Associated Press in an article published on Saturday, May 26th, Katherine Shrader reported that intelligence analysts warned President Bush in advance of Iraqi Freedom that al-Qaeda would see U.S. military action there as an opportunity to increase its operations and that Iran would try to shape a post-Saddam Iraq. This, she reported, was revealed to the Congress in secret papers declassified on Friday. The top analysts in the government who authored these papers also warned Mr. Bush that establishing a stable democracy in Iraq would be a “long, difficult and probably turbulent process.” Democrats in Congress said that these papers, part of a Senate Intelligence Committee investigation, make it clear that the administration was warned about the very challenges it now faces as it tries to stabilize Iraq. “Sadly,” said Senate Intelligence Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), according to Ms. Shrader, “the administration’s refusal to heed these dire warnings — and worse, to plan for them — has led to the tragic consequences for which our nation is paying a terrible price.”
This now revealed, I anticipate the next polling of opinions on the war in Iraq will reflect an even greater percentage of Americans wanting our President to accept the reality of a failed strategy. Better military minds, retired generals who would not serve under this Commander-In-Chief, have advised for some time now that we stop playing the jihadists’ game. Read what Lt. General Gregory Newbold, retired director of operations at the Pentagon’s military joint staff has to say about this. I sense a consesus among many from the recent editorials I have read that we should start the redeployment our forces in Iraq to other locations in the region from where they can do more good.
The ongoing Surge, I am convinced, is delusional thinking, a costly mistake in experimental counter insurgency tactics that plays right into al-Qaeda’s game book. Border control, in my own opinion, to restrict the movement of foreign insurgents, weapons and munitions into Iraq might well be the best thing that we can do for the Iraqi people now, that and continued training of the Iraqi army. But whatever else we do, we must begin now to prepare for the next phase of the War on Terrorism.
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