Monday, November 12, 2007

OpEd by Officer returning from Iraq

I'm not familiar with how long The Seattle Times makes their op-eds available online so here's one by a soldier returning from Iraq in its entirety. Do go to their website and read it there if possible. As testvet6778 pointed out, these comments "are from a serving mid level officer who works at the Brigade level of an Army unit from Fort Lewis deployed to Iraq. In other words it is from one of the mid level managers of the fiasco in Iraq and has to see it day in and day out, and he was lucky enough to make it home."

Questions from the front lines of a war that strains logic

By Brian J. Sullivan

HILLAH, Iraq — My military tour of duty in Iraq ends in several weeks. We return home during a period of military success, to a decidedly anti-war nation and to an unclear future Iraq policy.

There is a certain pressure for those returning from this war to thump our chests, make proud claims of success, honor the fallen and extol a positive military spirit. Returning is a time to wave the flag; it's hard not to get caught up in those feelings of pride and conclusion.

My unit will focus on pinning medals and awards on returning soldiers, speeches by the generals, and maybe a homecoming event or parade.

But, tough questions will be on the minds of many as their flights leave Baghdad International Airport.

Was it worth it? Is the nation of Iraq we are attempting to assist worth the sacrifice? Will Iraq be different tomorrow because of our blood, sweat and a trillion dollars?

After serving here, I strongly disagree with the most common justification for the war.

U.S. Sen. John McCain has often commented, to paraphrase, "If we don't kill the enemy in Iraq, they will follow us home to America."

From the several hundred detainees I've seen here, and others I am aware of, I conclude it's unlikely that many of these illiterate dirt farmers and thugs caught planting roadside bombs, men who can barely feed themselves, or their children, would be able to mount a successful jihad against North America.

A closer look at the 9/11 terrorists should stiffen our resolve against radicalized, sophisticated, Westernized Muslims, from nations like Saudi Arabia, not Iraq.

Our concern should focus on sealing the U.S. border, and finding terrorists who can navigate the airports and the complexities of the First World, not the palm groves of Iraq.

I've thought about this a lot as I drove in convoys to our outlying patrol bases or flew over the palm forests along the Tigris and Euphrates. I thought about this as I crouched in bunkers as rockets were landing near me.

What I see are militia groups continuing their violent struggle for primacy and power. Iraq's primitive legal system is hardly functioning; it's a coin toss whether due process or torture will be applied.

The country's ancient power grid remains unimproved. The Mosul dam is near failure but the Iraqi government will not act to stop potential catastrophe. Iraq's police are corrupt and unreliable. Iraq's army is better, but struggling with basics like putting shoes on its soldiers' feet. The graft-dominated central government seemingly controls little.

Contrast this mess with the actions of our young U.S. soldiers. They do their combat patrols on bomb-infested roads and kick down doors of houses that could be rigged to explode. Their behavior and competence have cemented my trust in the military leaders and troops I serve with here.

I wish I could say the same of my confidence in our D.C. policymakers.

Iraq is a war being waged with a military that is stretched to the bone. Can we respond elsewhere in the world if we had to? The reality is, the U.S. Army has insufficient troops to extend the surge in Iraq without ordering 18-month rotations.

I've watched more than a dozen congressmen come into our forward operating base for their 60-minute briefings and photo opportunities.

After one briefing, I listened to a general and State Department official talk about how a large group of federal elected officials ignored the presentations, looked at their watches, or stared at the ceiling. They didn't care about the details. But, details matter, and should matter to policymakers.

It is that kind of highhandedness that will keep us fighting here.

I leave Iraq loving the organization of the Army, and grateful for the hard sacrifices of my fellow soldiers.

I leave Iraq unsure ... whether the true reason we are here, as Alan Greenspan recently opined, is that we are fighting for oil, regional stability and protecting our oil-based economic system.

I leave hoping the American people will fire their congressmen next year, especially if they are arrogant toward those risking their lives in a mission they directed.

Most of all, I challenge the soundness of the logic that what we are getting in Iraq is worth the steep cost in American blood and treasure.
Brian J. Sullivan is an infantry brigade staff officer in Iraq and formerly served two terms, from 1997 to 2001, in the state House of Representatives representing Tacoma and Pierce County. The views in this guest column are his alone.


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