Michael's Dispatches

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1st Infantry Division departing Iraq (February 2005)

Urozgan and Helmand Provinces, Afghanistan

More than a year ago, I wrote from the “Sunni Triangle” that Iraq was in the midst of a civil war, words that received little attention then. I had published that dispatch about three weeks after the unexpected but overwhelming success of the first Iraqi elections. People were understandably distracted by the post-vote euphoria, while the media was largely busy explaining how they so misjudged the mood of the Iraqi people. Nearly all their pundits predicted a gloomy, violence-ridden election day with poor turnout. Instead, the day was relatively peaceful and Iraqi voter turnout was nothing less than stunning. Looking ahead from that moment, knowing that planning for the future is best done with a clear memory, I wrote on 23 February 2005:

“Nobody knows what the future will bring for Iraq. In my opinion, it’s already in a civil war, though many people seem afraid to say it. Actually, the reluctance is more likely ordinal in nature—no one wants to be the first to say what many know to be true. Many now-stable democracies have suffered civil wars. Democracy, despite its inherent nobility, is seldom easy or pretty. At its best, democracy is a reflection of the “people,” and we all know what “they” are like."

The topic of the dispatch, entitled “Mission Impossible: Mission Accomplished,” was not the question of whether Iraq’s growing turmoil fell into any particular academic definition of “civil war.” The piece was a collection of my thoughts and observations on the occasion of the departure of the 1st Infantry Division from Iraq. In late February 2005, as I was interviewing the combat soldiers with whom I’d spent an intense seven weeks, I was struck by a question I was asked over and over again.

“How much,” soldiers from 1st ID wondered aloud to me, “do the people at home know about the progress we have made over here?”

As I consider this whole manufactured controversy about my intentions in saying, then and now, that Iraq is in a civil war, and whether or not I used the right definition, and even, ridiculous as it seems, whether I have been hijacked by forces that oppose this war, what strikes me as most telling, and truly as most sad, is that, still, more than a year later, almost every soldier I’ve met in Iraq and most recently Afghanistan, still has to ask that same question: Do the people at home know about the progress we have made over here?

Back when I wrote the dispatch trying to answer that question for the soldiers of the 1st ID, there was a clear undercurrent of cynicism in the media and from growing numbers of people around the world. There was a reason for that cynicism and we aren’t proving our patriotism by engaging in mass denial. We are Americans; we can take the truth, even when we don’t like it.

The media is rarely held to account.

During the escalation to the invasion, I had mixed feelings about the wisdom of opening a new front before we’d completed the mission in Afghanistan. I was somewhat against invading Iraq, but not rabidly so. What swayed me to stand more on the “pro” side was the concern over Weapons of Mass Destruction. The question was complicated and I, like most people, had little idea about the actual status of Saddam’s Weapons of Mass Destruction program. He’d used those weapons in the past on his own people; yet later the inspection teams had not uncovered hard evidence that the WMD still existed in Iraq. Saddam’s own behavior, dismissing inspectors and then preening for the cameras about his rights to operate without the international community’s oversight, was another factor that weighed heavily. Then there was that forceful argument Secretary Colin Powell delivered to the UN, and I, like many Americans felt there were no good choices, but pre-emptive invasion looked like the best of the bad.

But when an American administration was not careful with its words, when that administration flung around heavy words that would be remembered and would beg substantiation - and when that same administration ignored or punished its own military experts for offering dissenting views, that administration was leading the American people, and our allies, into peril. In the ensuing confusion about what was really going on and who could be trusted to inform us I made the decision to go to Iraq and see things for myself.

To a large degree, we earned the cynicism that led to the dire predictions about the impending failure of the first Iraqi elections. That cynicism explains the increasingly skewed coverage of the war. Poor performance by the media—abetted by consumers who refuse to change the channel—was directly responsible for making the soldiers I had come to know and respect feel like they’d just got kicked in the head. The fact that I had seen first hand their amazing work in the field, and the knowledge that people back home were not hearing this kind of news, led me to stay in Iraq and find a way to get the news out through alternative channels.

