Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Conversations = Support the Troops, Not the Mission

What people don't know about war, the military, the workings counter-insurgency and the real workings or cost weighing of politics could fill the Brittania Encyclopedia A through Z.

That goes for people of all ideological stripes. I can recount equally stories from both "war" supporters and "anti-war" or, more likely in the general population, "I don't understand" people who simply say and believe the oddest things. Or, more appropriately, who don't know many things. It is this lack of "knowing" that informs that last group, who, in my humble, unscientific opinion, make up the largest group of people that I meet.

From these many, varied discussion, I feel safe in saying that this group is the group that is less likely to take opinion polls on CBS or CNN. They do not feel driven to make their opinions known. The only reason anything comes up is because of the settings that we are in and something else leads to the discussion. Troop Support activities does not mean that everyone there supports the administration, the particular action in Iraq or the over all conduct of the war, including Afghanistan. People who attend are there for various personal reasons that culminate with a single mission: "support the troops".

These are Viet Nam Vets who remember their own homecoming. These are people who grew up during Viet Nam and remembers the terrible treatment of our military. These are young people who heard the stories about that generation and feel compelled to resist that on behalf of our young men and women. These are people who know someone in the military, have family who were, friends, cousins, neighbors, the whole plethora of potential relationships. Then there are those who know no one, have no relationship, past or present, who simply believe it is the right thing to do when someone sacrifices on their behalf.

And they come in all political persuasions. Believe me when I tell you that. Someone I know who does a lot to get the word out to the public in her small area about how to support the troops said to me flat out that she did not like Bush and thinks the administration is the worst yet. However, being with her on these various missions, I can tell you that her political leanings don't change a thing about how she represents the support of our military or her efforts. Before that conversation, she spent a solid week putting together materials for our presentation, talking to the organization asking for us to speak, looking for pictures, glued together an example care package and basically did yeoman's work to get this off the ground. I also know she does not convey that to any of the troops she writes to. Her sole purpose is to provide them material and moral support because she knows it is hard work and tough conditions.

Those are the type of people that I know who "support the troops and not the mission". That is a very difficult thing for our troops to understand. The question from the front is asked routinely by our troops. How can you support the troops and not the mission?

There are other reasons than political ideology. The lack of knowledge plays a big factor. Again, it is general conversations that lead to these discussions, not polls with limited questions that don't really represent how people think.

It is the questions that people have that forms their opinions. "I don't understand the 'sectarian violence' in Iraq. Aren't they all Muslims?" That was a recent question. This from a retired school teacher. How do you explain that the religious nature of these "sects" is only the congregating factor and not necessarily what drives the fight? It is a power struggle, pure and simple. It is about political power, money, resources, personal graft and all the things that such wars are often about; driven and organized by the last bastions of organization in Iraq after a failed state and collapsed government power structure: mosques, religion and imams.

I tried to use historical context referring the teacher back to our own history of the religious wars of the fifteenth and sixteenth century. Catholics and Protestants burning each other, driving each other out of the country. The inquisition. All these things were "religious in nature", but when you review the powers and people behind it, it becomes a real power struggle by organizations and rulers who conveniently used these tools to consolidate their power. Our own founders of this nation came on three little ships because of religious prosecution as much as hoping to strike it rich in the colonies. Those at the lower level of these "religious wars" may have been ideologically driven, but only because that was the lowest, most common denominator and organizing principle. It is the thing that could stir the masses more than any appeal to place and keep any one person or organization in power.

I added in a little history about Mohammed conquering the tribes, dying and leaving no designated heir; tribal inheritance which had the strongest becoming the leader and not necessarily due to primogeniture (right of the first born), creating the Shia and Sunni split and... Okay, I was losing her at that point and realized I had to stop.

But, it was telling as well as the rest of the conversation that circled around Bosnia, Kosovo and Serbia; Somalia, Iran, Djibouti and various other places we are, have been or maintain in the course of conflicts in the last decade. It was telling in that she was not enthusiastic about our peace keeping, brief war in the former Yugoslavia, but had some context to comprehend. It was presented in such a way that people's immediate thoughts were driven back to World War II and the persecution of the Jews. Ethnic cleansing and concentration camps. Those flash backs made it somewhat palatable and understandable along with the potential for conflict in Europe. Something the retired teacher understood historically much better than any historical foundation for our current adventures beyond "remember when Saddam invaded Kuwait".

