Opinion: Carolina Beat

No. 776: Light at the End of the Dark Road in Iraq

On June 28 Iraqis took charge of their own destiny—a daunting task, according to journalists who had little faith in the mission from the beginning. From most media reports, one could assume that these uncivilized people were hopelessly mired in self-destruction.

I must admit I had similar thoughts at the beginning. Freeing the oppressed was relatively easy. For them to keep their freedom, maybe not so. To paraphrase Benjamin Franklin, announcing the U.S. Constitution to the Revolutionary colonists: You have a new government, if you can keep it.

Keeping faith is difficult, especially in a continuous barrage of doubt and pessimism. Even as the U. S. representative, Paul Bremer, after 15 months of successful administration under severely trying conditions, transferred power to Iraqi leaders, skeptical editors proclaimed only a “glimmer of progress.” Journalists and columnists questioned: “OK, but who will call the shots?” and, “Will Iraq’s Sunnis Sign On?” Of course, those questions, and others, remain to be answered. There are no guarantees. But there is reason for optimism.

Our sizable military force of about 160,000 U.S. and coalition forces will back up the peace by helping to attack subversives and train Iraqi forces to defend themselves. We’ve opened a huge embassy headed by U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte, a respected and experienced career diplomat. Army Gen. George W. Casey, with peacekeeping experience in Bosnia and a graduate degree in international relations, will be the U. S. military commander. The new Iraqi government consists of people with impressive resumes.

They are people who were prominent under Saddam Hussein, until they demanded reforms. Brave, educated men, experienced in politics and business, they escaped his vicious regime. Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, said to be top gun, will focus on security as a priority. There’s talk he might establish a police state, but it may be a necessary temporary measure to control the radicals. President Ghazi al-Yawer, presumed to be less powerful, is an engineer educated in the United States. He crossed Saddam and was exiled in Saudi Arabia for 15 years.

The day of the transfer, Allawi sounded hopeful despite problems with terrorists, debt, other economic woes, and ethnic squabbles. He said Iraq would be for all the people, that they could live in a “dignified society based on friendship, brotherhood, and justice.”

Retired military engineer, Abed Jabbar Latif, expressed confidence shared by others: “I feel good now because I can see a light at the end of the dark road.”

However bright the light will be, the world can thank our military for securing that road.
With swift and decisive action Operation Iraqi Freedom began in March 2003. Less than three weeks later Baghdad fell. We had only 138 fatalities. On May 1, President Bush declared our combat operations had ended. But insurgent guerrilla skirmishes had to be won. In July our forces killed the infamous sons of Saddam in the city of Mosul. On Dec. 13, our troops captured Saddam Hussein, found cowering in a hole, in his hometown of Tikrit.

Since then, press reports have featured terrorist attacks and daily body counts. By January 2004 our military people confirmed that their tactics were being felt by the enemy. Karl Zinsmeister, an imbedded journalist with U.S. units in Iraq, reported that the army intercepted an al-Qaeda letter to Afghanistan. Its message admitted their failure to drive Americans from Iraq, or to gain much support from the natives.

Zinsmeister reports that two-thirds of al-Qaeda leaders have been killed or captured, their communication links have been cut, their finances have “collapsed,” and recruitment has slowed. The Baath Party in Iraq has met a similar fate. Foreign thugs from Syria and Iran see the handwriting on the wall for them as well. None of this could have happened without our military strength, skill, and perseverance.

Some academic social scientists, partisans, and journalists want us to believe that problems in Iraq could have been solved with political objectives: persuasive talk. Never. This radical violence demanded action. Military objective: defeat the enemy, then play political science games of social diplomacy. But our military people have capabilities also for political action.

American field commanders in Iraq are developing skills in civic reconstruction—achieving political goals. Our well-educated military officers have honed their leadership qualities. They use their initiative, flexibility, and problem-solving abilities to blend military missions with social reconstruction.
Our can-do, but no-nonsense, GIs have accomplished amazing things with weapons, courage, and diplomacy: helping Iraqis down the road toward a brighter light.