Today’s New York Times editorial pages contain what can only be described as a courageous editorial by seven current members of the 82nd Airborne Division in Iraq, none of them with a rank higher than Sergeant. What they have to say burns with the truth of their personal experience, experience far more hard won than any that Keven Pollack or Michael O’Hanlon had during their “dog and pony show” visit last month which was micro-managed by the Pentagon. Here are the names of these seven men. Please remember them when the inevitable shit hits the fan and they are demonized by the punditocracy and right wing hacks of all sizes and stripes, and no doubt court martialed for insubordination:
BUDDHIKA JAYAMAHA, Army specialist
WESLEY D. SMITH, sergeant
JEREMY ROEBUCK, sergeant
OMAR MORA, sergeant
EDWARD SANDMEIER, sergeant
YANCE T. GRAY, staff sergeant
JEREMY A. MURPHY, staff sergeant
What they wrote, and what The New York Times, to its credit, published today under the title The War as We Saw It, follows:
VIEWED from Iraq at the tail end of a 15-month deployment, the political debate in Washington is indeed surreal. […] To believe that Americans, with an occupying force that long ago outlived its reluctant welcome, can win over a recalcitrant local population and win this counterinsurgency is far-fetched. As responsible infantrymen and noncommissioned officers with the 82nd Airborne Division soon heading back home, we are skeptical of recent press coverage portraying the conflict as increasingly manageable and feel it has neglected the mounting civil, political and social unrest we see every day.
The claim that we are increasingly in control of the battlefields in Iraq is an assessment arrived at through a flawed, American-centered framework. Yes, we are militarily superior, but our successes are offset by failures elsewhere. What soldiers call the “battle space” remains the same, with changes only at the margins. It is crowded with actors who do not fit neatly into boxes: Sunni extremists, Al Qaeda terrorists, Shiite militiamen, criminals and armed tribes. This situation is made more complex by the questionable loyalties and Janus-faced role of the Iraqi police and Iraqi Army, which have been trained and armed at United States taxpayers’ expense. […]
Coupling our military strategy to an insistence that the Iraqis meet political benchmarks for reconciliation is also unhelpful. The morass in the government has fueled impatience and confusion while providing no semblance of security to average Iraqis. Leaders are far from arriving at a lasting political settlement. This should not be surprising, since a lasting political solution will not be possible while the military situation remains in constant flux. […]
Political reconciliation in Iraq will occur, but not at our insistence or in ways that meet our benchmarks. It will happen on Iraqi terms when the reality on the battlefield is congruent with that in the political sphere. There will be no magnanimous solutions that please every party the way we expect, and there will be winners and losers. The choice we have left is to decide which side we will take. Trying to please every party in the conflict — as we do now — will only ensure we are hated by all in the long run.
At the same time, the most important front in the counterinsurgency, improving basic social and economic conditions, is the one on which we have failed most miserably. Two million Iraqis are in refugee camps in bordering countries. Close to two million more are internally displaced and now fill many urban slums. Cities lack regular electricity, telephone services and sanitation. “Lucky” Iraqis live in gated communities barricaded with concrete blast walls that provide them with a sense of communal claustrophobia rather than any sense of security we would consider normal.
… When the primary preoccupation of average Iraqis is when and how they are likely to be killed, we can hardly feel smug as we hand out care packages. As an Iraqi man told us a few days ago with deep resignation, “We need security, not free food.”
In the end, we need to recognize that our presence may have released Iraqis from the grip of a tyrant, but that it has also robbed them of their self-respect. They will soon realize that the best way to regain dignity is to call us what we are — an army of occupation — and force our withdrawal.
Until that happens, it would be prudent for us to increasingly let Iraqis take center stage in all matters, to come up with a nuanced policy in which we assist them from the margins but let them resolve their differences as they see fit. This suggestion is not meant to be defeatist, but rather to highlight our pursuit of incompatible policies to absurd ends without recognizing the incongruities.
I wish copyright infringement concerns did not limit me in the amount of text I could republish here, or I would have posted the entire editorial. Please, if you can, read the full text online, or purchase today’s Sunday edition of the Times. These soldiers have performed a patriotic service to their country by writing this editorial. They have also performed a service to the Iraqis our forces are ostensibly protecting, but in reality have failed, not by any dereliction of duty or lack of effort, but because of the failed and, as these soldiers rightly point out, absurd policies of President Bush and the lack of political courage in Washington, D.C.
These men have lost friends to the war and seen horrible acts of violence and death. They speak with a wisdom that is little seen among our ruling elites in Government or the Media. Indeed, the calm, measured prose style they have adopted stands in stark contrast to the vile blatherings of conservative (and neoconservative) war proponents which are broadcast everyday on television and over the radio. They have seen too much strife, endured too much sorrow and felt too much pain as a result of this war, and yet they still have the wherewithal to inform us that our leaders are wrong, that our strategy in Iraq is flawed and that it is time for a change. That they have performed this service in a political climate, and under an administration, which punishes dissent by those actively serving in the military is stunning and breathtaking to behold.
Would that our political leaders, Democrats or Republicans, had one drop of the moral courage, wisdom and humility these men have demonstrated.