June 28, 2007
Nothing Short of VictoryBy Allen Andrew Dennison
After having been deployed to Iraq for several months, tragedy struck my family. In February, I had received word that my mother had fallen terminally ill, and shortly after arriving home on emergency leave, she passed away. It was while I was home, along with the many other personal troubles I was enduring, one problem weighed heavily on me: although I had been in Iraq for nearly four months, I had failed to fully comprehend the gravity and necessity of our mission in the Middle East.
As a First Sergeant, understanding the unit's mission has always been a priority for me. We are simply here to rid Iraq of its insurgency and al-Qaeda, and to secure the future for a free and democratic Iraq. Somehow, early on in our deployment, everyone's perception of the war became black and white. We must kill or capture all remnants of the insurgency in order to achieve the success we set out for. For the most part, that is why we are fighting. We are indeed in Iraq to secure its newfound sovereignty.
However, it is far too easy for us soldiers to become shortsighted and neglect the full ramifications of "winning" or "losing" this war. Admittedly, losing sight of the larger picture is a natural response when the bullets go whizzing by. That said, things on the ground are much more complicated than Katie Couric or the New York Times will tell you.
Here in Iraq, the war is without a doubt being won. Along with the set-backs and fatalities, we are winning important moral and military victories, and both of those kinds of wins are equally important. Yet, I see played out all too often on the evening news the supposed despair we are facing in this seemingly hopeless land. Now, without bashing the mainstream media, I believe they too have fallen into the same rut of short-sightedness. They have become vultures picking over the remains of what happens here in Iraq simply because they know that Americans have become accustomed to hearing bad news about US military operations. The simple and the sensational sells, but it rarely accords with reality. This is why they peddle little more than war-weariness.
The overall situation in Iraq is improving: Iraq is steadily regaining its economic feet; oil production is back on the upswing, higher than prewar output; men and women of all creeds are enjoying a newfound sense of freedom; insurgents, terrorists, and foreign fighters can no longer openly parade about in public and dominate Iraqi communities by means of fear, terror and murder. Regardless of what the world's media may depict, Iraq is undoubtedly progressing in the right direction. With the tide beginning to turn in our favor and against our enemies, we need to reaffirm our resolve as Americans to win this war.
As Americans and the world's only remaining superpower, we still have an inherent obligation to police up the world's trash. As ugly and tedious a responsibility as this may seem, it certainly falls on us to carry it out. We all saw first-hand on September 11, 2001 what awaits us if we even hesitate to stomp out evil as it begins to spread. Unfortunately, isolationism is apparently becoming fashionable again in the international community and among the chattering classes when it comes to the Middle East. The belief that not getting involved spares a society getting its hands dirty is much in vogue.
We as soldiers (past and present) know better. We know that serving our country calls for the courage to go against the grain of conformity, and maintaining the integrity to follow through with what you know to be true. Nothing short of victory will suffice for our country's future security.
It is a shame that while the whole of the United Nations believed that Saddam Hussein possessed the weapons that could wipe out entire cities at whim, they seemed ugly reluctant to impede him from employing such weapons. We should remind ourselves that the United States is by far the most diplomatic superpower in modern history. America did in fact give Saddam and his Baath Party a fair shake in cooperating with UN officials. Hussein and his lackeys simply scoffed at the world as they obstructed the US inspectors investigating the truth about Iraq's weapons arsenal. But among the member nation states of the United Nations who called for such investigations, none was willing to act on what they believed to be an imminent threat in Iraq. Granted, intelligence may have proven wrong on weapons of mass destruction, but before we knew of any faulty intelligence, the international community was uniform in its certainty that Saddam had access to such weapons. The US rightly took it upon itself without the support of the majority to put an end to negotiating with rogue nations and terrorist organizations. The day of diplomatic resolution to imminent threats was over. That was the lesson of 9/11.
Yet four years into the war, many have forgotten the bigger picture. Yes, it has taken an unimaginable toll on American lives; yes, the future seems unclear for an ultimate withdrawal from Iraq; and yes, many believe that progress has been slow. Unfortunately, a war, on whatever scale, cannot be embarked upon without the full realization that Americans will lose their lives. America does not lightly decide to go to war, but once decided upon, war requires ultimate sacrifices - sacrifices that we as Americans know have to be made. There is no soldier, nor is there any proud American, who would not gladly surrender his or her life in defense of the greatest country on Earth.
Those sacrifices must be honored.
Withdrawing from a battle that has not met our every expectation is deplorable. We cannot simply turn back because we believe the cost too high. We must commit ourselves to a charge that nothing short of supreme victory will suffice; anything less is a betrayal of those who have already given the last full measure of their devotion to this cause. Meanwhile, our expectations must be realistic. We cannot expect a nation who saw over 30 years of oppression to advance towards economic and political livelihood in half a decade. Recovery will continue long after America has left Iraq.
The war in Iraq is not just a war in Iraq. We often hear that "foreign fighters" are joining the fight despite the thousands of terrorists that have been killed during Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. It has also come to light that other nations fund and contribute direct support to our enemies, even though we have seen some modest success in slowing the flow of cash to terrorist groups throughout the world. We must keep in mind that the end result of the war in Iraq is not just that Iraq can be free, but that terrorists are put on the run, where they are less likely to be able to repeat what happened on 9/11. Those who aren't smart enough to run and hide elsewhere usually end up here in Iraq, where my colleagues and I have the opportunity to make their acquaintance.
Here in Iraq, at times I find myself asking whether the world is being made safer by our actions here. Then I ask myself, were all of those involved in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing held accountable? Did we bring to justice those responsible for the Khobar Tower attack? Were the perpetrators of the attack on the USS Cole and the American Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania held to account for their actions? The answer is simply no.
We saw four unwarranted terrorist attacks against the US in a single decade and we did absolutely nothing in response. None of the trespasses prior to 9/11 received the full wrath of the United States, as was fitting, and it's unfortunate that it took that one terrible day to make America realize that there is truly evil in the world that must be confronted militarily.
If anything, our efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan are an attempt to push back against America's enemies and the looming darkness that threatens us. As Americans, we live in a paradise, and it is thoughtless of us to think that our freedoms exist simply because evil will never encroach upon them. We have had to secure our freedoms for over 230 years against virtually constant assaults, and will forever have to defend it against all enemies. America is truly worth fighting for. Anything short of victory in Iraq will jeopardize our freedoms and our future, and in light of all the past sacrifices made in our nation's history to preserve freedom and the future, that we cannot allow. Nothing short of victory should be acceptable.
First Sergeant Andy Dennison is currently serving in Iraq with the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division. He previously served in combat in Somalia. His views are his own. He does not speak for the US Army or the Department of Defense.