Monday, August 21, 2006

THE TRUTH ON THE GROUND

By Ben Connable
Wednesday, December 14, 2005



How is it, then, that 64 percent of U.S. military
officers think we will succeed if we are allowed
to continue our work? Why is there such a dramatic
divergence between American public opinion and the
upbeat assessment of the men and women doing the
fighting? The common wisdom seems to be that Iraq
is an unwinnable war and a quagmire and that the
only thing left to decide is how quickly we withdraw.

Open optimism, whether or not it is warranted, is a
necessary trait in senior officers and officials. But
it is not a simple thing to ignore genuine optimism
from mid-grade, junior and noncommissioned officers
who have spent much of the past three years in Iraq.

We know the streets, the people and the insurgents
far better than any armchair academic or talking head.
We know that there are no guarantees in war, and that
we may well fail in the long run. We also know that
if we follow our current plan we can, over time, leave
behind a stable and unified country that might help to
anchor a better future for the Middle East.

It is difficult for most Americans to rationalize this
optimism in the face of the horrific images and depressing
stories that have come to symbolize the war in Iraq. But
experienced military officers know that the horror stories,
however dramatic, do not represent the broader conditions
there or the chances for future success. For every vividly
portrayed suicide bombing, there are hundreds of thousands
of people living quiet, if often uncertain, lives. For
every depressing story of unrest and instability there is
an untold story of potential and hope. The impression of
Iraq as an unfathomable quagmire is false and dangerously
misleading.

Although the presence of U.S. forces certainly inflames
sentiment and provides the insurgents with targets, the
anti-coalition insurgency is mostly a symptom of the
underlying conditions in Iraq. It may seem paradoxical,
but only our presence can buffer the violence enough to
allow for eventual stability.

The precipitous withdrawal of U.S. troops would almost
certainly lead to a violent and destabilizing civil war.
The Iraqi military is not ready to assume control and
would not miraculously achieve competence in our absence.
As we left, the insurgency would turn into internecine
violence, and Iraq would collapse into a true failed
state. The fires of the Iraqi civil war would spread,
and terrorists would find a new safe haven from which
to launch attacks against our homeland.

Anyone who has spent even a day in the Middle East
should know that the Arab street would not thank us
for abandoning Iraq. The blame for civil war would
fall squarely on our shoulders. It is unlikely that
the tentative experiments in democracy we have seen
in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and elsewhere would survive
the fallout. There would be no dividend of goodwill
from heartbroken intellectuals or emboldened Islamic
extremists. American troops might be home in the short
run, but the experienced professionals know that in
the long run, quitting Iraq would mean more deployments,
more desperate battles and more death.

Sixty-four percent of us know that we have a good shot
at preventing this outcome if we are allowed to continue
our mission. We quietly hope that common sense will
return to the dialogue on Iraq.

We can fail only if the false imagery of quagmire takes
hold and our national political will is broken. In that
event, both the Iraqi people and the American troops
will pay a long-term price for our shortsighted delusion.

The writer is a major in the Marine Corps.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/12/13/AR2005121301502_pf.html

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