What next in Iraq?
The long-awaited reports by General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker to Congress have come and gone… what was their impact and where do we go next?
The reports were a mixed bag but can generally be divided into military and political outcomes. Militarily, the surge has been effective in many parts of the country (most notably in Al Anbar, where they built upon ongoing success, and in Baghdad where they stemmed a rapidly deteriorating situation). The political outcome is another matter. We must recall the strategic goal of the surge, which was to enhance stability and security to give the Iraqi politicians “breathing room” to begin governing more effectively for all Iraqis. The opportunity was provided, but the good governance hasn’t followed.
One of the more interesting side shows in this affair has been the infamous “General Betray Us” ads run by MoveOn.org. I have some insights which bear directly on this unfortunate event. First, my own direct observations in Iraq during the period when General Petraeus took over and the candid opinions of many highly intelligent and professional officers that I interviewed point to one fact: General Petraeus is a widely respected, exceptionally talented man who has spent his entire adult life serving our nation. Second, according to the General’s testimony, the consensus of independent reporting in the past six months and my direct sources in Iraq, the surge has been militarily successful in many regards. This is especially true in Al Anbar Province, where I spent last winter, which is now being used a model for successful counterinsurgency tactics.
So, given these facts, why would MoveOn.org run an ad that attempts to trash the reputation of a devoted, professional soldier and reject his testimony before it has even been given? The answer is that his testimony was going to run counter to “the sky is falling” rhetoric of MoveOn.org and their allies which repeatedly called the surge a failure long before the data was in. Rather than admit that they were wrong (unlikely) or simply emphasize the failures in the Iraqi political landscape (where there is plenty of room for all of us to agree), they took the low road of attacking a professional soldier who is leading our troops through a very complex and difficult situation. Shame on them and to those at the New York Times, who gave them the ad space at a discounted rate in violation of the Times’ own policies. Their tactic was not only unfair and destructive to the process but it undermines the validity of all that our Marines and soldiers have accomplished in recent months. My message to all Americans is that, regardless of your stance on the war, you have cause to be very proud of what our troops are doing each day in Iraq. Their courage, compassion and effectiveness are inspiring.
Where do we go next as a nation? We might look to MoveOn.org for an example of what not to do. Let’s not vilify and malign those who have sacrificed the most over the past four years – our professional soldiers. Let’s not obscure or ignore the truth for political gain. Let’s not poison the waters at a time when we should be looking for common ground. The reality is that we cannot precipitously withdraw our forces, nor do we want an open-ended commitment of our troops on the present scale. Let’s work together on both sides of the aisle to draft a policy that will increase pressure on the Iraqi government to serve the interests of all Iraqis and to assume increasing responsibility for their own security. Our uniformed forces have sacrificed too much to allow Operation Iraqi Freedom to end in chaos. Their families have sacrificed too much to allow the status quo.
Lieutenant Colonel Wheeler is a Field Historian for the Marine Corps History Division. He deployed to Iraq during 2006-2007 to document the efforts of Marine forces in Operation Iraqi Freedom. The opinions herein are his alone and should not be construed as those of the United States Marine Corps or Department of Defense.