Monday, November 06, 2006

Soldiers on Iraq

In the whole Iraq mess, one thing we can rely on is the willingness of American soldiers to keep fighting:
With a potentially historic U.S. midterm election on Tuesday and the war in Iraq a major issue at the polls, many soldiers said the United States should not abandon its effort here. Such a move, enlisted soldiers and officers said, would set Iraq on a path to civil war, give new life to the insurgency and create the possibility of a failed state after nearly four years of fighting to implant democracy.

"Take us out of that vacuum -- and it's on the edge now -- and boom, it would become a free-for-all," said Lt. Col. Mark Suich, who commands the 1st Squadron, 89th Cavalry Regiment just south of Baghdad. "It would be a raw contention for power. That would be the bloodiest piece of this war."

Sadly, he's right. Iraq will fall to pieces. And when a soldier says that we need to keep fighting in Iraq, you can rest assured that he means it 100% because he's the one who has to stay there to do the fighting.

Unfortunately, many people seem to think that they can make a compelling argument for either staying or going by citing "the troops." The article points out that many of our soldiers support the Bush administration's desire to stay in Iraq. You can of course count on conservatives to applaud these troops at the same time they borrow their opinions to club opponents of the war over the head (politically speaking, that is.) And for what's it worth, war opponents are always looking for the disgruntled soldiers, angry at repeated call ups, insufficient equipment, or at the Bush administraton itself.

But in truth, it's not up to the soldiers to decide how long to stay. It's up to our politicians, and indirectly, it's up to us. The soldiers are over there doing their job, doing what they're trained to do, and nobody wants to be told that they've failed despite their best intentions and efforts(are there many cops who want to cede the streets to rioters, or firefighters who want to abandon a burning building?) The troops want to keep fighting, and if we left it up to them many of them would stay well beyond the point at which they could do any good, because many of the are brave and honorable, and can't or won't admit defeat. But it's our job as citizens to look at the entirety of the conflict; to look at the political situation at home and over there, to look at the increasing violence, to look at what appears to be insurmountable sectarian conflict, and decide whether or not we can make a difference, either in keeping the situation from getting worse or putting the country back together again. It is our responsibility as citizens to bring the troops home despite their wishes to continue fighting, once we decide that they cannot make a difference.

I'm not saying this to dismiss their opinions. What the soldiers think, from the lowest private to the highest general, is part of what we have to consider when making a decision about whether to stay or go. But it's only part; soldiers don't get to decide when they do and do not go to war. That's up to us.

The American people have for several years now abdicated using their own reason and consciences in favor of those who have been anything but honest and wise about what could happen in Iraq. It's time for us to start thinking again, about what we've done, and what we can yet do.

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