A constant mantra from President George W. Bush is that we must listen to the soldiers “on the ground” in Iraq to get the real story on what is happening in his failed war.
A number of soldiers who just finished a 15-month deployment in that war-torn country have told their stories in an Op Ed published Sunday in The New York Times and what they saw and experienced shows just what Bush fails to admit: that his war is a monumental failure.
Viewed from Iraq at the tail end of a 15-month deployment, the political debate in Washington is indeed surreal. Counterinsurgency is, by definition, a competition between insurgents and counterinsurgents for the control and support of a population. To believe that Americans, with an occupying force that long ago outlived its reluctant welcome, can win over a recalcitrant local population and win this counterinsurgency is far-fetched. As responsible infantrymen and noncommissioned officers with the 82nd Airborne Division soon heading back home, we are skeptical of recent press coverage portraying the conflict as increasingly manageable and feel it has neglected the mounting civil, political and social unrest we see every day.
This “on the ground assessment” comes from seven U.S. soldiers: Buddhika Jaymaha, Wesley D. Smith, Jeremy Roebuck, Omar Mora, Edward Sandmier, Yance T. Gray and Jeremy A. Murphy in a story headlined: The War as We Saw It.
Like Bush, the seven soldiers believe the press is not telling the real story of Iraq. Unlike the President, they feel the situation there is much worse than reported.
The claim that we are increasingly in control of the battlefields in Iraq is an assessment arrived at through a flawed, American-centered framework. Yes, we are militarily superior, but our successes are offset by failures elsewhere. What soldiers call the “battle space” remains the same, with changes only at the margins. It is crowded with actors who do not fit neatly into boxes: Sunni extremists, Al Qaeda terrorists, Shiite militiamen, criminals and armed tribes. This situation is made more complex by the questionable loyalties and Janus-faced role of the Iraqi police and Iraqi Army, which have been trained and armed at United States taxpayers’ expense.
The soldiers describe a failed mission that could never be accomplished through flawed goals, complicated by a bureaucratic misunderstanding of the complexities of the country.
In a lawless environment where men with guns rule the streets, engaging in the banalities of life has become a death-defying act. Four years into our occupation, we have failed on every promise, while we have substituted Baath Party tyranny with a tyranny of Islamist, militia and criminal violence. When the primary preoccupation of average Iraqis is when and how they are likely to be killed, we can hardly feel smug as we hand out care packages. As an Iraqi man told us a few days ago with deep resignation, “We need security, not free food.”
In the end, we need to recognize that our presence may have released Iraqis from the grip of a tyrant, but that it has also robbed them of their self-respect. They will soon realize that the best way to regain dignity is to call us what we are — an army of occupation — and force our withdrawal.
Bush is correct when he says we need to listen to the soldiers on the ground. He should take his own advice.