September 19, 2007
Why Iraq Matters to MeBy Brett McCrea
During the last few weeks there has been a visceral discussion about the US's prospects in Iraq. Much of it has centered on assertions that President's surge plan and Iraq policies are a failure and the Iraqi government has failed to deliver on goals they promised to achieve. These issues, coupled with the rising death toll and the disingenuous kabuki theater politicians have engaged in, has left the US population with a large degree of uncertainty and angst.
I read in a book once that when judging character, examine individuals on their worst day, not their best. While I have never been a politician or a political leader of any sort (so maybe I am naïve), I would submit that what I see out of my country's "leaders" is inexcusable. US soldiers are dying while various political factions are trying to build a domestic coalition to force their political will.
In other words, they are spending the lion's share of their energy focusing on one another rather than looking at the big picture and then making a decision. Equally vile is that politicians are intent on dragging this fight into the public's eye in order to form public battle lines. Instead of being adults and hashing this out among one another, the politicians seem to think whipping the public up into a polarizing frenzy is somehow going to legitimize their respective agendas.
It kind of reminds me of parents going through a faltering marriage, trying to drag their children into the fight to inflict more psychological damage on each other, instead of quietly hashing it out between one another whether they are going to work on the problem or call it quits.
To me, this is "decision making" at its worst and it is reflective of the poor character of those in Washington. We employ these politicians to make decisions. Enough rhetoric already. Sit down, make the decisions, and then live with them.
Another dimension to this catastrophic process our politicians seem intent on following is the impact on what the world thinks of us. Many have stated that the Bush Administration has set US foreign policy back and/or has done irreparable harm to the US's global image. Whether you feel this is true or not probably depends on what part of the political spectrum you find yourself. In my opinion, the damage to our global image is that the United States is perceived as saying one thing in the beginning, and then our commitment can change midstream when hard decisions and sacrifices need to be made.
Most countries look to the United States for help and assistance when the chips are down. When the chips are down they want someone that is steady and dependable. After viewing this process of decision making, I am not sure many countries that need help will want, let alone, seek ours. The way our many of our leaders handled the war in Iraq clearly indicates that when the really hard decisions need to be made, we are more concerned with our own internal politics than with results, and may waver.
No wonder the Iraqi government failed to meet expectations. Every Day those Iraqi leaders hear inconsistencies about what our commitment means. Again, it is similar to a dysfunctional marriage. When the sons and daughters of a faltering marriage see their main supporters (their parents) constantly directing their energy at one another instead of the road ahead, most will not maintain a positive course.
From this perspective, I don't like what I see from our elected politicians and how their behavior has affected not just our global image, but the citizens of this country. They are consciously feeding into a decision-making process that does not provide for good answers, good decisions, or accountability. Even worse, this pattern of behavior holds great potential to be repeated in the future. This is one reason why Iraq matters to me.
As someone who has professionally examined terrorism for over a decade, I think that the main fuel for this phenomenon is ideology. As scores of examples demonstrate, it is an ideology that relentlessly attacks western civilization and all things not considered "Islamic." It is the result of hundreds of years of theological development and is uncompromising in its application. It is an ingrained idea for many in the region and al Qaida's version of Islamic radicalism is not the only version. Iran's Islamic revolution was also born in that region and is equally as uncompromising and is eagerly willing to perpetrate violence.
One way to defeat that idea is to replace it with another. Many dismiss the practicality of aggressively advancing democracy in the Middle East. However, I think it is a good idea. Democracies generally do not make war against other democracies. Given that the Middle East is the source of ideologies that are willing to violently attack the US, attempting to instill democratic ideals in this region holds the promise of breaking the stranglehold these ideologies apparently have over many in that region. In many respects, it's a race to see who can establish the dominant idea for the region.
If the US is unwilling to fight to establish our ideals, groups like al Qaida have demonstrated they will fight to establish theirs. I would not want to forfeit this fight in Iraq and cede the political initiative to countries like Iran or groups like al Qaida. Allowing Iraq to be cast in the image of al Qaida and/or Iran would be a mistake we will pay for in many years to come.