In the “Mission Impossible” dispatch, I wrote about how I thought the world press, and our own, unfairly judged the performance of the military, and by extension the character of the American people:

America has its share of critics, and we make enough mistakes to support a cottage industry of specialists chronicling our failures and footnoting our shortcomings. Even the most ardent patriot might concede that we provide fodder for this with frustrating frequency. We come complete with our national faults, embarrassments, scandals and scars, and horrors. Reminders of these can serve a necessary if painful purpose. But fairness alone dictates that it be balanced by a consideration of our national character.

For every failed international initiative, we have a dozen disaster relief efforts. For every indictment of corporate greed, American ingenuity compensates with countless technological advancements. For every instance when we turn a blind eye to an atrocity perpetrated by other nations against innocent neighbors or even their own citizens, we have forests of tombstones marking the graves of our soldiers who fought and died to protect the liberty of strangers.

Italy, Germany, Japan and others. . . . Modesty and discretion may not be the chief American character traits, but we shouldn’t have to remind our allies about these as if they were minor accomplishments. After the 5th Symphony premiered, no one asked Ludwig to send a resume and audition tape.

When we send our troops to war, we have an obligation that includes at the very least paying attention to their sacrifices. American soldiers should never have to wonder if we care about their well-being.

There are no absolute answers to the question of whether we should have invaded Iraq. History will more clearly answer that, and it will judge based largely on the outcome, and that outcome is not clear today even as the fact of the civil war becomes a more accepted premise in our national debate. The reason for this is simple: civil war is not a deterrent to Democracy. In fact, the reverse can be true, a point I made a year ago. Lately, it seems the only part of the debate growing at the same rate as the sectarian attacks is the number of reporters, pundits, politicians and “experts” who are now claiming that Iraq is in civil war. I almost liked it better when I was alone in this, because my only motives were to describe the obvious.

Since posting a reminder of that dispatch, I have been subject to some interesting attention. I’ve been shunned by radio interviewers and dropped from planned television appearances; I’ve been called so many contradictory things that I have to chuckle. Of course there have been the obscene and threatening communications, along with others pointing out that when I say “civil war” certain media will use my statements to push for early withdrawal, and so I should refrain from saying the truth. That will not happen. My readers deserve and expect the good, the bad and the ugly from me.

I do not report this because I harbor animosity for the current administration, or to magnify any mistakes it has made, but only so that the American people, and readers around the world, can be presented with at least one set of eyes and ears that are reasonably politically color-blind and tone-deaf. If the truth helps the administration, so be it. If the truth damages the administration, so be it. More important is to provide information people can use in their own decision cycles. Whether or not anyone agrees with the reasons for starting this war, we invaded Iraq, and should complete the mission, and that needs to be defined clearly as a stable and democratic Iraq, and not as a date on a calendar. We have to stop treating the truth like a work in progress or a lump of clay that we can shape into an image or icon.

I’ll say it as clearly today as I said it more than a year ago from my perch in Baquba: the civil war is real. It is not abating, it is growing. And it’s growing in part because we have been spackling over the truth about where much of this violence derives, and not addressing the true nature of the enemy.

There are various definitions of “civil war” in dictionaries and scholarly tomes, and there are ample interpretations by historians, military professionals and pundits. Some reference the Hindu-Muslim violence in Pakistan and India, the “Maoist” “insurgency” in Nepal, the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, or any example of a conflict that might support a particular definition. So far, these analyses have not been impressive. I am not persuaded. I go back to something Retired Army General Barry McCaffrey, a brilliant man, said in his July 2005 Memorandum for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, as a characterization of the enemy in Iraq.

