(Firsthand account by an officer departing Baghdad)
Just wanted to thank all of you for your emails, jokes, packages, hospital supplies, cookies, cards, letters, newspapers, etc. You've all made this tour just a little bit easier and for that I thank you. I will be departing Baghdad on Sunday, 22 May.
It's been a wild five months. Many of the things that I've seen, both good and bad, I will carry with me for the rest of my life. I thought I'd leave you with my final thoughts from Baghdad for whatever they're worth:
The big question: are we winning this war? My answer to that is both simple and complicated. In short, yes we are. But this war will not be over any time soon and in fact it will likely last our entire lifetimes. It is so much bigger than Iraq. Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism have been growing unabated and unopposed for decades. Add to that the demographics of the Arab/Muslim world, corrupt governments that can't meet the basic needs of their people, decades of terrible US foreign policy, the morally bankrupt influence of Wahhabism, disenfranchised youths, the disrespect of women, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, etc.
And to prove God has a sense of humor, he threw into the mix a region that floats on oil and gave the West an insatiable desire/need for the stuff. In short this is all very complicated stuff with no easy answers. Additionally, for the US to win this war its strategy must also include a confrontation of our own past and values: is it still permissible to support or turn a blind eye to those corrupt governments that happen to be pro-US, what damage was done by not confronting terrorism earlier (from Carter thru 9-11, both parties are guilty), do we have the will to see this battle through to the end, what role does our own lack of energy conservation play, should we have a greater influence on Israel to cease counter-productive policies like building more settlements in the West Bank. So when I say we are winning, it only somewhat refers to the situation on the ground, troop levels, insurgents killed, etc. Despite what the press says, great progress is being made. This is not a popular uprising that we face-it is comprised of foreigners, criminals, and ex-Baathists. Bombs will always make better headlines than the building of schools or the functioning of a court system. Mainly I say we're winning because our enemy, the foreign insurgents and fundamentalists, have nothing to offer to the people of Iraq. They can blow themselves up and take innocent people with them but they can never win the popular support. They are loathed by the Iraqi on the street. To see what kind of government are they capable of producing, one need only look at the Taliban. They're great at forcing men to grow beards or stoning women, but they can't provide basic social services, build roads, educate their children or create employment. Like the Nazis, Soviets, and Apartheid before them, they will ultimately fail simply because they are incapable of succeeding.
In my lifetime I have witnessed three great triumphs of the human spirit: the fall of the Berlin Wall, Nelson Mandela walking out of prison, and Iraqis defiantly going to the voting booth on January 30th despite the constant threat of death.
Secondly I would say that I will never again view the act of voting the same way. I've been pretty hit and miss over my life when it came to voting. Sometimes it was inconvenient, other times I wasn't well versed enough on the issues, and still other times I thought that I could voice my dissent by not voting. I am now ashamed by all of these excuses. I've heard a thousand times the cliché that people gave their lives so we that could have the right to vote. I guess I never really internalized it before. I now know men and women, American and Iraqi, who actually gave their lives so others could vote. For the rest of my life I will think of them whenever I am in a voting booth.
I know the range of opinion on this war run the entire spectrum, even among my good friends on this email. Everything in the preceding paragraphs is open to debate and I don't claim to be smarter than anyone else on these matters. But I would like to close off with one observation that I believe to be absolute: we should all feel honored by the men and women who are serving here. They work under impossibly harsh conditions: the danger, the heat, the dust, and the split second life and death decisions. These kids who serve their country are amazing. They do their job, they take care of each other and they don't expect much in return except a hot meal once in a while and a cot in a corner somewhere to get some sleep. They are selfless beyond belief and they would without hesitation risk their lives for each other or for total strangers. To know them and to serve with them has been the greatest honor of my life.