A Lot Changes in a Year

I did a telephone interview today and some of the journalist’s questions made me think – again – about this year has meant.   A lot happens in a year.  As I think about what I have accomplished and what I still can do in my last month here, I understand that the inquiry is meaningless unless it is put into context.  I need to think about what WE – my team, the Marines, the people of Anbar and our country generally – have accomplished.  

Below is a rock drill, used to figure out where vehicles or assets should go.  They usually no longer use actual rocks, but it is nice to occasionally see the old ways.

We accomplished a lot.   We have created options.  At the end of 2006, it was hard to believe success in Iraq was possible.  Some thought that our only option was to get out as soon as possible – to end the war by accepting defeat.  I disagreed at the time because the consequences of failure in Iraq were too terrible to accept, but I admit that I did not see a clear way forward.  I greeted the news of the surge with more hope than real expectation.  By the time I volunteered to go to Iraq, about a year ago, I thought that things had turned around, but I expected to be thrust into the middle of a war and I was not sure we could be successful.  I never expected that only a year later we would have almost annihilated Al Qaeda in Iraq, neutralized the insurgency and seen such progress and prosperity return to the towns of Anbar – back then called the most dangerous place on earth.  Of course, I didn’t really know the Marines so well back then and I didn’t know the people of Anbar at all.  THEIR achievements have been astonishing.   

The next president doesn’t have to promise to end the war in Iraq.  In fact, nobody can any longer promise to end the war.  We – the big we I referenced above – have done that already.  The United States faced down an insurgency in the heart of the Middle East – and won.  I cannot say exactly when this happened.  We had no Battleship Missouri moment.  We just kind of looked around and noticed that what we had here was no longer war.  We still have terrorism and we still have criminal gangs.  We still have big challenges going forward, but if we defined these sorts of problems as war, many parts of our country would be in that condition.

The opposite of war is not automatically peace and prosperity. These things take work to achieve and maintain.   One of the biggest mistakes we can make is to believe that peace just “needs a chance.”   We are trying to build conditions that will assure a better outcome.  

Below is the Anbar sky looking straight up.  We don’t get many clouds this time of year.

The question now is how to use this victory and go forward.  We were too optimistic in the first part of the Iraq conflict.  We learned that lesson too well.  Now we are afraid to recognize legitimate success.  But correct action requires correct assessments, w/o too much pessimism or optimism.   A realistic assessment shows a situation still dangerous, but full of promise.

I am interested in history how big events pivot on small things during crucial times.  History is not determined.  There is no such thing as fate.  We all have free will.  We decide.  We make choices that determine the outcomes.  Our individual choice might be small, but we never know how much of a role we play and we all play a role.   I am more conscious of that now than I usually am.

Different choices made a couple of years ago could have resulted in a different and – IMO – a dreadful outcome for Iraq and the U.S.  Had that happened, many people would have seen that bloody and dangerous result as the natural, even inevitable outcome.  Conventional wisdom just a short time ago held that it was impossible to defeat an Islamic insurgency and that the attempt created more terrorists.  It was fatalistic position that might have led to fearful inaction.  It is true that the fight against terrorism can create more terrorists – if it is done wrong.  It is also true that weak responses to threat can also create more terrorists.  Everybody likes to be on what they see as the winning side and a successful insurgency brings more willing recruits too.  Now that we have been successful, the opposite trend is working.  And now that we are succeeding many people say our success in Iraq was just something that would have happened anyway.  This is wrong.

Bringing it back where I started – to my personal point of view – I think coming to Iraq was one of the best decisions I ever made.  I did NOT accomplish what I anticipated for me personally. I thought this would be my last assignment for the FS and that it would mark my transition to a new life.  This turned out to be OBE’d by my unexpected promotion.  I also thought time in the desert would change my outlook more than I believe it has, although that is hard for anybody to know about himself.  I feared that I would be hurt or that I would lose close friends.  Thank God, that has not happened, so far at least.  I feel good that I did my duty, but there are so many around here that have done so much more, I don’t feel really satisfied.  I met a lot of great people and experienced extraordinary events, but I guess that after all the momentous events around here; I am more or less the same.