  • 5. The Enemy Threat:1st - The Iraqi Insurgency threat is enormously more complex than Vietnam.
    • There we faced a single opposing ideology: known enemy leaders; a template enemy organizational structure; an external sanctuary which was vital to the insurgency to bring in fighters, ammunition, resources; and relative security in urban areas under Allied Vietnamese Government control.
    • Iraq is much tougher. The enemy forces in this struggle are principally Sunni irredentists - but there is also a substantial criminal class determined to murder, rob, kidnap and create chaos.
    • We also face a small but violent foreign Jihadist terrorist element. These terrorists do not depend on foreign sanctuary. They can arm themselves with the incredible mass of munitions and weapons scattered from one end of Iraq to the other.
    • Finally, Iraq is encircled by six bordering nations - all of whom harbor ill-will for the struggling democratic Iraqi state.

My own observations support McCaffrey’s claim that many of the enemy are just criminal thugs and gangs. Criminal activity, no matter how intense, does not constitute a civil war. Nor do the actions of “Jihadists” who came to Iraq to fight. Nor do the bombs that explode to settle scores for old tribal, ethnic or religious frictions constitute civil war per se. But all these elements accelerate the smoldering fire of the decades old civil war in Iraq.

When I asked this Yezidi headman when he thought the war began, he could not remember a time in his life when there wasn’t a war. Except for the past ten years, when the American military prevented Saddam from committing further atrocities upon the Kurds.

The Civil War did not start subsequent the invasion; it was already underway. The former Iraqi regime had slaughtered unknown thousands of civilians and buried many of them in mass graves that are still today being discovered and catalogued. If anything, the previous Civil War has merely changed shape, the advantage has clearly shifted, and now that Americans and Europeans are in the combat zone, the war gets more complicated.

The face of the enemy is often obscured, yet one of most persistent and capable enemies in Iraq are the Former Regime Elements trying to regain power and control.

Much of the killing and destruction in Iraq today is specifically targeted to achieve specific political goals, yet there are so many groups fighting whose goals are so varied that it’s hard—even impossible—to make sense of it from an American perspective. I wrote about this problem while embedded with the Deuce Four in Mosul. In a dispatch entitled Battle for Mosul II, I focused on the enemy, the largest segment of which was clustered under the category Former Regime Elements (FRE).

The main goal of the FRE is simple: under the former regime, they were in charge. They want to be in charge again. In Saddam Hussein’s regime, the Cynic’s Golden Rule—”He who has the gold, makes the rules”—worked both ways: “He who makes the rules gets all the gold.” The FRE bandits made the rules and controlled the gold. They have an understandable nostalgia for the good old days. They liked being in charge. They despise the prospect of people they once persecuted, such as the Kurds, suddenly acquiring any voice whatsoever. It’s not as if the FRE are totally disenfranchised, but more that they are no longer in complete control.

Whether or not someone might agree with the FRE, there is little disputing that these people have rational goals. Yet rational does not imply tenable in a newly democratic Iraq. This situation is not burdened with nagging grey areas where battle-scarred former combatants can work to some diplomatic compromise. This is an either/or situation. If the new democratic system takes hold, mathematics dictates that the FRE are not going to be in charge; they are outnumbered two to one. The FRE are Sunni Ba’athists while the majority of Iraq is Shia. The FRE is trying to destabilize the new government while simultaneously leveraging their position. Their primary strategy for both is to use violence against government officials and the civilians who elect them.

Our idea of a Civil War tends to be specific: Blue and Grey clashing across battlefields, linear chains of military and political leadership, specific goals that one side or the other fails or succeeds in accomplishing in a finite amount of time. Seen from the American paradigm of progress and finality, in an ideal situation, within a matter of a short time, one side wins the war, both sides sign a peace agreement, and time moves on leaving the rest for historians. Or, in a worst case, there is a stalemate and an uneasy peace is reached, but overt fighting ends.

It can be hard for Americans to believe that anyone would deliberately target children as a combat tactic. Nobody will benefit if savages control Iraq.

