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On Eve of Battle
A letter to the troops.


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To the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, Coast Guardsmen, members of the intelligence agencies, the diplomatic community, and all others tasked to prosecute the war in Iraq:

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You are on the eve of a critical mission to secure the safety and security of the United States and the civilized world. You have every reason to expect victory, yet must remember that victory never comes without costs. You face a determined enemy of proven tenacity, whose dictatorial reign is one of the longest in the world today. Your enemy will stop at nothing to see that his reign continues, and it is your mission to see to it that it ends. It is the sort of objective that appeals to your instincts as Americans — clear-cut, to the point, final. You have heard that most Americans do not support this war. That is false. It is an impression conjured by the theatrics of a vocal minority, skilled at harnessing the attentions of the media, but not representative of opinion at home. The majority of Americans both view Saddam Hussein as a threat and support removing that threat by force. In fact, more Americans support military action today than did on the eve of Operation Desert Storm. And even those who say they oppose the use of force are hoping for your safe return.

You have heard that the United States is prosecuting this war unilaterally. You probably know this is untrue from firsthand experience. Forty-five thousand British air, sea, and ground forces stand with you, as do 2,000 Australians. Other forces are being offered by Albania, Denmark, Latvia, Poland and Spain. WMD experts have been supplied by Ukraine, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia, and Germany. Logistical support is coming from Bahrain, Croatia, Hungary, Italy, Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates. Other forms of support are coming from Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Colombia, El Salvador, Eritrea, Estonia, Ethiopia, Georgia, Iceland, Japan, Korea, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, the Netherlands, Nicaragua, the Philippines, Turkey, and Uzbekistan. Even the French, who have opposed the removal of Saddam Hussein beyond all reason or understanding, may choose to fight if the Iraqi regime resorts to the use of chemical or biological weapons. We may honor the French troops sent to fight by your side even as we question the motives and judgment of their political leaders. Saddam Hussein, by contrast, is truly alone. He will receive no open military support from any country in the world, and must set machine gun-armed secret police against his own people to prevent his violent overthrow.

You are part of the most powerful fighting force in history. Your training, firepower, and fighting spirit make you the most deadly instrument of military power ever assembled. And at the same time you are also the most humane force in the annals of warfare. Your doctrine, rules of engagement, and moral proclivities all emphasize sparing innocents the costs of war. At no time in history will more care be taken to preserve the lives of civilians and those members of the Iraqi armed forces who choose not to risk their lives in defense of a corrupt and selfish dictator. By contrast, your foes, Saddam Hussein, his family and henchmen, will seek consciously and determinedly to wage an immoral and illegal war. They will, if possible, use weapons of mass destruction that are both illegal and indiscriminate. They will seek to wage a scorched-earth struggle and destroy Iraqi resources rather than hand them over to the Iraqi people. They will attempt to commit atrocities against Iraqi citizens disguised as Coalition forces. They will assault noncombatant states in order to further embroil the region in war. And will, either directly or through proxies, attempt to strike at the United States by means of terrorist attack.

Terrorism, which has been nurtured and encouraged by Saddam Hussein, is the epitome of immorality in war. Terrorists do not wear uniforms that proclaim their combatant status openly, as required by the rules of armed conflict. They use stealth not as a tactical method, but as a cowardly means of hiding their intentions and identities from their unsuspecting victims. Terrorists use weapons that do not discriminate between warriors and noncombatants, and specifically target civilians, whether men, women, or children. They measure their successes not by battlefield victories but by the number of these innocent people they murder. And terrorists afterwards obfuscate responsibility for their grotesque actions in order to evade just retaliation. When hostilities commence, the defense against the global terror threat will engage all members of the armed forces, the national-security community, law enforcement, homeland defenders, and ordinary citizens. They will be with you not only in spirit, but in fact.

The struggle against Saddam’s regime has been ongoing for a dozen years. Some of you fought in Operation Desert Storm. Most of you saw the war on television as children. You may have had no idea you would be undertaking this task when you enlisted. Or perhaps you joined up fully expecting and desiring to see action in the Iraqi desert. You come from many backgrounds, and many walks of life, but you all share a common objective: to get home to your families and loved ones. All America is confident in your ability to bring this war to a speedy conclusion, and is praying for your safe return. Now the road home leads through Baghdad. Time to finish the job.

— James S. Robbins is a national-security analyst & NRO contributor.



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