Even if you do not believe these groups will follow us here if/when we leave Iraq, then ask this question: Is it acceptable to allow these ideologies to gain more ground and proliferate? If it is acceptable, to what are we condemning the citizens of Iraq, the Middle East, and the world? These groups have already demonstrated their willingness to indiscriminately kill. I do not expect that to change if they gain control in Iraq. That is another reason why Iraq matters to me.
The other way of defeating these radical ideologies is by relentlessly attacking their vanguards. It is important to note who is leading the fight against US troops in Iraq: al Qaida, Iran, and Iranian surrogates.
While al Qaida seems to dominate the headlines, let's examine Iran and her surrogates. Before 9/11, Iranian surrogates killed more Americans than all other terrorist groups combined. That history includes bombing the US Embassies in Beirut, Lebanon, the US Marine Corps Barracks in Beirut, US Embassy in Kuwait, the Khobar Towers housing complex in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, and murdering US Navy seaman Robert Stetham. Their current activities in Iraq and Afghanistan continue to kill US soldiers.
I believe Iran's engagement in Iraq is based out of the current Iranian regime's fear for its own safety. In the first Gulf War the US military steamrolled the Iraqi army in about 100 hours. That was the same Iraqi army Iran just gotten done fighting to a stalemate over the course of 8 years. In the second Gulf War the result was similar.
Today, that same US military is now poised on both of Iran's borders. Tehran realizes they cannot successfully engage in a conventional war with the US military. That leaves the choices of ceding the political initiative to the US, or engaging in unconventional warfare with the US to undermine our efforts.
The regime in Tehran cannot to allow the US to establish stable governments with democratic principles on both borders because those democratic ideals could threaten the hold the Mullahs have on political power. That is the main thrust behind Tehran's engagement in the unconventional war raging in Iraq.
To ever remove that regime from power, the citizens of Iran need to witness a functioning, prosperous, democratically-based Iraq and an unflinching US resolve to achieve that goal. Removing the current Iranian regime would eliminate not only the main supporter of terrorist groups that have killed Americans for over 2 decades, but also the main supporter behind undermining the Middle East Peace Process. That is why a stable, democratically-oriented Iraq is needed and another reason why Iraq matters to me.
The presence of al Qaida, Iran, and Iranian surrogates in Iraq has been well covered by the media. Among them, they are responsible for thousands of US deaths and billions of dollars in damages. They have targeted us in the past and are systematically engaging us now.
I wonder: If we had a collection of criminal gangs that perpetrated similar crimes over the course of 2 decades would phrases analogous to "strategic redeployment" and "defunding operations" or "timelines for withdrawal" be bantered about? I would hope not, I think our leaders would all be mobilized and focused on eliminating the threat.
That does not appear to be to be the case today and that deeply concerns me. This country gave birth to the greatest generation, and when they were attacked in December 7, 1941 they focused on the threat and then eliminated it -- maintaining unity throughout. As a result, the world is a better place.
On September 11, 2001 we were focused on the threat. Now that it is time to eliminate it we are faltering. Why is that? We are not that far removed from WWII.
I don't think our military is to blame, it is stronger. I don't think law enforcement is to blame. I don't think the intelligence apparatus is to blame; we had intelligence failures that led to Pearl Harbor and we survived. I don't think the citizens are to blame; this country has continued to provide more aid, assistance, and knowledge to the world than any other.
I think the difference is our decision makers and, arguably, they are cut from a different cloth. The WWII leaders were united against the threat, not focused on the differences of politics. Today's leaders seem more focused on their politics and peer groups, not on the looming threat that will not recede or capitulate and will take more US lives if we do not eliminate it.
Politics has a place in the US, but I do not believe it should be front and center when our servicemen and women are executing their mission. If there is a need for partisan debate on the war, fine. But then lock the decision makers in a room until a decision is made and then stick with it. I have seen enough Monday morning quarterbacking. Doubts about decisions are natural, but to give that doubt and dissension center stage is in no way asconstructive as many politicians may want you to think. It signals weakness to those who threaten us and neutralizes the unique ability only this country possesses to make this world a better place.
The politics of the war in Iraq have taught me a lot about the leadership in my country and I am left wanting. That is why Iraq matters to me.
Brett McCrea served for ten years as an Intelligence Analyst for the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Defense. He currently teaches at Wilmington University in Delaware.