By law, I am forbidden to express political views while in uniform, lest they be mistaken by some poor fool as the official viewpoint of the military. But as a private citizen, in a private forum such as this, I will say that it's about damned time Rumsfeld stepped down. Regardless of his personal responsibility for the mess we're in over here, the fact is that we don't seem to be making a whole lot of progress. Training police and handing out school supplies are great sound bites, but when these same police are shooting our guys in the back, and kids are afraid to accept new text books because US troops won't be there to protect them when the militias come, it's more like running inside a hamster wheel than actual progress.
Don't get me wrong, our guys on the ground are winning. Every single time we engage, the Haj lose. That's why they prefer stand-off weapons such as mortars and IEDs to duking it out with the fifties. Militarily, we got it all over these guys - but war isn't about winning the battles. War is about winning the peace that follows, and battles are merely one means to that ends. Unfortunately, in a struggle like this, in a struggle to remold what is essentially a feudal society into our own Western democratic image, the real war needs to be fought on a higher plane. This plane includes politics, economics, cultural outlook, and, yes, religion. Herein lies our failure.
We’ve beaten the Iraqi Army. We’ve trounced the Republican Guard and chased Saddam and his cronies from their capital - but what we have failed to do is to show the Iraqi people that what we have to offer is any better than what Saddam offered. In fact, by many measures, life for the average Iraqi today is worse than it was four years ago. Crime is up. Unemployment is sky-rocketing. The line at the gas station is blocks long. And electricity is so unreliable that those who can afford to install their own generators. Although the Baathists were undeniably brutal and corrupt, they did, for the most part, keep the country running. Unfortunately, for the little guy – the shopkeeper or laborer or teacher - there has been precious little “progress” since the Americans arrived.
Am I a defeatist? I do not think so. But rather than ask whether or not I think we can win over here, I’ll re-frame the question: Can we avoid losing? And the answer to that depends upon how you define “losing.” Iraq will never be America writ small. At least not in my lifetime. It’s not Israel and it’s not ready. But can an independent Iraq become a stable state amongst the community of nations? Maybe. Which begs the question: Is America’s presence here helping, or hurting the attainment of that goal? I don’t know.
We have riled the tiger by our presence, and shaken the entire Middle Eastern cage with our talk of “freedom” and “self-determination.” We hear tough words from the President and from the Secretary of Defense. In the end, though, such words mean nothing if you’ve lost your house and your job, and you’re afraid every time the kids go out to play for fear of losing them too. The freedom to vote tends to ring hollow when you’re pulling up to a militia check point, praying to God that they don’t find some miniscule reason to drag you from your car and shoot you in the head in front of your screaming family.
And so, Mr. Rumsfeld: farewell! May those who follow have the vision, the courage, and the ability to win not only the battles, but also the peace to follow.