Veterans and citizens gather to observe Veterans Day 2007 in Cazenovia, New York.
By Lieutenant Colonel Kurt Wheeler, USMCR
November 11, 2007
As we pause to remember and appreciate all our veterans, there is increasing cause to give particular thanks to our most recent cohort; those who have served in Iraq. The American public has been steadfast in its support for Operation Iraqi Freedom servicemen/women. They recognize the bravery and selflessness of these troops and are conscious of the difficulty of the mission. Yet, until recently, it wasn’t clear to many outside the war zone what was being accomplished in the larger sense of American national interests. For much of the post-Saddam phase of the war, it has seemed outwardly more a matter of “keeping the lid on” than moving forward. Recent events and reporting indicate this status quo is beginning to change.
An October 26, 2007 piece in the Christian Science Monitor entitled “Al Qaeda reveals signs of weakness,” and an accompanying Op-Ed piece by Professor Fawaz A. Gerges, “Osama bin Laden’s growing anxiety,” point to a growing global impact on Al Qaeda caused by the war in Iraq. Sickened by the ruthless and violent tactics of Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) insurgents, local leaders and ordinary citizens in Iraq have switched allegiances and are now actively supporting U.S. forces to rid their areas of AQI. During my 2006-7 tour in Iraq as a Field Historian for the Marine Corps History Division, I was privileged to watch this trend grow and pick up steam in its point the origin, Al Anbar province. It has now developed into the predominant view in that region, is quickly spreading to other parts of Iraq and is even having global implications. The Monitor article quotes Evan Kohlmann, an expert on jihadi movements, “Iraq was Al Qaeda’s greatest achievement and its greatest failure. At one time they were riding high from what was happening in Iraq… that time has come and gone.” He continues, “…they’ve been revealed for what they are.”
The stark contrast between American fighting men and women and Al Qaeda operatives has been the key to “revealing” AQI’s nature. Despite the well-publicized exceptions, U.S. forces have operated with an unparalleled degree of restraint, mercy and professionalism. They have consistently professed their desire to help Iraqi’s rebuild and create stability in order to turn areas over to local leaders and local security forces. By 2006, Iraqis began to note that American actions reliably matched our stated goals. They recognized that U.S. forces were more constructive and reliable partners than AQI. That recognition created the foundation for the progress in Iraq’s security situation being seen today. While the current cohort of warriors may also rate as one of the most effective in history in their martial skills, it is their judgment and compassion that may turn out to be the most decisive factors in the war on terror. Critics may attack our Iraq policies at the highest levels, but at the human level our troops have been the greatest ambassadors for the real meaning of America. Neighborhood by neighborhood and person by person, they have demonstrated our commitment to tolerance, justice and peace. The humanity of our individual Marines and soldiers offers a sharp contrast to the barbarity of Al Qaeda… and that may be our greatest weapon in the war on terror.
Thanks to our Iraq veterans for all they have done and continue to do.
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.