Despite the anarchic nature of the violence in Iraq, some lines are clear. At least some factions really are specifically targeting the Iraqi people, the security forces, the centers of economy and government, to wrest political influence or overthrow the growing democracy. The daily targeted attacks that have killed thousands of Iraqi security forces are undeniable. The primary targets have been the security forces, civilian leadership, the economy and religious leaders. The bulk of the targets indicate civil war, not civil strife. But strategic thinking isn’t as popular or persuasive as statistical thinking, so in the Battle for Mosul III, I wrote this about the numbers:

Iraq has a population approaching that of California; but in the region most under siege by insurgents, it’s closer to that of Florida. Imagine if Florida had 800 deaths in one month caused mostly by bombings, shootings, and beheadings. We would call that civil war. Calling it that is the easy part. Stopping a civil war takes a lot more determination, more skill, more ammunition and armor, and more faith in the value of a future that is drastically different from the present. Mostly, stopping the civil war in the Sunni Triangle will take time.

We can just as easily use Texas an example because its population also closely matches with Iraq. Iraq has a population estimated at about 26 million, while Texas is around 23 million. More recent lowball estimates of the deaths from the war in Iraq for the first three years of the current war, including civilians, Iraqis and Coalitions forces, would be about 35,000. That’s roughly a thousand people killed per month—and that rate has been sharply increasing.

If a thousand people were killed by violence in Texas every month, and if the carnage was sustained over a period of three years, and was getting worse, and if Texans were destroying their own oil wells and pipelines, and killing as many police and National Guard as possible, we likely would not call that “civil unrest.” We likely could mentally factor in and factor back out that some of the killing would be due to criminal activity. But if we were losing a thousand Texans’ per month for three years, and its leaders and institutions where powerless to stop it, likely most of us would agree that Texas would then be in a state of civil war, even if there were few specifically definable sides wearing specific color uniforms whose leaders espouse specific goals.

In fact, if there were no definition of civil war that fit such a condition into a sub-category, we likely would amend our dictionaries. I remember as a kid, a teacher telling a student that “ain’t” is not a word because it’s not in the dictionary. But even a kid could say, “Well, the dictionary people should have put “ain’t” in there, because “ain’t” definitely is a word, it’s just not one that gets a person nice job.” Dictionaries do not define terms. People do.

Debate about language obscures not only signs of danger but also obvious signs of progress and stability

There is a human tendency to ignore certain information while magnifying other information. We all know this. It’s not a disease that infects only people of certain parties or professions, it’s in our nature. In this complicated world, in this excruciatingly complicated world, we must make hard decisions as individuals and collectively as nations. When it came to invading Iraq, as persuasive as I found those official statements about WMD, I also knew some things that the average American would not be in a position to know. Every Iraq-experienced Special Forces veteran that I spoke with before the latest invasion of Iraq—every one of those veterans—opined that Iraq would devolve into chaos and civil war. But when I asked those same veterans if they thought the former regime was a threat to world security, they all agreed that it was, for they knew well the evil of the former Iraqi regime. Tough choices.

The reality of war should make every decent person abhor it.

It may surprise people to learn I was anti-war long before the invasion, and I am in the middle of the war at this moment, tonight, in one of the most dangerous places in Afghanistan. I’m still anti-war. A suicide bomber attacked just down the road today and shook the building, injuring one Afghan man and three British soldiers. As I began writing these words, I heard gunfire out the window. And yes, I remain anti-war. War is stupid. But it is real.

The Reality of War.

True, I am anti-war, but I recognize that at this juncture in human history that refusing to fight in many parts of the world means that we agree to be beaten to death, or we agree to allow airliners to ram into our buildings. War is a pitiful human reality that we must face, and we are far from finished with facing this demon. We live in a rough world where strength is rewarded, weakness is penalized.

The Reality.

In the face of such challenges, we need to identify our options, ask questions with courage and we must listen carefully to trusted experts. America must not be brash or arrogant, we must never gloss over the obvious or manufacture disinformation or ignore information contrary to the way we wish to see the world, especially given that we have taken the role as the principle world leader. We put ourselves in this position, because we understand the consequences of waiting for consensus. But we are in this position, and the world is watching us. The world is watching us all the time, and none so intently as our enemies. We need to stop doing battle over words, and let the facts inform our decisions. The truth is often a collateral casualty in war, and this has been the case repeatedly in Iraq. Consider how we have handled the topics of where the enemy comes from, what his methods are, and how we label his actions.

