Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

A soldier’s view of Iraq

I just hosted an Oglethorpe alumnus who is on leave from his second tour in Iraq (the first time as a tank and scout platoon leader, this time as an advisor to the Iraqi National Police). The highlights, from the point of view of a liberally educated soldier:

*It’s hard for him to understand a national debate where virtually no one knows what he’s talking about. Shouldn’t our opinions be informed by knowledge?

*Compared with his first tour, the U.S. soldiers this time are infinitely more sensitive to the culture of the people with whom they are dealing. The picture he paints is of a nuanced and culturally sensitive approach to the iraqis with whom they deal.

*Al Qaeda is being beaten very badly in Iraq.

*The proper war analogy is not Vietnam, but Korea, where a long-term U.S. presence stabilizes a situation and permits the economic and political development. Indeed, he seems to think that economic development (successful small business) is the key to political development in Iraq. (Warner Winborne, what do you think of this?)

*"North Korea," in this analogy, seems to be Iran. He has no doubt but that Iran is at war with us in Iraq.

All in all, I think my students heard a lot of good things from a thoughtful and frank soldier who can’t believe how little his fellow citizens know about and understand what he and his comrades are going through. He says he never sees any American reporters, even though he’s all over the Baghdad area (and spends some time in the Green Zone).

Update: A couple of other observations I didn’t have time to include in the original post:

*He’s beginning to see camera mounts on the Humvees (like those on police cars in the U.S.), presumably so that there will be a better record for assessing what went on in particular situations. And he’d have no problem having all his actions in Iraq videotaped.

*He knows of cases in which insurgent deaths are treated as "civilian" deaths because working weapons are quickly removed from the scene, recycled, so to speak.

Update: One thing we all can do: he says it means a lot to troops in transit through airports when people thank them for their service to their country.

Discussions - 11 Comments

Now you might wish to invite one of these 9 soldiers to share their knowledge-based opinions with your class.

Craig: the article you linked was writted mostly by people who were last over there in 2005. It sounds to me like Joe's guest just got back. Seems like "things are better now than in 2005" was one of the main points Joe's guest was trying to communicate.

Everyone has a different view. My former student, to whose veracity and character I can attest, has spent two tours in Iraq, the first in 2003 and the second for most of the past year (he has a couple of months left). He thinks we're doing a much better job now than we were before, and he's clearly behaving in a more nuanced fashion in his (very numerous) interactions with Iraqis.

Let me stress one point to which he returned more than once: local development success (e.g., businesses that are operating profitably) drives out insurgency, which is bad for business.

Looking for some guys from more recent tours? These seven soldiers were in Iraq quite recently, although one was shot in the head while their knowledge-based views were being written (so he might not be available for a while) and 2 others died in a truck crash in Baghdad a little over a month ago.

Another thing to emphasize: the soldier's view on the ground in Iraq is that the domestic debate here is going on in what is essentially an information vacuum. The press isn't doing its job, unless its job is to gin up opposition to the war.

Joe K - It seems that you are looking at the situation as follows: if public opposition to the war goes up, then the press is failing. If public support for the war goes up, then the press is doing its job. So the press's job is really not about showing people what's happening in Iraq, it's about achieving certain outcomes in public opinion?

Secondly, WHOSE opposition to the war, to the American military presence in Iraq, are you referring to? Do you think that the majority of Iraqis - the people who we are supposed to be working for (right?) - who want our troops to get out have that opinion because of the failures of the press?

To add to what Joe said about the media not doing its job, unless its job is to gin up oppostion to the war, here is an interesting observation from Charles Gibson on his World News Tonight Show the other night, to the effect that since there were no attrocities, bombings etc. to report from Iraq "There is no news to report". So one may conclude from remarks such as these that bad news is news, good news is not. That sums up the attitude of the popular(?) media towards news from Iraq. They show their true colors every time.

Yet, members of the military have overwhelmingly donated to the presidential candidate that would withdraw us from Iraq immediately:

The war has been pimped from day one to the present on lies and propaganda. Hundreds of billions of hard earned tax payers dollars flushed down the toilet just to satisfy neocon fantasies of exporting "American exceptionalism" to the mideast. Poll after poll shows that the American people don't like to be lied to in this manner and see the colossal waste of money.

Iraq was a defenseless country that was never a threat to the USA.

How come every time someone says something good about what's going on in Iraq all the sob sisters start posting their baloon juice? Why don't you grow a set and be real Americans for a change?

Well things are going slightly better in Iraq and it is true that the iraqi's are probably more tired of the insurgents than they are of the american soilders... but they want both groups out. It is also true that A lot of soilders support Ron Paul...he is pretty popular in the Fort Sill area. It is also true that the media doesn't like reporting stuff that isn't a potential scandal or a cost figure be it a dollar amount or a death toll...there is good stuff happening that the media chooses not to report, but this is nothing new. A marine acts with great valor...perhaps it will make the hometown release. Somebody shoots someone whom they suspect is detonating an IED the media is interested if it is a wrongfull death. Back in 2004-5 a lot of soilders rolled out with personal video cameras on...that is nothing new... if the army is going to foot the bill and require it that might be interesting... of course these vehicles are overloaded with systems anyways...and half the time cameras don't catch action...until after the fact...

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