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Sacrificing your life for an editorial

Texas Soldier Omar Mora died recently (according to a report by Dana Schiller). He (along with 5 other soldiers) cowrote an editorial with the New York Times that criticized U.S. strategy toward Iraq. Amazingly, he is the second of the six writers to die. A real tragedy. Here is the wisdom these men died to tell us:

Political reconciliation in Iraq will occur, but not at our insistence or in ways that meet our benchmarks. It will happen on Iraqi terms when the reality on the battlefield is congruent with that in the political sphere. There will be no magnanimous solutions that please every party the way we expect, and there will be winners and losers. The choice we have left is to decide which side we will take. Trying to please every party in the conflict – as we do now – will only ensure we are hated by all in the long run.

At the same time, the most important front in the counterinsurgency, improving basic social and economic conditions, is the one on which we have failed most miserably. Two million Iraqis are in refugee camps in bordering countries. Close to two million more are internally displaced and now fill many urban slums. Cities lack regular electricity, telephone services and sanitation. “Lucky” Iraqis live in gated communities barricaded with concrete blast walls that provide them with a sense of communal claustrophobia rather than any sense of security we would consider normal.

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.

I think what this shows is how a ground-level view is often the superior view, especially if your life depends on it. Petraeus may have the bird’s eye view to manage on a macro level,  but he’s not in a position to see the fundamental error in trying to implement reforms. The saddest thing is that the soldiers there are trying their best to perform a task which can’t be done.

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