The Iraq War Deserves a Worthy Epitaph
We can remember so vividly the images of the statue of Saddam Hussein being torn down by U.S. Marines, and the accompanying celebratory cheers of the Iraqi people. Later, the once-tyrannical dictator was to be found cowering in a hole, and after three years, he was put to death on December 30, 2006. The actions that lead to his end were the direct result of the atrocities endured by the very inhabitants of Iraq itself.
It is now nearly nine years since the initial invasion into the country, and the announcement by President Obama to pull the last of the troops out of Iraq leaves us with many questions. Chief among them: are we leaving in victory?
Skeptics and war opposition parties have been attempting to label the Iraq War as a complete and utter disaster, from first boots on the ground until the last of the troops' egress south into Kuwait by the end of the year. After billions of dollars and thousands of lives lost with no clear-cut results, the troops leaving Iraq are seen as defeated and broken. Those who never wanted to see troops enter Iraq have a seemingly smug nature in trying to smear almost nine years of effort as defeat -- as though it was just another Vietnam, another worthless cause with no results. But was it?
Unlike in the days of the Vietnam, fewer than 1.5 million service members worldwide actually took part in the War on Terror. This is considerably lower than Vietnam, with above 8.7 million service members, and WW2, reaching the high of 16.1 million service members. Of the 1.5 million service members that have contributed to the War on Terror, approximately 4,700 have died in combat-related engagements in Iraq versus the 47,000-plus deaths during the Vietnam War. Of these volunteers (in stark contrast to draftees), retention, willingness to fight, and troop morale are higher than during Vietnam.
Interestingly, the war protests of the 1960s were widespread, virtually everywhere one turned. The protests of today, which some would like to think are of the same caliber, simply are not there in the same capacity. In fact, there are many groups, organizations, and gatherings that support the troops and welcome them home rather than display outright disrespect or indignant indifference when they return. When it comes to Iraq, the bottom line is this: few served, and even fewer died.
Lest we forget the sacrifices made, let us consider the efforts that were put into Iraq. At the beginning of the war, following the initial defeat of the Iraqi Republican Guard the insurgency groups' later rebound in strength, improvised explosive device (IED) incidents were approximately 2,500 per month at their height. As of May 2010, the number of IED incidents monthly have shrunk to 122 per month, which among these have not always resulted in either death or injury. Thousands of pieces of explosive ordinance and weapons discovered in Intel-driven raids and cache sweeps have been destroyed or detained. Over 19,000 insurgents have been killed by Coalition Forces, while many more have been captured and convicted by the newly established and functioning Central Criminal Court of Iraq (CCCI).
It is worth noting that the CCCI is not a puppet acting on behalf of the multi-national forces, but a fully operable institution. In fact, some suspected insurgents who were previously detained have been released in part because of lack of evidence attained during Intel Driven Raids and sensitive/tactical site exploitation (SSE/TSE), attesting to the competence of the CCCI and willingness to incorporate fairness in their justice process. Additionally, the freedom in Iraq since 2002, prior to the toppling of Saddam Hussein, has changed substantially in the realm of civil liberties as well as political rights. This continues steadily into 2011 and stands a good chance of being furthered well after the U.S. pulls out.
The Iraqi Army (IA) and Iraqi Police (IP) at first showed near-incompetence, but both have improved in proficiency by leaps and bounds. This testifies to a successfully working counter-insurgency (COIN) strategy which draws upon winning hearts and minds to empower the Iraqis to take care of themselves. In contrast to Afghanistan, much of this success is due to a more functional infrastructure that shows literacy rates of 74.1% versus the 28.1% in Afghanistan. After all, it is difficult to be accountable for a weapon when one cannot read the serial number engraved in it.
The fact that foreign fighters and jihadists were actually traveling from multiple different countries to fight the "infidels" is yet another reason why there has not been a successful terrorist attack on American soil since 9/11. The reason behind fewer Islamic extremists stateside is the fact that our troops have engaged the enemy on the ground in Iraq, and that successfully. By creating a playground for terrorists and insurgents, jihadists have become the anvil of defeat by the hands of Coalition Forces. As George Orwell once wrote, "[p]eople sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf."
Where will the fight be now? With the events of the Arab Spring in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and many other countries, Dick Cheney has gone as far as to credit the Iraq War for these waves of possible freedom flowing through the least democratic portions of the world. The ripples of free elections and hope for a future without tyranny are not settled yet, though. Will the War on Terror move to Libya? Despite the ending of the recent NATO air campaign, al-Qaeda has its eyes on Libya, leaving us to wonder if the Arab Spring is really a good thing, considering what could transpire throughout the various countries in their vulnerable state of transition.
With the prospect of democracy and change, there is always hope. However, the domination of Islam in the Middle East and its increasing influence on civil society may result in many anti-American countries embracing the dangers of sharia law and jihad.
The verdict is still out, but there is one battleground that exists in which America cannot afford to lose or even stand neutral, and it is dangerously unfolding before our eyes every day. The media cannot be allowed to portray efforts in Iraq as in vain or without honor. Textbooks should write not about defeat, but of ideological and empirical victory on behalf of the troops, America, and freedom. We cannot allow the absence of attacks on American soil to make us complacent. Policy should not become lax in regards to military spending and funding. Our military cannot face cuts when it has not been modernized to the next fighting age. There is an adage among infantry Marines that sums this up perfectly: "complacency kills."
Any attempt to characterize Iraq as defeat comes from a faithlessness in the very ideals of freedom and therefore what it takes to maintain such a cause. The blood that has been shed comes not from a lack of belief in freedom, but instead from the abundance of it in us.