Black Rwandans killing black Rwandans for power? That is not ethnic war. Hutu's and Tutsi's do not equate to ethnicity in our minds. There were no super powers or super evil ideology that threatened our freedom. They were simply people of the same country killing each other. That is why no one supported intervening. That is why the question arises about why we are in Iraq. Aren't these people killing each other Iraqi, Muslim Arabs? Why should we care if they are Sunni or Shia? Aren't they they same? And, if the Sunni are allied with Al Qaeda, doesn't it make sense that we should ally ourselves with the Shia.

How do you explain in five minutes the implications of allowing either extremist ideology to take control of any part or whole of Iraq and it's dangers to the United States, regional stability and world economy? I simply replied to that question that the Sunni weren't all fighting because they wanted to bring the Caliphate back, but would ally with whoever helped them and provided some protection and that some of the Shia were backed by Iran who had their own agenda that is detrimental to our security. Like nuclear weapons and...

The retired school teacher suddenly remembered that Iranians had taken our people prisoner in the 70's, the terrible loss of the rescuers and the unmitigated rhetoric of "death to America". Exactly.

We cannot leave any of these groups as the main or sole arbiters of power in any part or whole of Iraq. It is extremely dangerous.

The real import of this conversation was about the value of the fight versus the value of the lives of our young men and women and the cost of the war in general. The Ace of Spades recently concurred with a statement by Barak Obama that completely illustrates this point. We do not go to war simply to save people of another nation, religion or ethnicity. Ace illustrated this point by looking at the historical context of World War II. We did not go to save the Jews. It was a by-product of that war. We went because Hitler and Tojo's plans to divvy up the world and take control presented a direct physical and economic threat to our existence. He points out that FDR and many others had known that the Jews were being slaughtered amongst many other ethnicities and "undesirables" long before we went to war, but it was not a good enough reason to go. Neither was the continuing war between European nations that had been going on for centuries. It had to be about us and our security to make us move.

The problem with arguments regarding the slaughter of Iraqis between themselves is that this does not appear to represent a threat to our nation by many people. By this standard, since it does not appear a direct threat to our nation, the value of the war versus the value of our people, money and resources does not equate. As Ace notes, the lives of 100 Iraqis does not equate to the life of one American Soldier. The life of 10,000 Iraqis to one American? Maybe.

This is how the cost of the war is weighed out in the average American citizen's mind. Al Qaeda, Osama and Zawahiri would be surprised to find out that they barely register in the equation. Our troops should not be surprised that the people here value them more than anything else and would not squander them for something so apparently unrelated to our actual security as "sectarian fighting" or "civil war" amongst people who are not here and who are not American.

The fact that Al Qaeda, Iran and Islamist extremists of either ilk are missing from this equation is about the general publics' lack of information and comprehension. Let's face the facts: Osama is not in Iraq. Neither is Zawahiri. They can release all the statements they want about that front in the war, but it doesn't resonate with the American public. They are sure that these men and their main followers, responsible for 9/11, are in Afghanistan or Pakistan. Whoever is claiming to be Al Qaida in Iraq does not present the main threat. And, as the school teacher implied, why don't we let them kill each other in Iraq and deal with the remnants?

When is the last time anyone actually saw anything that looked like Al Qaida in Iraq on their TV or other media? When Zarqawi died. Even then, people saw him as an upstart wannabe, not the threat that he really was. They barely comprehend his organization and infiltration of terrorist cells into Europe, much less the possibility of attacking US soil. Still, people see these groups as some nefarious "wannabes" who are being created by the ongoing war and, hopefully, would not have existed if we were not in Iraq. The eternal hope of many who, in the end, do not want to be at war without a very good reason and firm grasp of the enemy. That attempt at a "firm grasp" leads them to the inevitable, "Isn't the real war in Afghanistan?"

The last time I saw anything that actually appeared to be al Qaeda related in Iraq? A picture of the infamous "Islamic State of Iraq" (aka, al Qaeda in Iraq) flag discovered by some of our troops in Diyala province. That was about two months ago and it never appeared on the news. I saw it on Bill Roggio's site copied from the DoD.

The capture of al Mashahdani, the most recent "leader" of "Al Qaeda in Iraq", was barely a blip on the conscience of the American public. The fact that he admitted that Omar al-Baghdadi was a figment of his imagination only confirmed the general public's opinion that al Qaeda in Iraq is nothing and presents little threat. The IEDs, the VBIEDs, EFPs and suicide bombings are products of the "sectarian fighting" in Iraq. That is an internal problem and not worth the lives of our men and women in uniform.

