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Public Comments - Notes to Friends List

The stage is set.

US Combat activities will end in Iraq on 31 August 2010.

Formal ceremonies marking the transfer of authority for national security to the Iraqi Military are nearly complete: the fate of Iraq will be in the hands of the Iraqi people within days. 

For the small percentage of Americans that served in Iraq this new reality is a hard truth to accept.

We all knew it was coming; that eventually someone would declare "victory" and our troops would come home.

However, knowing something will happen is far different than watching from a world away as it becomes real: as a war becomes subject for intensified criticism and debate.

Let me be clear.

I celebrate the freedoms that allow public debate and majority rule.  America has been, remains, and shall be great because we can gather and disagree - without being disagreeable.

And it is altogether fitting and proper that we pause at important moments, reflect upon what we have learned for a public venture, and make public choices about our shared future.

Veterans pride ourselves in such things.

We may not agree with everything – indeed anything – said in the public square but we are committed to its safety and security.

Many of us have participated in conversations about the war/s in Iraq and Afghanistan.

For the most part we welcome informed discourse about its impact and potential consequence. 

As a once and future professor I have tried to remain as objective as I could, recognizing the inherent traps - and limitations - of a first-person perspective.

But something happened when President Obama reaffirmed the 31 August date at the recent convention of the Disabled American Veterans.

The tumblers of memory and mind clicked into alignment: it is harder to remain even partially detached about my feelings - and my thoughts - about Iraq.

This is - at least it was - Our war.

It will now become both less and more than our experience: historians will write about it; political careers will be characterized through it; and ultimately our generation of warriors will be measured by its consequence.

Ironically, many of us in uniform prior to 9/11 have maintained a mixed view of Iraq all along.

We fought in Iraq because Saddam was a cruel dictator and because it was assigned to us; we invested ourselves in its cause because it was our blood, sweat, and tears that recast its future.

Thousands of our friends were killed - tens of thousands of our friends were wounded: America will never be the country it could have been because of the loss of these patriots. 

That said, America sent us to Iraq and we poured our hearts into leaving it better off than we found it.   

And Iraq may well realize a better future.  Iraqi citizens may not ultimately sustain the dysfunctional republic that now stands, but they may take from it important lessons that help them realize a more serene society.

The new Iraq may become both free and prosperous, or it might fail and go to seed. 

Whatever Iraq becomes, we are haunted with a growing uneasiness that despite our best efforts, little of our effort will matter in the endgame – we are now spectators. 

Peace, lasting peace, must be made and sustained by the people of Iraq.

Whatever Iraq chooses - a single nation-state, an affiliation of loosely affiliated states, or a satellite of Iran or Syria - its people now have the capacity to make an informed decision.

Ironically, our withdrawal from the field in Iraq has been expedited by an urgent need to increase our military capacities in Afghanistan: a return to a fight we began in response to 9/11.

This is significant: it is Afghanistan that tortures our soul.

There among the mountains Taliban leaders conspired with Al Qaeda to attack our cities and skies; it was there the Taliban reigned without mercy; it was there our government trained Taliban and Al Qaeda leaders how to defeat Communist Russia. 

Over time Afghanistan devolved into a repressive state that governed through fear and religious fervor.

Al Qaeda used Afghanistan as base of operations to build an organization dedicated to the destruction of market democracies: it mobilized radical elements of Islam to wage a new kind of global terror. 

Friends and foes alike understood Al Qaeda's attack upon the symbols of western power for what it was: a renewal of a blood feud between the past and the present – a cultural conflict between those that seek to control the faithful through force, and the rest of the world.    

And that harsh September, the world stood at our side in the shadow of tragedy. 
For a brief moment boundaries meant little; the world joined in our cause as full partners seeking justice, seeking a return to global stability. 

Back then, the world trusted us to do what we said.

It hoped America could achieve what no empire had even attempted - to conquer a hostile foe, replace tyranny with liberty, and voluntarily depart when the Afghan people were safe, secure, and prepared to govern freely.

It was a blank check without historic precedent: an opportunity to defeat our enemies and restore hope to the people of Afghanistan that we had once deserted.

It was a chance to right a wrong, to finish something left undone. 

And for a lot of us, it was a welcome call to arms. 

While I do not speak for all veterans I believe that most of us saw OPERATION ENDURING FREEDOM as an opportunity to hunt down our enemies and destroy them; to rebuild Afghanistan from the ashes.

Too many of us had invested years away from family and friends working to stabilize peace in scorching deserts and soaking jungles. 

We had fought for stability abroad to secure peace at home.

But when our enemies demonstrated an ability to hit us at home everything changed - everything we had done was rendered valueless - our fight abroad had not prevented the fight at home.

And it tore us apart. 

We wanted to rip the Taliban apart whatever the cost. 

We wanted to find Al Qaeda and sever its head and body.

And we wanted to liberate Afghanistan and recast it into a society that could evolve in time to become a welcomed partner in the family of developing nations.

For our generation of warriors: Iraq was an important mission but Afghanistan was the fight against evil.

It was there - under the Taliban – that women were kept covered, disempowered, and in constant fear. 

It was there - and places like it - that tyrants stoned subjects for disobeying even the most hypocritical and repressive tenets of Islamic dogma.

And it was there - in Afghanistan among people with so little - that America could prove so much.

None of us know what the future will bring; all of us - want a future that is worthy of its price.

Right now we are on the precipice: our withdrawal from Iraq gives us capacity for Afghanistan.

Our legacy will be the result of the choices we make as a country and the values we defend abroad as well as at home. 

Together we have the power to change our world and make a difference: if we choose it.


Paul

 

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