Politics & Policy

Soldiers Win

Post-election reflections on Iraq.

In the late evening hours of Monday, November 3, 2008, my wife and I were surprised to hear my almost ten-year old daughter quietly crying in her room — well after her bed-time. I walked in to see what was wrong, expecting to hear that she’d had a bad dream or perhaps a bad day at school. Her real concern surprised me: “Daddy, I heard that Barack Obama wants to bring all the troops home from Iraq, and that we might lose the war.”

We don’t try to raise “politically aware” children (we’re not those kind of parents), but my daughter does love to eavesdrop on adult conversations, and the election had been a dominant topic at home, at our church, and at her school. Compounding her natural interest in the news was a very personal connection to Iraq — her Daddy had just come home from a year in Diyala Province.

“And when I heard that, it made me so sad because it would mean that we went through all that for nothing.”

The words, “went through all that” were heavy with meaning. I distinctly remember the tears when my wife and I told the kids that I was leaving for Iraq and the shock on their little faces when they found out that “leaving” meant a year. My wife tells me that my son had a hard time dealing with the first few months of my departure and then struggled the last few months I was gone. They responded in horror when they learned that “one of Daddy’s friends had died.” For them, it was a year of play dates, sports leagues, and homework, but it was also a year of worry, fear, and longing.

And now she worried that it was all for naught.

I responded to her fear with the truth. After being brave in my absence, she deserved nothing less.

“Don’t worry. I’m not concerned about the election. Because I’m pretty sure we’ve already won the war.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Because soldiers fight and win wars, not politicians, and while I can’t be sure yet, I think our soldiers have won.”

Certainly that is not to say that political decisions are irrelevant or that the election last week did not matter, but once the decision is made to fight, and resources are dedicated that that fight, then wars are won and lost by those who fight them. Facts on the ground can render political decisions irrelevant.

Does anyone doubt that President Bush was just as resolved to prevail in Iraq in 2005 and 2006, when the war seemed hopeless, as he was in 2007 and 2008, when the tide turned decisively? We can’t think that the key decision was the decision to send a few extra brigades into the fight, as if that decision won the war. After all, if manpower, firepower, and commitment were everything, then the Soviets would have had little trouble with the Afghan guerillas as they hit them with everything but the kitchen sink. Resources and politics matter, just not as much as strategy, tactics, and sheer courage.

Simply put, once the battle is joined, politicians exaggerate the impact of their decisions, and civilians magnify the importance of their advocacy because — well — it’s all they have.

But when I look back on this last year, and I think of the battle space that my unit — Sabre Squadron, 2d Squadron, 3d Armored Cavalry Regiment occupied — I don’t think of politicians at all. I think of Lieutenant Colonel Paul Calvert’s decision to not just strike hard al-Qaeda’s safe havens in the tiny, dusty villages of Diyala and to follow the enemy wherever they ran, but also of his decision to stay in those villages (no matter how small) until they could stand again on their own. I think of the Troopers of Fox and Grim Troops sleeping night after night in the backs of their vehicles, watching roads, playing with kids, chasing insurgents, and training Iraqi soldiers. I think of my friends — my fellow staff officers — working hours that would make an investment banker blanch not only to provide the guys on the line with the food and information they needed but also to create, finance, and oversee countless projects to improve the lives of ordinary Iraqis.

And I think of all these guys working with courage and perseverance though tragedies and losses that sometimes made it seem as if we were spinning our wheels and as if change would never come. But when Sabre Squadron left last month to move to northern Iraq, it left behind a province containing thousands of square kilometers of newly free land. The battle for Diyala was not won in Washington. It was won in Diyala.

On the night of November 3, my daughter may have been distressed, but I slept much easier than I ever thought I might. The political debates would rage on, but the facts had changed . . . because of our soldiers.

– David French is a senior counsel at the Alliance Defense Fund and a captain in the United States Army Reserve. He just completed his first tour of duty in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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