A Major Voice From Iraq

'Unlike the last time,' the e—mail stated, 'where I got to run around off base playing Lawrence of Arabia and the first time invading from Kuwait, I'm now what is commonly referred to as a 'FOB Dweller.'  FOB is short for Forward Operating Base... we used to call them 'C.H.U.D.' for anyone into obscure 1980s movie references. I think it stood for 'Carnivorous Humanoid Underground Dweller.'  So now I'm C.H.U.D.  I think that's going to be the name of our next dog' 

The e—mail, which I was honored to receive, was from Marine Major Ben Connable. Now on his third tour, he is stationed at Camp Blue Diamond in Ramadi, western Iraq.  His primary duty is getting out the daily intelligence summary for the Marines' area of operations.  He knows it very well.  His knowledge and experience lend great credence to his words.

The Arabic—speaking major, who holds Master of Arts degrees in strategic intelligence and national security affairs, began his Middle East tours as a heavy machine gunner with 3/9 Marines during Desert Shield/Storm.  Four years after graduating the Quantico Basic Officers Course he embarked on Arabic studies then spent a year with the Defense Attache's office in Cairo as the Arabic Foreign Area Officer (FAO).

During Operation Iraqi Freedom, Major Connable helped develop the battle study for the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force and served as FAO and intelligence operations officer with the 1st Marine Division's Task Force Tripoli and helped establish the government in Tikrit.  On the 1st Marine Division's intelligence staff from February to September 2004, he was liaison to the provincial governor in Ramadi.  There followed one of several tours as an intelligence analyst with US Central Command.

Prior to his current deployment he served with the Marine Corps headquarters intelligence department and taught Iraqi culture at the Marine Corps Center for Advance Operational Culture Learning.  Its mission:

'an operationally focused understanding of the people we are trying to help and the people we are fighting.'   

Major Connable's e—mail continues:

'Attack levels are way, way down since the elections.  .There's what I would call an 'eerie calm' in many areas of the western desert.  This is a direct result of Marine operations and the general impression that everyone is tired of fighting.  There is a snowballing grass—roots movement at the town—city level by local Iraqis to take of local security, push out foreign fighters, and generally to reassume control over their day to day lives.  They want us out, but we hear over and over again, from city to city, village to village, household to household, that they want us to stay until the Iraqi security forces are ready to take charge.' 

That Major Connable is an articulate officer adept at communicating what might be termed 'ground truths' from Iraq has been evident for some years now.

He made his 'debut' in the May 2004 USA Today with the op—ed 'A Marine Sees What Defeatists Don't' which began,

'This is my third deployment with the 1st Marine Division to the Middle East. This is the third time I've heard the quavering cries of the talking heads predicting failure and calling for withdrawal.  This is third time I find myself shaking my head in disbelief.'  

That first article generated well—deserved attention and comment.   In it he criticized the major media for its predominately negative Iraq war coverage, noting 

'I am not ignorant of the political issues, either.  But as a professional, I have the luxury of putting politics aside and focusing on the task at hand. Protecting people from terrorists and criminals while building schools and lasting friendships is a good mission, no matter what brush its tarred with...fear in the face of adversity is human nature, and many people who take counsel of their fears speak today.  We are not deaf to their cries; neither do we take heed.  All we ask is that Americans stand by us by supporting not just the troops, but also the mission.  We'll take care of the rest.'

In December 2005 the Washington Post published Major Connable's article titled 'The Truth on the Ground.' Once again, he took on the doom & gloom crowd. 

'Skeptics can be excused for discounting glowing reports from Iraq from the upper echelons of power. But it is not a simple thing to ignore genuine optimism from mid—grade, junior and non—commissioned officers who have spent much of the past three years in Iraq...experienced military officers know that the horror stories do not represent the broader conditions there or the chances for future success.  For every vividly portrayed suicide bombing there are hundreds of thousands of people living quiet, if often uncertain, lives.  For every depressing story of unrest and instability there is an untold story of potential and hope.  The impression of Iraq as an unfathomable quagmire is false and dangerously misleading.'

He argued forcibly against those who believe that US troop presence in Iraq is the cause of the insurgency and therefore we must withdraw. 

'This vision is patently false... only our presence can buffer the violence enough to allow for eventual stability.'

Such ground truths are impossible to ignore and to discredit.  Major Connable's e—mail contains more of them: 

'Local city councils are springing up in places previously under the control of the insurgents.  We're seeing a growing effort by Sunni tribal leaders, technocrats and bureaucrats to inject themselves into the political process before it's too late...Fallujah is far from perfect but it's a miracle compared to 2004. 

'I can't believe the meeting reports coming out of the city council.  The people are energized about the elections and generally happy about the way things are going.  There's a local paper that really tells the story from the Fallujan perspective....

'The young men are signing up for the Iraqi Army and police in droves It's not like the last time when they were sullen, looking for a quick buck and not too keen on risking their lives against the insurgents.  We now see energized, motivated young guys who want to protect their families and regain some dignity. When a suicide bomber blew himself up at the recruiting station across the river from our base on January 5, killing over 40 people, most of the recruits who were not wounded got right back into line...

'...what strikes me most is the way tribal leaders and local elites are talking.  Whereas before their focus was our being responsible for all their problems, now they seem intently focused on themselves and on improving the Iraqi government. They talk about economic issues and getting rid of foreign fighters, about making the Baghdad government work for them...thing are of course far from perfect.

'This is still going to cost time, money and lives...still a chance this could all go to hell in a handbasket.  But that chance diminishes a little bit every day...I wish there was some way to convey how incredible it is to witness first—hand this struggle to emerge from 30 years of dictatorship, lies and fear.'

Major Ben Connable, USMC has been and continues to be a warrior on the front lines of the ongoing battle to get facts and the truths to Americans about the war in Iraq.  We salute him for his fine work and look forward to his next report, his next op—ed. We pray for the safety of all Marines, Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen serving in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere in the war on terror. 

John B. Dwyer is a military historian and a frequent contributor.

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