The stomach for a fight
July 20, 2003
ABC news published a poll this week showing that just three months after the liberation of Baghdad, four out of five Americans feared that our military was bogged down and that things are going badly in Iraq.
Obviously, polling questions can be worded to elicit a predictable outcome, but the fact that so many respondents would express impatience this early is disturbing.
Just how quickly must you not only win a war but also establish peace and democracy for the public to consider it a success?
How quickly must we unravel the tangled web of secret police, Baath party loyalists, run-of-the-mill terrorists, recently released violent criminals, and tribal feuds to prove to world opinion that we mean well? How soon must our young troops on the ground bring order and harmony to a nation the size of California whose diverse peoples have known nothing but fear and repression and have been taught only hatred of the West all of their lives?
Can any pollster or journalist cite one example from history where any nation ever won a war so quickly and so humanely? Has any victor ever done more to assist the vanquished than we have?
From the vantage point of his recliner in front of a large screen TV, John Q. Public has become an expert in all things military.
He's grown accustomed to seeing jets land on aircraft carriers, troops rappelling out of helicopters, and precision bombs neatly dispatching targets. With a flick of the remote, these armchair generals can surf from commentator to Congressman to hear the latest analysis and criticism of the operation in Iraq and can freely air their own opinions in chat rooms and online polls.
It's right for Americans to ask hard questions of our leaders and express themselves when lives are at stake. But it's wrong to jump to conclusions without understanding the nature of war and the difficulty of building a lasting peace.
After watching American troops win two wars in the last two years with an unbelievably low number of casualties, the public is now growing impatient with the slow and deliberate process of occupation. That's tantamount to coming home to find that your spouse had mowed the lawn, painted the den, balanced the checkbook and cooked dinner and asking, "Honey, why didn't you iron the sheets?"
The fact is that war, and its aftermath, is a dangerous and costly endeavor. The situation in Iraq will not be neatly concluded to the satisfaction of those whose attention span is no longer than a sitcom.
War is ultimately a contest of wills. Having won on the field of battle, it would be disgraceful for us to tuck our tails in retreat and leave the Iraqi people at the mercy of whichever warlord would win the ensuing civil war. When we spend American lives in a cause, the words of Lincoln echo through history to resolve, "that these dead shall not have died in vain." In Iraq, we assumed a duty that we cannot now neglect.
Having flown missions over Iraq on and off for the last decade, I can attest to the enormous investment we have already made in the region. For 12 years, we kept tens of thousands of soldiers, sailors and airmen in the Persian Gulf to contain the threat of Saddam Hussein. That equals billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of missed birthdays, first steps and goodnight kisses that you can never get back.
Emotions, like public opinions, rise and fall. It's important, however, not to lose sight of the fact that after sacrificing so much for so long, it would be tragic to give up now.
Craig Ziemba is a pilot who lives in Meridian. He can be heard Monday from 7:15 a.m.-9 a.m. on WMOX Radio/AM 1010.