"But war, in a good cause, is not the greatest evil which a nation can suffer. War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things: the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks nothing worth a war, is worse. When a people are used as mere human instruments for firing cannon or thrusting bayonets, in the service and for the selfish purposes of a master, such war degrades a people. A war to protect other human beings against tyrannical injustice – a war to give victory to their own ideas of right and good, and which is their own war, carried on for an honest purpose by their free choice – is often the means of their regeneration. A man who has nothing which he is willing to fight for, nothing which he cares more about than he does about his personal safety, is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself. As long as justice and injustice have not terminated their ever-renewing fight for ascendancy in the affairs of mankind, human beings must be willing, when need is, to do battle for the one against the other."

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

The State of Iraq: who really cares? (a post within a post)

OK, so I was not in a happy place for most of today. Nothing physically wrong with me, just a touch of the melancholy, between struggling to make it through this last month of the deployment, and the powers-that-be back at home really making me wonder why I'd bothered leaving my family in the first place if they were determined to make that separation pointless. My original post, below:

Seriously. Who among the various presidential candidates and senatorial hatchetmen throwing their barbs at Gen. Petraeus yesterday really cared about what he had to say? Did Hillary, who considers staying to build on the progress of the last year "irresponsible"? Did Obama, who reiterated his belief that the invasion was a "massive strategic blunder" but so very graciously refused to lay the blame at Petraeus and Crocker's feet for trying to win a war that should never have been authorized, fought, etc? Did the wise Ted Kennedy, who wondered whether we 'had a dog' in the fight in the recent Basra offensive, apparently oblivious to the constant irritation fielded by the JAM over the last year? Apparently not, because in a perverse inversion of their own criticism that the Bush administration has 'defined down' the concept of victory, these leaders of men have 'defined up' their idea of progress so much so that virtually nothing qualifies (notwithstanding all evidence to the contrary). Kennedy's Basra comment in particular shows his own determination to remain ignorant of the messy details in that theater; apart from us most definitely having a dog in the fight - against the JAM which has long deserved a reckoning - the Iraqi Army's performance may well provide a model for future independent operations in which the only thing we'll need to provide are those sinews of war - air support, surveillance - in which we surpass every other country; a reduced role for us which, incidentally, would reduce our footprint as the IA increases theirs. The bar for progress is now so high that our own republic would have failed the test miserably in its nascent years.

How, one might ask, could a mere helicopter pilot measure progress from his own vantage point, setting aside the daily intelligence briefs that I - and any member of Congress interested enough - can read and see that trends in every "bad" category are down and up in every "good" one? There are ways, apart from raw data. I could submit to you that neither myself, nor anyone in the squadron during any of our flights out here, have seen a shot fired at us in anger; and the only time we fire our aircraft guns are on test runs in a controlled range before every flight. I might offer that 99% of the cargo we carry is utterly mundane, from boxes of mail to food and water used to re-supply some of our more remote FOBs; maybe once or twice a month we'll get a request to haul ammunition somewhere, where it's fired - again - on test ranges, not in action. I'd tell you how much of a joke our Aeroscout missions have become over the last six months: personally, I've gone from the 'smuggler hunt' of my first mission (an exciting seven hours, to say the least) to scavenging virtually every stretch of desert in our AO and finding absolutely nothing worth landing on. Aeroscouts used to be the only 'good deal' mission out here - it was tactical, unpredictable, and you felt like there was a chance you could directly affect our progress here - and now they're something so frustratingly boring that all our pilots dread them. There's nothing left to find. Perhaps I'd point out that, in this squadron's previous deployment (before I joined them) there were places in Anbar that you couldn't go, day or night, because the threat was so grave; when we arrived this time round, some of those places were now safe to fly to at night, and, more recently, we can now go to those places during the daytime as well. This is not to say that this whole country is safe or that there are no bad guys left to fight; there are still slides in our intel briefs showing where attacks are taking place and how often (though the scope and frequency of those attacks have dropped as well since I first got here) and, as we saw in Basra, there are still groups outside the government's control requiring confrontation. But there have been changes out here, for the better, that even I, with my already limited exposure to actual danger, have seen and can quantify.

But there's a huge, gaping chasm between what I see out here and what I read about back home. I'm becoming less and less inclined to try and fill that gap, because it's increasingly clear that those who claim to care most about the troops in wanting to bring them home, care very little about what's really going on or that the last year has seen a huge turnaround which is worth pursuing for a while longer. With my time here almost at an end, I may stop trying altogether, because doing so has been a frustrating and mostly fruitless experience. People back in the World hear, but they don't listen. Every step forward we've taken, no matter how steep a price we've paid for it, is never good enough; every step back, a leap toward inevitable calamity. Every success is discounted, every failure becomes catastrophic, every casualty is something with which to bludgeon the president and his philosophy, his policy, his very existence. So I may just save my breath, leave here grateful that, because of the progress we and the Iraqis have made, never once in six months did I take off in my helicopter wondering if today would be the day my shoot-down would become terrorist YouTube filler, and stop trying to explain things that our critics prefer stay unexplainable. Though I will say one thing: if my rotation through here next year is part of Operation Bug-out, I will make sure that every stinking bitter detail of that certain debacle is brought to light and chokes the consciences of those who threw us under the bus. Until then, and barring any major or highly interesting event/flight out here, this may be my last post until I come home, because honestly, when no one really cares, why bother?

Then, thanks to the wonders of fiber-optic globalization, browsing another family member's blog reminded me of exactly why we should bother to make something good out of this mission. It contained this summary of action for one Petty Officer 2ND Class Michael Monsoor, a Navy SEAL recently awarded a posthumous Medal of Honor for throwing himself on a grenade and thereby almost certainly saving the lives of two teammates next to him. My first thought was, My God, where do we keep finding these people? My second focused on the location of his citation; namely, Ramadi, provincial capital of Anbar and once the insurgency's heart of operations. You want a sign of progress? It's the blood spilled by men - American and Iraqi - like Monsoor that turned it into what's now a model of peace and security for the rest of this country. You throw progress like that away at great peril to the national security and moral fabric of the United States; and if you do, you may find yourself with fewer and fewer men like Monsoor to keep the planet's wolves at bay.

Finally: this, if substantiated, will be oh so interesting.


Matt said...

I certainly hope you don't stop posting about Iraq; I really enjoy these debates. It is always good to have one's positions challenged and have to produce evidence to substantiate one's opinions.

d'Brit said...

A lot of us care about the state of Iraq Cinncinnatus.

We are just very tired of the blatently biased reportage and intentional mischaracterization of the events in Iraq.

That leads to a kind of necessary and intentional mental separation from paying much attention to news from Iraq.

Just as it must have been for WWII POW's solely listening to reports from Tokyo Rose and trying to discern the true reality about the course of that War.

Never doubt that there are millions of us who feel deep gratitude and pride in your sacrifice and service.

I was a squib in the Vietnam era but in spirit we are all participants in Semper Fi. Love of the founding principles of this country makes us so.