Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Okinawa this ain't!

Last week was the sixtieth anniversary of the fall of Okinawa. It was the last major land battle of the Second World War. Two months later, after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan surrendered. The battle for Okinawa cost over 14,000 American lives in 81 days of fighting. This was a brutal struggle for a small island south of the main Japanese chain. Eighty one days for an Island barely one hundred miles long, 14,000 dead on the winning side alone. This was after more than two years of brutal war, by American forces in the Pacific. Yet no one was crying out for a retreat. No one was crying for McArthur to resign, that was another war.
That same day, sixty years later, Ted Kennedy sat in the US Senate with his colleagues and called for a retreat. Even though the Iraqi government, elected by a turnout of 8.5 million voters this January, is urging the US to continue its counterinsurgency operations for the time being, the Senator from Massachusetts would have us cut and run. It seems that many in congress have lost sight of what’s on the line here. They see the continued casualties in Iraq as cause for surrender. But war is a struggle and that means that we are going to have to suffer some pain on the way to progress. I know the pain of our casualties. I stood helpless a few hundred meters away when one fellow soldier, Segun Akintade was pronounced dead. I attended his memorial service in the Sunni triangle. I attended another, a month later for soldiers Chris Engledrum and Wilfred Urbino in Baghdad. I treated yet another soldier for a serious wound during a roadside bomb incident.
I also treated two civilians shot in separate hijacking incidents. One, a Turkish truck driver had been shot twice in the chest and was extremely lucky to survive. Senator Kennedy and his ilk would have us sacrifice our casualties on the altar of failure and surrender Iraq to the lawlessness that we are now struggling to defeat. These critics cry that our losses are too great. We have heard this before, in places like Lebanon and Somalia. In fact it was Somalia that has served as inspiration for our current enemies in their attempt to bloody our nose enough to make us quit the field. So with 1700 soldiers fallen in this operation, these politicians would have us accommodate our foe.
Nothing could do greater dishonor to our dead. Withdrawing from Iraq in the face of the insurgency would render meaningless these sacrifices. It would mean abandoning the eight and a half million Iraqis who bravely went to the polls in January, to a fate at the hands of the most violent reactionary elements of their society. Why would we so dishonor our heroes? Why would we abandon so many Iraqis who now look to us to protect them, until their government can stand on its own?
It is time to take a hard look at the numbers here. We lost 14,000 soldiers in eighty one days, on Okinawa in 1945. More recently we lost almost 3,000 noncombatant Americans on a single day, September 11, 2001. Yet in the face of 1700 losses in three years we should surrender? We should surrender a nation of 27 million, a third of whom turned out to elect the current government there, to an insurgency that may number, at best 200,000? Is this what has come of American determination?
Senator Kennedy further called on Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to resign, citing errors made in the prosecution of the war. I am not denying that errors have been made. Nor am I excusing them. What I can do, which Sen. Kennedy obviously cannot, is place them in context. War is a momentous and complex human endeavor. It is impossible undertake such an effort involving millions of people, making millions of decisions without making mistakes. As we say in the infantry, when it comes to combat the enemy still has a vote.
Perhaps the greatest mistake the Bush administration has made is communicating the continued necessity of victory in Iraq. Wrapped up in the search for WMD, and the failure to find any, we have lost sight of the true strategic necessity of this conflict. We are currently involved in a global struggle. The struggle did not begin, but it did come to light on September 11. It is not a struggle against Islam, or against the Arab world. Nor is it merely a war against terrorism, terrorism is nothing more than a tactic. We are engaged in a war against forces who wish to see the world, or their part of it continue to dwell in the darkness of the pre-modern era. These are the forces that the President in his own Idiom refers to as evil. Yes these forces find a major voice in modern radical Islam, because there is an intersection of factors there. The Islamic world is mainly poor and disconnected from the political and economic mainstream. It is the linguistic, cultural and religious descendant of what was once a great empire. And it is in many places constrained by a fundamentalist religious outlook that seeks to dominate all facets of life.
This fundamentalism fears the openness and connectedness of modernity. It refuses to promote education except for studies of its revealed wisdom in the Koran, and thus rejects science. It focuses on the former greatness of Islam rather than the current potential of its people. It denies the female half of its constituency any role, thereby limiting itself to half the available intellectual talent in society. But it appeals to the angry, disenfranchised masses that it would keep in the dark by focusing their anger outward at the forces of modernity and globalization. Islamic fundamentalism, and all the other interests in the world that fear openness, modernization, and globalization identify the US as the enemy.
Iraq is a nation of 27 millions in the heart of the Middle East, the heart of Islam, the Arab world, and at the center of the disconnected world. It has oil, agriculture, and a reasonable amount of modern infrastructure like roads and rail and electrical capacity. It has a populace that is literate and well educated by local standards; a populace that from my experience mainly wants to connect and do business in the modern world. Their desire for democracy was apparent in their electoral turnout. Their hopes for a future can be seen in the actions of the Soldiers of the Iraqi National Guard and the Police who risk their lives daily trying to bring peace and prosperity to Iraq.
Iraq is the key to our struggle against these reactionary forces. The links between Al-Quaeda and the Baathist regime may never have been direct, but they were palpable. To disregard the role that regimes like Saddam’s have played in fueling discontent through disconnectedness is essentially dishonest. It has been dictators like Saddam Hussein, who have created the hopelessness and despair that feed organizations like Al-Quaeda. When the only choice that a people can see the one between a secular Stalinism and oppressive an oppressive medieval theocracy, it’s no wonder that a desire to lash out violently swells in a society.
Whether or not one agrees with the decision to war in 2003, now is not the time to call it quits. The Iraqi people have hope, real hope for the first time in decades. They have a freely elected government working messily on a democracy in spite of a vicious counter-democratic insurgency. Saddam Hussein will go on trial this year, for at least some of his atrocities. The United States of America has offered them a chance to join the rest of the world as it races into the future. But some small percentage of violent malcontents, disaffected by the loss of their former status and privilege, threatens this hope. Do we really want to crush these hopes? Because it got too hard?