There are almost as many lies about the enemy as there are enemies to lie about.

Ask average Americans and Europeans if Iranians are coming to Iraq and fighting, and most seem to believe they are. But I crisscrossed Iraq on numerous occasions and never found an American or Iraqi military commander who agreed that Iranians are coming in. Surely foreigners have come to fight in Iraq—I have been there at times when some were captured—but on the balance, foreign terrorists are a small fraction of the problem in Iraq.

in some parts of Iraq, old munitions litter the landscape.

Massive of amounts of weapons and munitions are not streaming into Iraq, and if they were, I would have found out. But don’t take my word for it. Listen to our top military leaders who are living and working in Iraq today, such as General Casey, and they will confirm what I say. The massive amounts of munitions that are in Iraq today are mostly from the former Iraqi regime. This was the topic of many dispatches, including one entitled, “Enemy Weapons” that I published on February 28, 2005, in which I remarked:

Given the lethality of these bombs, a reasonable person might assume that it takes a measure of stealth and cunning to acquire the base components. But in Iraq, it can require only stooping to pick explosives off the ground, since much of the explosive material used for making IEDs is just lying around. In fact, tons of unexploded munitions lay on the surface within walking distance from my quarters on FOB Gabe.

Crater from the detonation of explosives captured by Iraqi police and the Deuce Four in Mosul.

Recently there was big news-hype about the “high technology” shaped-charges that are being used to defeat our armor. Some so-called experts posit that this “high technology” must be coming from Iran. Firstly, I have been there and photographed these shaped-charges as some were captured [see “The Devil’s Foyer], and I am very familiar with shaped-charges. I was taught how to make shaped-charges when I was in Special Forces. I think that I was able to learn the “art” in about one day. Shaped charges are simple. Yet the media trumped up these so-called “high technology” shaped charges as if they had been specifically designed by terrorists to defeat our armor, when in fact the United States has been using shaped charges to defeat armor for about 70 years. Replicating these weapons requires no scientific knowledge or special engineering skills, but there again, instead of stating the obvious, that most of the violence and death in Iraq is perpetrated by Iraqis on Iraqis, we reached for bogeymen.

This kind of scene, in a market square in Mosul, was much more common than the scenes of car bombs and ambushes featured on nightly news.

In my time on the ground in Iraq, I saw almost as much violence toward language and truth as was directed towards people. I wrote about this, also, because back then, again, almost a year ago now; I thought our greatest danger was the ongoing skirmishes we had with the truth.

Particularly among fanatics, there seems to be an intentional misappropriation of meaning in the liberal misapplication of labeling words. Let’s start with the BIG ones: suicide bombers and martyrs. Suicide is a term that should evoke empathy, if not sympathy, for a lonely and despairing act. A distressed soul, harboring a crushing, agonizing lebensmude, weary of the strain of a terrestrial existence, perhaps seeking mere relief, or just an end to psychic pain, may be contemplating suicide. If this person straps a bomb to his or her chest and walks out into the solitude of the desert and detonates, they would then be properly called a “suicide bomber.” But when the media reports every day on “suicide bombers,” they are talking about different people.

A fanatic who straps a bomb to his chest and walks into a market crowded with women and children, then detonates a bomb that is sometimes laced with rat poison to hamper blood coagulation, is properly called a “mass murderer.” There is nothing good to say about mass murderers, nor is there anything good to say about a person who encourages these murders. Calling these human bomb delivery devices “suicide bombers” is simply incorrect. They are murderers. A person or media source defending or explaining away the actions of the murderers supports them. There is no wiggle room.

