Lieutenant Colonel Allen B West writes his monthly column, exclusively, for the Atlas sphere. A gift for us - for Easter. This is a magnificent man. Reporting from Kandahar.
8 April 2007
Happy Easter to all and Greetings from Afghanistan, I am currently in Kabul for a meeting and with some time available decided to pen some thoughts and insights. As I landed here in Kabul and took the drive from the airport it warmed my heart to see the young children going and coming from school, especially the young girls. It made me think of my own daughters, Aubrey and Austen, Aubrey will turn 14 tomorrow, yet another birthday I will miss.
Therefore, it came to me to consider the importance of the sacrifices being made by many here in Afghanistan and Iraq, as that coincides with Easter and the theme of sacrifice and redemption.
As I sit here in Kabul and over the past few weeks I have read of much distressing news coming from our hallowed legislative bodies. It seems that they feel conceding to the enemy in this current conflagration is the best course for America, the Iraqi people, and I would suppose the world. But if you would allow me a few moments of your time I would like to illuminate some points. First of all, you all are well aware that I make no excuses for the Bush Administration in prosecuting current military operations. There have been mistakes, and there are very few conflicts that are clean, simple, and mistake ridden. Now, with that aside what is the best course, I contend to set a timetable and establish a date to withdraw is not. This gives the adversary a clear indication that he has achieved victory and that to simply lay low will enable his reaping of countless objectives.
It seems we have forgotten the bloodlust and carnage post exiting Vietnam and the “Killing Fields” of Pol Pot and Cambodia, no to mention the oppression and persecution of the Montagnards and countless others who had been supportive to the US. The repeat of such in Iraq will make this seem as nothing, as we deal with a far more brutal and savage enemy.
One must also consider the credibility of the US in the Middle East, and worldwide as well. Let’s see, left Beirut after barracks bombing, departed Somalia after having Soldiers bodies dragged through the streets, yes we lost 18 troops, but no one thinks about the death toll to Somali militiamen, in the face of countless terrorist attacks (Khobar Towers, USS Cole, Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania) responded with missile launches, and we all know of the Vietnam precedent….add to that a withdrawal from Iraq and Osama Bin Laden’s propaganda of the US being a “paper tiger” increases. We have to realize that in certain parts of the world strength is the measure of respect, not compromise, negotiations, appeasement. The Middle East is one of those regions.
My solution is simple, we must force the Iraqis to take the future of their country seriously, “No Free Chicken” but we must do our best to set the conditions for their success. This means to provide them external security against foreign incursions from Syria and Iran. Provide reinforcement to their Army in the security of Baghdad as well as advisors. We must get our military forces in position to do what they do best, maneuver warfare, strike operations. Coupled with that we must send a clear diplomatic message, we do not negotiate or create dialogue with States who sponsor terrorist activities. When you negotiate it has to be from a position of perceived power, not meekness, no threats, just resolve.
We have embarked upon two missions that are truly unique, trying to establish free democratic processes in Islamic States, Afghanistan and Iraq. We must rid ourselves of the typical ‘are we there yet” fast food foreign policy and realize that this is a long term investment, not just for America but for these regions and the following generations. Take for example in Afghanistan, going back to the Soviet invasion in 1979 through the establishment of the Taliban regime after the Afghan Civil War two American Presidents refused to engage and now we are trying to remedy 25-30 years of civil and social retardation. My friends this is not a 5-6 year fix. Oh by the way, how long have we been involved in the social endeavor in America called the ‘War on Poverty”.
Coupled with the above, we have to protect the only Democratic state in the Middle East, Israel, and support the only other potential Arab Democratic State, Lebanon. Lest we also forget, we cannot allow the wholesale export of Saudi Wahabbism in America. So there are many points of order necessitating our presence in Iraq, it is a door hinge, and exiting is just not a viable option.
Secondly, what are the second and third order effects which could result from an Iraq withdrawal next year? Being a military strategist and tactician, the immediate effect is a shifting of resources to Afghanistan by the enemy. He will have become emboldened and knows that there exists a certain level of pain which the US cannot tolerate. And of course what will come with the enemy? The media will be in tow to document attacks, “policy” failures, and make this seem an un-winnable theater as well.
I was asked by a couple of our interpreters in after the House vote, yes they check the internet news, if I thought America would again abandon Afghanistan. My response was simply, “not in my lifetime”, this goes back to the issue of American credibility and resolve globally. This is a dangerous precedent which we can ill afford. “War is Hell”, as General Sherman articulated and as John Stuart Mill suggested it is the ugliest of things, but the lack of believing that anything is worth the fight is a far worse thing.
What is the effect upon Israel, Lebanon? How will Wahabbi influences increase? How does Iran then extend its regional hegemony, to include strategically in Latin America? How does this portray the US to China, North Korea, and Venezuela? Where and who will challenge the US next? I dare not think that the astute and highly intelligent members of the US Congress and Senate have not considered these tiered effects.
Thirdly, what shall we do with the forces we withdraw from Iraq? Reposition them to Afghanistan? The terrain here is not conducive to armored and mechanized type forces which are deployed in Iraq. Instead of asking how do we get out of this, why are we not asking how do we decisively win? You all know I am a serious SEC college football fan, when was the last time you saw a pre-game interview where the Coaches were asked, “So tell me Coach Spurrier, what is your strategy for the final minutes if the 4th quarter”? Let’s stop asking ourselves what is the exit strategy before we even commence. The better question is how we leverage all our elements of National power for a decisive victory? What must the defense industry need to produce to ensure we can effectively deny this enemy its strategic objectives? What must we do domestically to guarantee that our freedoms and rights are not co-opted and used by our enemy to defeat us? Solutions, why are we not seeking solutions, and sorry for my fellow Americans who are liberal in their political ideology, we are in a fight, not a debate club meeting.
In closing, we are sending some very bad signals; Speaker Pelosi’s trip to Syria, and attempt to create some alternate foreign policy dialogue. Don’t get me wrong, I do not approve of any elected official going to a hostile State sponsor of terrorism who is not approved by US State Department or Presidential administration, sends mix bag. Although I am pleased the British Royal Marines and Sailors were released, the entire episode was a propaganda victory for Iran, and our enemies. You can rest assured that no troop under my Command would have been left out cold by me…..the US Code of Conduct states (I paraphrase), that it is my obligation to resist my captors. We cannot achieve victory by displaying weakness and indecision; I am not talking about being a cowboy, but resolve and belief in ourselves, in America.
We owe more to our children just like the kids I see here going off to school.
In the end it all comes down to Vision, leaders possess that innate quality, like Union Cavalry Commander JNL Buford at Gettysburg. If we do once again respond with shortsighted foreign policy decisions we are just creating a greater debacle for the future. If US leadership had just thought about supporting Islamic fighters against the Soviets back in 1979 in Afghanistan, about allowing Islamic clerics to gain power in Iran, and about every time we withdraw in the face of the enemy (Vietnam, Lebanon, Somalia), future tiered effects, maybe we would have eliminated some of these current issues with which we now wrestle.
I pray you all had a very Happy Easter and I look forward to speaking with Pamela in May while home on leave.
Lieutenant Colonel Allen B West (US Army, Retired)