We have a tiger by the tail with respect to our War on Terror. Not only do we have a determined enemy spread across most of the world and alienated former allies, but now we have a divided citizenry as well. This is a mess that perhaps only new leadership in the White House can resolve, uniting the people once again in a broader strategy in the greater war effort.
We who do not believe the current strategy in Iraq is the best use of our nation’s resources to combat World Terrorism are not saying that we don’t support our troops who are fighting and dying there. They are, after all, our own sons and daughters. So we do not deserve to be called, “unpatriotic”. But I understand how some could think so, those who are still committed in their hearts and minds to the President’s priorities in this war, thinking that he, as Commander-in-Chief, knows best. However, in my heart and mind, it is one thing to not be in support of the war, as it is being waged, and something else entirely different to not be in support of our troops.
Let’s analyze this issue a bit — see if we can’t find some common ground here. First, we are at war, there’s no denying this. It’s a war unlike any that we’ve ever had imposed upon us before. It’s not a war against another nation-state or a coalition of aggressor states as in all previous wars we’ve had to fight. It’s a war against pan-Islamist hate. We can be against the war if we choose to be. But if we choose not to defend ourselves, we and our way of life, our democratic ideals and capitalism are doomed. Would many of us willingly choose to live in an Islamic Republic? I hardly think so. So, how can we be against the war?
Second, the War on Terrorism is not a war being fought solely in Iraq, although most of our efforts and almost all of our attention is currently “riveted” there. Iraq is but one theater of the war. So, when we speak of “the” war, we should be clear in our minds about this distinction. When we eventually leave Iraq, and we will someday, the war will not be over. Unlike Vietnam, which was a terriorial conflict, Iraq is only part of a much larger conflict.
Third, we should understand the nature of this war. It’s different, one that cannot be won by military force alone, not unless we are willing to annihilate most of the Islamic world then keep the rest of it forcefully contained ever after. This is because, at its core, it is a war of ideas not a war of resources and territorial conquest, as much as our current administration may want to make it one. We know that our ideas are better than their ideas, but they know the same about their ideas. Israel is a microcosm of this reality today and we have seen how successful military force has been in that part of Southwest Asia. The “shooting” war between Israel and her neighbors is perpetual, as so might our own war with al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups become. Accordingly, some with whom I have discussed this believe that there is no option other than to kill everyone in the world who hates us, and then to kill all their sons and daughters who will grow up hating us too because of what we will have done.
This leads me to my final point. The Blue Ribbon Iraq Study Group that met last year submitted 79 proposals to the admini- stration on how we might be more successful there. Their report included a suggestion that we should engage in talks with neigh- boring Syria and Iran to help stabilize strife-ridden Iraq. Presi- dent Bush rejected this, of course, and the Iraqi government certainly isn’t working overtime to do their part to quell the violence either, which was identified by the group as another important part of ultimate success. Now, while some of the study group’s ideas, in hindsight, may not have been as realistic as they sounded to some at the time, the fact that they were made at all illustrates that there are ways to resolve differences other than by killing each other.
Rejecting the idea of killing everyone who hates us, given the two remaining choices of either killing each other slowly but unend- ingly, or surrendering ourselves to the will of Allah, I’m thinking that maybe we need to come up with some new, non-lethal weapons for our nation’s arsenal. Something like goodwill, perhaps? Maybe some improved diplomacy and economic assist- ance in the poorest countries of the Islamic world, places like the Darfur region of Sudan, would help. I’m talking about places that have never before been seen as being in our national interests to be involved. And I don’t mean just throwing money or arms at despotic leaders for their political support, which is what we seem to be doing in Pakistan. I mean rolling up our sleeves and helping the people where they live — helping them secure sources of fresh drinking water, helping them fight diseases, helping them produce more food, helping them discover economic alternatives to growing poppies for the opium trade. “Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day…” Remember?
This is not a new idea. We used to call it the Peace Corps. Maybe it’s time to bring it back, emphasize it more in terms of national service for our young men and women, an alternative to military service. Maybe emphasizing this more than regime change would make a difference in the way that we are perceived by the rest of the world. Maybe, if we were not seen as occupiers exploiting resources and imposing foreign ideas on the people of the Islamic world, moderate Muslims would not be so easily won over to extremism. But changing perceptions will take a long, long time. Better that we should get started now. We have, in my opinion, long neglected our higher calling as a world leader. A good temp- late for this kind of effort on a national level has been provided to us by the William J. Clinton Foundation.
In the meantime, I think that we need to foster an attitude of respect and appreciation for our sons and daughters who have answered our nation’s call to arms.
I recently received an email from a reader who cannot seem to separate in her mind the conflict and the killing in Iraq from our troops who are necessarily part of that killing. She believes that military service attracts the worst in us, while I happen to think that it attracts the best in us. So I answered her email in the following way:
You have obviously been convinced or have somehow convinced yourself that the military attracts the most heinous of human instincts. I reject that idea and wish that I could persuade you someway to think more generously toward our young men and women who are serving to protect and defend us — even if in Iraq they are only making matters worse. Most of them believe in their mission, even if at the same time they doubt the prospects of their efforts to restore the peace there. Don’t you see how heroic that is?
Even though the horrors of battle can do terrible things to the minds of some who have heeded our nation’s call to service, things that might cause a tiny few to do crazy things in the heat of the moment, the vast majority of our soldiers serve with honor and distinction, targeting only “bad guys” and attempting to minimize collateral losses. I truly believe this because I’ve been a soldier myself. Don’t forget too, that the generals did not, by themselves, choose to invade Iraq; most, at the time of decision in the Pentagon, spoke against doing so. Rightly or wrongly, they and their troops were sent there by civilian leaders of our nation to do a job, the President, all the president’s men, and the vast majority of Congress.
It makes me sad to think that, by mentioning him in your message, you perhaps equate our soldiers and their motivations to serve in the military with Cho Seung-Hui and the tragic events that happened at Virginia Tech back in April of this year. That young man was a madman – he was either a psychopath, a schizophrenic, a psychotic, or maybe just an angry depressive. Since he took his own life too, we will never know. But our soldiers in Iraq are nothing like this. They are heroes, not unlike the policemen who rushed to the scene of the Virginia Tech massacre for the sake of the students and facuty there, putting themselves in harm’s way by so doing.
Until we do have new leadership in the White House, and I don’t see anything changing much until we do, we should not blame our troops for the mistakes and miscalculations that have taken place. These belong in the Oval Office, where a past great President once declared, “The Buck Stops Here.”
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