Calling homicide bombers martyrs is a language offense; words are every bit as powerful as bombs, often more so. Calling murderers “martyrs” is like calling a man “customer” because he stood in line before gunning down a store clerk. There’s no need to whisper. I hear the bombs every single day. Not some days, but every day. We’re talking about criminals who actually volunteer and plan to deliberately murder and maim innocent people. What reservoir of feelings or sensibilities do we fear to assault by simply calling it so? When murderers describe themselves as “martyrs” it should sound to sensible ears like a rapist saying, “She was asking for it.” In other words, like the empty rationalizations of a depraved criminal.

Iraqi Police in Mosul were taking heavy losses when I arrived, yet recruitment was not a problem.

The word martyr is derived from the word “to witness.” It is used to describe a person who is killed because of a belief or principle. Given the choice to recant, martyrs chose instead to face their murderers and stand in witness to their beliefs. True martyrs do not kill themselves, but stand their ground and fight in the face of death to demonstrate the power of their convictions, sometimes dying as a result, but preferably surviving.

The only martyrs I know about in Iraq are the fathers and brothers who see a better future coming, and so they act on their beliefs and assemble outside police stations whenever recruitment notices are posted. They line up in ever increasing numbers, knowing that insurgents can also read these notices. The men stand in longer and longer lines, making ever bigger targets of themselves. Some volunteer to earn a living. This, too, is honorable. But others take these risks because they believe that a better future is possible only if Iraqi men of principle stand up for their own values, for their country, for their families. These are the true martyrs, the true heroes of Iraq and of Islam. I meet these martyrs frequently. They are brave men, worthy of respect.

But what I saw (and see) as the biggest threat to the outcome was not the increase in sectarian violence among Iraqis. The biggest threat to this mission, and by extension to the future stability of this region and the long term security of the United States and our allies, is and always has been the inability to see, hear and communicate the truth to the American people and our allies. In the final analysis, it is not going to matter if the French support our mission in Iraq, but once Americans turn away from their soldiers in the field, we’ve lost.

In order to fund my own fact-finding in Iraq and Afghanistan, I asked my attorney last week to look into selling some of my photos. His response, in part, which came to me yesterday:

Sadly, what I am hearing is that the demand for material from both countries is way, way down. The market has dried up and the competition from almost free AP photos and US Army material means most agencies do not want to take on someone whose work is primarily war-related at this time.

We have gotten our troops into combat and now we are ignoring them. It’s little wonder that Americans would be angry at me for calling a civil war a civil war. Most of them have no idea what is going on! But this is not the sole fault of the media: if there were great demand for information from the wars, they would dispatch legions of journalists. It is the people at home who are ignoring our people at war.

Our troops are dismayed that the mainstream media and the American people are largely ignoring the reality in Iraq and Afghanistan.

When I said that the situation was a civil war over a year ago, it did not generate the controversy that repeating it now is doing. What has changed since then is that the scope and magnitude of the civil war have grown, making it next to impossible to deny. What is also new is that in the absence of better reporting of the complex situation on the ground, good and bad, Americans are increasingly turning against this mission. They are not ignoring poor media but are rewarding it by paying attention to it. The people are not ignoring the poor media, but they are doing something far worse: they are ignoring our troops!

Tennessee National Guard built bridges in eastern Iraq.

Pressure is mounting to end our engagement prematurely. This would be disastrous, but worse is that we were warned by people whose expertise should have given us pause. In his report to the Senate, not only did General McCaffrey detail the complex nature of the enemy, he issued a clear challenge to our civilian leaders:

“We must continue to level with the American People. We still have a five year fight facing us in Iraq.”

I think Barry McCaffrey was being optimistic by saying five years, but he was prodding top leadership to tell the Americans the truth. Americans can take the truth, but they abhor lies, and they can smell lies a mile away.

When people were told a year ago that the insurgency was in its dying embers, or when they were told that the same people who failed to show up for the rose petal parade our troops were expected to receive, would now show up and build a democracy overnight, those statements were retorts to the growing reports of Iraqi on Iraqi violence. The gloss over’s were meant to assure us that what was being reported as a growing threat to the stability of the region was actually a miss-read of the facts.

