Monday, May 28, 2007

Supporting Those Troops on Memorial Day

Last week, two Democrat(ic) Senators, Obama and Clinton, voted against a bill to continue funding military operations in Iraq. For this they were promptly accused of voting to deny our troops the resources they need to fight, or just plain voting for surrender.

Tie - Er - Sum.

The troops, in the form of General Petraeus, are telling the President they can get the job done. So who is the President to say otherwise? And who do those Senators think they are, meddling in war stuff? This is man business. The generals should decide whether we stay in this war, or if we need more troops, or if we should withdraw.

Only, it doesn't really work that way.

Soldiers have a soldier's mentality. Not all of them, of course, just the best ones. Soldiers in the US Army and US Marine Corps have volunteered for a job to fight and kill and suffer and die for their country. The pay is low. The facilities are sparse. Getting medical attention or other benefits for military families is often like going to the DMV. And the government constantly chips away at promised "benefits" like military pensions and their children's mental health treatment, to save money.

But they do it anyway. For us.

They deserve a lot better.

When a soldier is told, "You and 10,000 troops will forcibly enter the city and secure it" he doesn't say, "Well sir, I can't do it with less than 30,000." He says "Yes, Sir." He doesn't say, "I'll need this list of stuff to proceed." He asks, "What equipment will I have?"

An American soldier's mind is wrapped around the idea of success. He believes that he can and should succeed. He believes that he has the best equipment, the best training, the best intelligence, and the best fellow soldiers in the world. This is part of the basis of the American soldier's faith in his mission. He believes it can be done if he lives up to his part.

The other part of the soldier's faith lies in his belief in his leadership. An American soldier believes that his willingness to die for his country will not be spent lightly. He believes that his leaders, up to and including the President, will think hard before sending him to die. And he believes that if he is sent to die, it will be for the safety of the country. It will be worth it.

That's the deal. It is, in my mind, a sacred covenant. I do not believe that we have been keeping our end of the bargain.

Soldiers are not political scientists or global strategists. For many, if not most, soldiering is their first real job. They are our kids. An Army General might be 45 years old.

It is not the job of soldiers or Generals to decide when the country goes to war, or withdraws from war. That is the job of Congress and the President. It is also the job of Congress and the President to raise and equip the Army.

Withdrawing our troops from Iraq is not a surrender. We will not have long lines of American POW's being held by the Mahdi Army. Nor is it even a retreat, since there is no imminent danger of any military loss. It is a not a military decision. It is a political decision.

So what? Well, exactly. So what? It's a political decision, so let's make a political decision. Why all the baloney? We owe it to our troops to demand an honest discussion about why we are in Iraq and whether we need to remain.

Making a decision means framing an issue into answerable questions. Since we are already in Iraq, let's skip asking why we are there. It matters, but not for the purpose of deciding how to go forward.

Let's ask, "Why should we stay in Iraq?" Here are some possible reasons.

1. We need to defeat the terrorists or they will follow us home.

This is a fool's errand. Terror has been with us for a long as history itself. We cannot eradicate it any more than we can eradicate rats in our cities. Each generation will have to stand guard and deal with these challenges as they arise. If the people fighting us in Iraq want to attack us here, they don't have to wait. They could do it now. Fighting them there does not mean we will not have to fight them here. This argument is an erroneous variant on America's long standing military strategy of power projection, which works well against nation states and grounded forces, but is not 100% effective against revolutionary groups.

2. We need to secure the Iraqi oil reserves for our use.

This makes more sense, but nobody says it out loud. Iraq's known oil reserves are second only to Saudi Arabia's. That's a big prize, and should not be given up lightly. America imports 60% of it's oil. We need a lot of oil. We really need it. Russia and the Arabs have both demonstrated a willingness to use oil as a political weapon. China is trying to acquire oil rights across the world. Right now we effectively control Iraqi oil. Giving up that control might be stupid. Without oil, Americans go hungry and freeze to death in the winter.

3. If we don't secure Iraq the insurgency will spread throughout the region.

First of all, without the oil we wouldn't give a hoot. The Arabs could, and probably will, continue to fight among themselves ad infinitum without Americans losing much sleep over it. But given the oil, we need to be concerned with middle eastern governments controlled by Islamists like those in Iran (I know they're not Arabs) who will use the oil to spread Islam through Europe and the world. This leads us to . . .

4. The Clash of Civilizations.

This is another one we don't like to say out loud because we don't want all of the Muslims or Arabs to think America is against them. Because we're not, maybe. Unless they want Islam to become a worldwide empire from Indonesia to India to Turkey to Spain. With the ultimate goal to destroy the predominance of western civilization. It could happen. Maybe Iraq will come to be seen as the first battleground of America's strategy of containment of Islam. If we tied this reasoning up with our need to secure the oil, I could be convinced that this war made sense.

OK. So why should we leave?

1. If Iraq is so important, why aren't France, Italy, Spain, and Germany there? And why are the British leaving?

Good question (if I say so myself). Those countries are a lot closer to Iraq than the US. How come they are not worried? A jet can fly from Iraq to Italy on one tank of gas. Do they know something we don't?

2. Our troops are doing the grunt work for all of western Europe, and we are paying for it.

Maybe this is why. We are being played for suckers.

3. They'll still sell us the oil, even if they hate us.

If they won't we can go back. Or just blockade them from selling to anyone else.

4. We are not making things any better.

Our guys on the ground did their job. The President, Vice President, and their gang of incompetent cronies screwed up what was a daunting task to begin with. Can you imagine how they could have done a worse job? How? At this point Iraqi Premier Maliki wants our troops to move out of the cities so his people can take over. So let's go.

Our soldiers have done enough over there. Unless we are going to take over the country for the long term, let's stop pretending that Iraq is suddenly going to come together in good order.

We support our troops first by not abusing them. We need to demand that our Iraq policy be clear so that our military objectives are clear. The steady killing of our guys without any clear benefit needs to stop.

The President needs to stop hiding behind the troops. The President is supposed to lead. We need to face the fact that this President and Vice President do not treat our troop's lives with due care. It is appropriate that Congress step in and use it's constitutional powers to protect the country from the President's recklessness. It's not just the right thing to do. We need our Army to be in good shape. We cannot afford to let President Bush damage it.