Letter from the Editor

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Lost the war? No...

I happened to pick up a fresh copy of a major weekly news magazine at the hospital the other day, the cover of which trumpeted in big red letters that we are "LOSING THE WAR IN IRAQ."

The exact same words have lately appeared on the CBS network news, in several news magazines, in newsapers (I see it in the Washington Post this week) and from the lips of a Congressman from Nebraska. Now even Colin Powell echoes the dismal proclamation on Face the Nation, saying, "We're not winning, we are losing."

I wonder what these people are thinking. We not only aren't losing a war, we won the war; cleanly and convincingly; and we won it a long, long time ago.

What we are losing at is diplomacy. We are losing at trying to reform the world in our image, at trying to force democracy in places that may not be ready for it, at trying to unite people in places that have been at each other's throats for the better part or recorded history.

We have lost at formulating an exit strategy and at convincing the rest of an ambivalent world of the dangers that motivated us to fight in the first place.

But we are not losing a war.

A war is a military exercise, not a diplomatic one.

Our military did its job, coming into Iraq with accuracy and efficiency when called upon, wiping out the known military installments of use to the enemy basically within days. That is the job of our military, and they did it well. If there was a war, they won it right there. It could have ended then. And when they do finally come home, it will be as victors.

In the Vietnam era, we confused soldiers with politicians, and they were spit on when they came home. They were called losers. It was wrong then and it would be wrong now to consider those who fight with those who run the politics of war. When they do come home, show them your pride and appreciation for their courage and service. They did all we could ask a soldier to do.

Our politicians have chosen to make out military what it is not at times - policemen, teachers, guards, counselors, observers, long-term occupiers, peacekeepers, governmental organizers, infrastructure rebuilders - all in the midst of someone else's civil clash that didn't begin with the United States' involvement and certainly won't end with it. That one isn't our war.

There is no military enemy to fight, no front lines to march, so how could we be losing a war - and to whose army?

We aren't losing a war to isolated ragged insurgents, the odd cowardly terrorist or extremist crazies driven by religious fervor, power madness or pure hatred, they are not a military enemy. As quickly as you catch or kill them, new ones will be created.

And they exist here as well as Iraq, we know.

Those kind of enemies can be defeated only when their own societies - around the world, not just in Iraq - put them out of favor and quit giving them safe harbor and martyr's attention. And when opportunity gives a new generation something better to do than lust for killing. That's is not a job we can do with rifles and Humvees; it is not our military's role.

Our military people are soldiers, damn fine ones. In soldiering - which is after all what they are trained and equipped to do - they have suceeded in every way that is possible. What do we expect them to do? If we are to say they have "lost" a war, I would wonder how we define "win?"

They have sacrificed and shown great courage and endurance, been hurt and become ill and in some cases given their lives for a war they did not start, and how do we thank them? By reporting "lost" in those huge red cap letters. Perspective is what we have really lost.

Those of our soldiers who have returned share stories of incredible bravery by those around them - one rallied his troops to turn back a long, fierce firefight in which they were desperately outnumbered. And also of compassion - one area soldier helped to set up two schools, others gave all the treats they received from home to the children of a country that is supposed to be an enemy. One, a member of our Storm Lake "Magnificent Seven," never came home at all, and the whole community mourned. So, major media, which of these guys is a loser - help us understand, we can't see it.

And of the countless good things our military people have done and achieved, what does their own country obsess about? The incredibly small minority who have made some bad decisions in a stressful situation. A few who abused their positions dominate the news for weeks on end after each such report. What about the thousands who do their jobs in exemplary fashion every day, many of them going above and beyond the call of duty - some on a second or third tour - and a lot of them while their kids are growing up without them.

You say we're losing this war?

After the initial rush of fair-weather patriotism, there perhaps are less cards, care packages and prayers going the way of our soldiers and perhaps less thank-yous going to their families stateside. We are so busy complaining that it isn't over that we forget, perhaps, that it is not the soldier's place to declare wins and losses and beginnings and ends. They still need us.

If they are told to make another patrol through dangerous territory in a vehicle improperly armored to survive dirty bombs, they do not ask about the politics and the strategy of it, but do their jobs. Show me the army, navy, air force that has supposedly beaten them. Hello? Anybody?

Don't confuse soldiering with politics. Our leaders in Washington may fail us, but our soldiers haven't. Lost the war? No... they've fought a fight that has lost its popularity.

It is terribly unfair of us, in our soft comfort so far removed from the dangers of Iraq and Afghanistan this holiday season, to imply that our young men and women are losing. I hope these publications and videos do not find their way into their hands over there, because they deserve better.

End the war, Mr. Bush. Not because we've lost anything, but because it is over... news flash... we won.