Musings of the Chronologically Challenged™ Fourth Generation
Wednesday, February 25, 2004
THE BEST WE'VE GOT
by Ralph Peters
February 24, 2004 -- OVER the coming weeks, a quarter of a million U.S. troops will move into or out of Iraq. The logistics of such a transfer would be formidable even under peaceful conditions in a country with Western-quality infrastructure. No other power in the world could do it in Iraq - or anywhere else. Our military is going to execute the mission with such skill that it won't make headlines. There'll be brief reports buried in the back pages of our newspapers and a few human interest stories on TV. But the only way this massive event will get onto the front page will be if terrorists pull off a stunt during the operation.
They'll try. There are no guarantees of safety where peace is still being made. And the terrorists desperately want to be the lead story at the top of the hour again. But even if a bomb or a missile takes American lives, the real story will remain how much our military can do - and how much our troops have accomplished over the past year.
Recall how the pundits insisted that our troops were bound to fail, that Iraq was another Vietnam, a quagmire that would only worsen. Shamelessly, American ideologues who had been too good to serve in uniform themselves pretended that their only concern was the safety of our soldiers, who they wished to bring home immediately. Morale was going to break down, civilian "experts" insisted, our military would dissolve.
It wasn't just going to be Vietnam. It was going to be Oliver Stone's Vietnam.
Our soldiers' response? They broke the back of the Ba'athist insurgency. They captured Saddam. That deck of cards? Saddam and the boys were playing on credit - and G.I. Joe called 'em.
When our soldiers were attacked, they hit back with such ferocity, precision and determination that even hardline al Qaeda operatives in Iraq have admitted to the masters of terror that the U.S. Army cannot be dislodged.
But our soldiers didn't only fight. They built. The contractors with their snouts in the Iraqi trough have a mixed record, but our soldiers have been consistently effective - and economically efficient - in their own reconstruction efforts. And yes, damn it. Our soldiers did win hearts and minds. And they continue to do so.
Terrorists rushed to Iraq, dreaming of a quick triumph that would send the Great Satan fleeing back to America's shopping-mall Hell.
Well, al Qaeda's intelligence failure dwarfed any errors the CIA ever made. Far from discouraging anyone, the terrorists only stiffened the resolve of Iraq's Kurds, Shi'as and even many Sunnis not to let foreign assassins shape their future.
Operationally, the skills and fortitude of the American soldier quickly forced the terrorists to shift their efforts to targeting our allies - in an attempt to drive them from the Coalition - or to strike Iraqis committed to rebuilding and reclaiming their own country.
That hasn't worked, either. Iraq is moving forward. Our Coalition allies have shown admirable resolve - and adaptability. After a few early successes against our partners, recent terrorist attacks have failed. A sophisticated suicide bombing a few weeks ago didn't even penetrate the Polish compound it targeted, but only killed civilians.
Does anyone imagine that the terrorists are winning hearts and minds?
Iraq remains a brutally dangerous place, a country that will struggle for years with its disastrous past. Progress will be imperfect. Success will be inconsistent. Disappointments will intoxicate the media. But, when all is said and done, Iraq is now the only major country in the Middle East with hope for a better future.
Our soldiers created that hope.
Far from the crude babykiller of campus legend, the American soldier has proved that he is as humane as he is competent, as creative as he is valorous, and as optimistic as the best traditions of his - or her - country. Our troops have tracked down war criminals, turned the tables on ambushers, faced countless roadside bombs - and built schools, created jobs, picked up garbage and set an example that even those Iraqis anxious for us to leave will not forget.
The American soldier has an immeasurably greater impact than American bombs.
For the soldiers themselves - including our superb Marines - conducting this massive "relief in place" in Iraq, the on-the-ground reality will often be frustrating. Especially to the soldier heading home, the complexities of such a huge transfer of forces will have a hurry-up-and-wait side that will draw out the enlisted man's blackest reserves of humor.
But the new troops will go in, the veterans will come home, intelligence and operational techniques will be handed off, the "newbies" will master the local environment and this great campaign for freedom will continue to march.
Iraq is working. Attacks on our troops and American casualties are down. No Iraqis argue about whether the old regime should return - only about the rules for future statehood. A broken country is recovering from a generation of shock and misery. Their hopes may take a number of different directions, but the peoples of Iraq have hope.
I only wish that those Americans so anxious to use our soldiers as political pawns in election campaigns actually knew our troops. Not as an abstract concept, but as people.
The American soldier is a historical anomaly - not a grasping conqueror, but a man or woman of courage and good heart who wishes only to do what must be done, and then go home. Our troops are inspiring in ways that no campaign speech or campus rally will ever rival. They live the virtues - courage, patriotism, love of freedom, self-sacrifice, honor - of which their critics are embarrassed to speak.
They have a wicked sense of humor. They're exuberantly politically incorrect. They're part of the most thoroughly integrated, representative American institution - our military. And when the American people and our leaders stand behind them, they can do any job on earth.
Defying countless predictions of disaster, our soldiers have accomplished more in Iraq than we had any right to expect. And they did it not because of some brilliant master plan - there was none - but because they took a look at the bloody mess they inherited, rolled up their sleeves and went to work to fix it.
They're the best we've got.
Ralph Peters is a retired Army officer and the author of "Beyond Baghdad."
[Indigo received this as email from her friend, Captain Smith, Camp LeJeune]