Our top civilian leaders, the ones with their hands on the cockpit controls, predicted swift and easy victory. The failure of that promise, coupled with the bargain basement reporting that substituted nightly body counts and recycled car bomb footage for insightful coverage, is what has made the statements I made a year ago suddenly reach so many ears with so much controversy.

The Iraqi people have demonstrated their desire for a democratic country by voting three times in the past year.

What frustrated me then and still does now is that the false promises were not necessary: at least one path to stability was working in Mosul, a Sunni enclave, something that few people on any side of the debate seemed to realize at the time. During heated fighting in Mosul, I went against the grain and predicted its success, based on what I was seeing with our forces on the ground, the emerging local Iraqi leadership, and the Iraqi citizens in Mosul. I made those predictions for success even while the fighting was intense and American and Iraqi blood was spilling in the streets. I took serious criticism for it. I had no good metrics, or any fancy academic definitions upon which to base anything, just my gut feeling and what my eyes and ears were telling me. But we did win in Mosul. And, the victory is holding.

American and Iraqi forces brought calm back to Mosul.

It is that same gut feeling that tells me can win in Iraq, but I am not going stretch that far out on the limb as to say that we will win. I certainly hope we do. I was correct about the civil war more than a year ahead of the academic and media pack. I was right about Mosul. But I am not sure about Iraq as a whole. The fine points of emerging governments are abstractions to people who cannot worship without a very real fear that their holy places are no longer safe havens. Having been beaten in Mosul, and pushed out of Tal Afar, and long since driven from the Kurdish strongholds in the North, the enemy is clearly concentrating efforts in the capital city area.

We are not getting the truth through our media, or our civilian leadership. Yes, Iraq is in civil war, but there is no doubt in my mind, not the slightest doubt, that the new Iraqi security forces are becoming stronger all the time. It’s not certain if they are strong enough to hold back the enemy on their own or if we need to increase the efforts of our military in a coordinated measure. But the fact that an American general recently invited me to see that progress is an indicator that our top military leaders are confident. An Army general would not have invited me back to Iraq to see a fiasco, and the mere fact of his invitation is a ray of hope.

Our soldiers shouldn’t have to wait til these Iraqi kids get old enough to tell the world about the difference they’ve made.

When it comes to this enemy, I believe we have nothing but more tough choices. In the past six days alone, I have been in the immediate proximity of two homicide bombings.

The BBC reported:

There has been a suicide car bomb attack outside the US military base in the capital of the Afghan province of Helmand, Lashkargar, officials say.

The provincial governor told the BBC the attack was aimed at Dyncorp, a US company training the Afghan police force in poppy eradication work.

The US military says three US nationals suffered minor injuries.

That was not actually a car bomb; the man was a passenger and got out of a car that drove away. The man was wearing the bomb, approached an armored Dyncorp SUV and detonated himself.

No one has to persuade me or anyone else who’s actually been on the ground about the true nature of the enemy.

These people, whether we call them freedom fighters, insurgents, thugs, or terrorists, have a stated mission to attack anyone who is not like them, wherever they can. They are not bluffing. They cannot be appeased. They will not stop if and when we leave, if we leave without completing the mission. If we leave, all vestiges of progress will be lost and those Iraqis who risked their lives to work with us to gain that progress will no longer trust Americans. If we run, the enemy will follow us. They will kill us. They will not stop until we stop them. I might be anti-war, but I am much more anti-terrorist. No more needs to be said on the subject of whether or not a portion of the violence in Iraq should be called a civil war, unless we want to argue about the definitions while the place explodes around us. There are more pressing issues than the limitations of our dictionaries.

I am in Afghanistan—how many people even remember we are fighting here?—surrounded by massive amounts of poppy fields. This heroin and terrorist factory called Afghanistan needs to be addressed.

A scraggly poppy patch in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. This kid isn’t evil. He and his family work the poppy to survive.



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