Politics & Policy

Marine on the Hilltop

Focus.

As a young Marine squad leader — some 20 years ago — I remember one morning standing on a windswept, South Korean hilltop looking out over the Sea of Japan. As I stood there, I briefly contemplated a simple fact about how the world works and my responsibility in it at that very moment in time: Armed with my rifle and some 12 heavily armed Marines under my direct authority, I realized that no matter what decisions were made by the president, his Cabinet, Congress, the intelligence community, and all the generals and the admirals; American foreign policy extended to and ended at the tip of my bayonet.

It was a huge responsibility for so young a man. But I clearly remember that young man: He was smart, energetic, dependable, commanding in many ways (despite his youth), and — contrary to what outsiders might believe about infantrymen — able to think beyond his 12-man squad.

But I was only one of many, and I’m willing to bet any combatant who has ever humped over a ridge or patrolled an alleyway on the far ends of the earth has considered such.

Which brings me to Iraq, the American soldiers involved, the antiwar crowd which condemns their efforts — yet contend they support the troops — and the feverish waving of the interim assessment of progress — or the lack thereof — being made on the ground (which began days before the assessment’s release, and two months before Gen. David Petraeus is to formally report on the status of operations and progress in Iraq).

IRAQ AND TROOP SUPPORT

Let’s consider Iraq.

I think it’s pretty obvious that nothing less than an immediate utopian existence for all Iraqis in all of that country’s 18 provinces would suffice for the salivating antiwar Left. Even then, I’m not so sure they wouldn’t point to any level of criminal activity in Iraq as representing the “disaster” they say is Iraq.

The antiwar crowd will say their efforts to do anything and everything to end the war and bring the troops home now is an expression of their support for the troops (suggesting the troops are too immature, illiterate, and generally unworldly to make decisions about what is best for themselves, which is conflicting in my mind whenever I reflect on the thought-processes of that young Marine who once stood on that Korean hilltop). In fact, I believe the Left’s approach to supporting the troops is utterly disingenuous and condescending.

Anyone who truly understands or cares anything about Iraq, knows that bringing the troops home now — or beginning some withdrawal to a regional enclave — will not end the war. It will inflame the already hot war. If the troops are withdrawn to a regional enclave and the war boils over (as it would), they would ultimately have to move back into a far hotter environment than they are already in. Military planners and strategists who have to think decades ahead, have to consider such probabilities. Politicians, who rarely think beyond the next election, don’t.

A VICTORY FOR AL QAEDA

Also, if we withdraw in the face of the enemy (or set a date for withdrawal), al Qaeda will claim a huge victory — and make no mistake, our withdrawing won’t be a hollow victory for al Qaeda: It will be an enormous and very real triumph for the terrorist network.

Finally, with so much at stake, and no one left except the bad guys to fill any vacuum left by withdrawing U.S. forces (before the bad guys are soundly defeated), the region will become far more unstable than it is now. And I cannot begin to imagine the horrors the Iraqi people who voted in free elections, who supported us, who provided intelligence to us, and whose kids were photographed with us, would be subjected to (and believe me, the Iraqis know that too).

Those are facts. So, based on facts and the actions of the Left, a utopian existence for the Iraqi people — if there were such a possibility — could not be what the antiwar Left truly hopes for. Utopia in Iraq would only thwart their four-part agenda of destroying any hint of a successful legacy for the current president (which I personally don’t care about), justifying their own rantings and elected seats (again, don’t care about), humbling our military forces (which I do seriously care about), and trying to negotiate with butchers whom — as Michael Yon describes — bake people’s children and serve them to their families.

Progress is being made in Iraq. Successful counterinsurgencies take years. Failure or retreat — including withdrawal before the work is finished — is not a reasonable option (I am constantly amazed that it is even a consideration). The soldiers in Iraq — every bit as book-smart and street-savvy as that young Marine in Korea years ago — understand this. Why Congress doesn’t, is beyond me. Or perhaps they really do, but they also know that it is not politically expedient to support an effort that has been so-maligned in the public eye. And there is no doubt in my mind that some would sell their very souls to save their elected skins.

A former U.S. Marine infantry leader, W. Thomas Smith Jr. writes about military issues and has covered war in the Balkans, on the West Bank, and in Iraq. Smith is the author of six books, and his articles appear in a variety of publications. He blogs at The Tank.

A former U.S. Marine infantry leader, W. Thomas Smith Jr. writes about military issues. He has covered war in the Balkans, on the West Bank, in Iraq, and in Lebanon. ...

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