The American public questions why we are fighting such a "big" war for so few? What is the danger there?

Because we have forgotten that a "few" in virtually untouched, remote bases in a far away country sent a "few" here to attack us and kill 3,000 citizens, nearly devastated our economy and attempted to destroy our government in a "few" planes. Because we do not see Al Qaeda in Iraq as part of the "real" al Qaeda or part of the "real" threat. Because the "tomorrow" where al Qaeda has bases in Iraq to train and attack us from is a nebulous "tomorrow" that does not exist yet and, therefore, cannot effect us. Because we do not understand nor care to understand the implications of the outcome to the region and its outward blast effect on our security. Because we do not believe 25 million Iraqis are worth one American life. Because we cannot see how disregarding these 25 million lives can result in creating or leaving an enemy at the back door. Because we don't see them as part of our fight against the al Qaeda ideology. Because we don't see the ideology as a danger; we see "al Qaeda" the organization as a danger and that organization is somewhere else. Democracy in Iraq means little for the American public in terms of destroying Al Qaeda.

Because...we are still stuck on the idea that it is the people who make up al Qaeda that we must destroy and not their wretched beliefs. Their beliefs would be gone if "al Qaeda" or, more appropriately, "Osama" was gone. Wouldn't they?

The school teacher asked me one last question: "Why do our troops get upset and say that you can't support the troops unless you support the mission?" She added that she believed that you can and many do as evidenced by the people that we both know and have met through actively providing support at various events or through programs such as our organization.

My answer was to refer to history again. The American GI of World War II had a slogan, "The way home is through Berlin." They knew that the war would not be over until they destroyed the German army, took Berlin and killed or ousted Hitler from power. The terrible devastation, oppression and evil that they saw could not be allowed to continue to exist. They knew they had to go all the way to Berlin to finish it once and for all. They knew that they would have to go back again or fight it closer to home if we allowed it to exist.

We are sometimes historically blind to the fact that people were even then urging negotiations with either the Japanese or the Germans to lessen the fight and close one battle front so that we could concentrate on the other. We don't recall, having imbibed the mythological wine of the "greatest generation", that there were some who thought we should leave Hitler in control of Germany and other parts of Europe if only to end the long and deadly war while leaving a counter to Stalin's Communist Russia. Who cared about the Europeans or the Germans or Nazis or Jews if we could only end the war? Couldn't Hitler or Hirohito be reasoned with and negotiated with?

It's easy to forget that part of history since we did not negotiate and we did not stop. We want to forget that because, in the end, we did see how terrible and evil fascism and ethnic hate really was and we could congratulate ourselves on putting an end to it.

The American public is busy weighing the cost of our troops' lives and our resources against the value of a democratic Iraq and Iraqis. They find the latter wanting in comparison. At the same time, our troops see the terrible devastation of the Islamic extremist ideology on the Iraqis. They see the suicide bombings and the roadside IEDs. They see the beheaded and tortured. What they see is the thing that they fear most will come back to America if it is left to fester there. They value our lives, their family's lives and the security of Americans more than their own.

They do not want to go back and fight there in the future. They do not want their sons and daughters to have to fight this war. They want to finish this war for good and the only way they see it happening is just like their fathers and grandfathers believed: the way home for good is by winning. It is through Baghdad and Kandahar and where ever else they are sent to do battle.

In the end, the struggle over this idea of "supporting the troops, but not the mission" is not about politics. For most the citizen at home, it is about the value of our people in uniform and whether any battle or people are worth it. That is largely based on what people do not know about Iraq, do not know about Al Qaeda, do not know about Islamist terrorists and do not know about the war in gneral. And, they certainly do not understand the minds of our troops.

For the troops on the front line, it is about the value of the American Citizen, their families at home and the future of generational war versus the hardship and terribleness of war now with the prospect of being the ones to end it.

How do you make the people at home understand? There are no cameras showing live footage of al Qaeda being arrested. There are no hovering helicopter cameras following our troops into battle. There are no mini-documentaries about the history and relationship of al Sadr to Iran. There are no finger prints, no carpet fibers and there are no one hour "cop" shows showing our troops fighting the "bad guys" and winning.

Because they can't see it, they don't understand it. It is what they don't know that forms their opinions. It is this that makes people "support the troops and not the mission".

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