by Austin Bay
May 18, 2004Discussion Board on this On Point topic
Within a week, I deploy to Iraq, as another U.S. Army reservist called to active duty. I will be serving as a staff officer in Baghdad, and I will not be writing newspaper columns, though from time to time an essay with my byline may appear on this page. I've "pre-written a number of columns addressing themes and concepts that I think will be particularly pertinent during this long, hot and history-making summer.
One column reviews Yale professor John Lewis Gaddis' new book on grand strategy in the War on Terror. Another examines the legacy of economic corruption that has damaged many large international developmental aid projects. That issue obviously has resonance for the War on Terror.
A third column draws on a recent interview with former Nebraska Senator and 9-11 Commission member Bob Kerrey. That column asks, and I believe answers, this tough question: "How will our efforts in Iraq be viewed in 20 years?" Here's a future-history snippet from Kerrey: "Twenty years from now, we'll be hard-pressed to find anyone who says it wasn't worth the effort. This is not just another democracy. This is a democracy in an Arab world ..."
Which segues to my summer and early fall in uniform: For a short time, the U.S. Army will make me part of the minute-by-minute, ground-level effort in Iraq. I specify� in Iraq,� for every American, in some form or fashion, is part of this war. It is sad that some people do not realize that.
America's wealth makes it easy to create the perception of distance, that "here" and "over there" aren't intimately linked. American successes in the War on Terror have created, for a vocal segment of the America body politic, the illusion that 9-11 didn't change things too darn much. The inevitable difficulties of war -- war, by definition, is a mistake-ridden enterprise, Carl von Clausewitz's realm of "friction" -- lead another vocal faction into the delusion that America is somehow responsible for fomenting the conflict.
That clan touts figment utopias and fantasy options that ignore the difficult facts. This war cannot be willed away, it cannot be won by slick talk or poignant U.N. resolutions. The war is not America's fault. Islamist terrorists -- the export of decayed Middle Eastern dictatorships and autocracies -- decided if they could knock out America they could knock off the world.
We are now fighting a worldwide, "simultaneous war" in at least two dozen places around the planet, with the fight in Iraq key to America's long-term strategy. The dysfunctional political systems in the Middle East export their tribal, civil and religious wars as international terror. Porous borders, weapons of mass destruction, commercial jet transports, ballistic missiles, mass communications -- the light and dark of modernity -- mean their tribal battles are no longer local horrors.
Removing Saddam began the reconfiguration of the Middle East -- a dangerous, expensive process, but one that will lay the foundation for true states where the consent of the governed creates legitimacy and where terrorists are prosecuted, not promoted. The job of building New Iraq falls on the Iraqi people, but they have a precious opportunity, one supported by government civilians and contractors, volunteer workers and, of course, the uniformed military personnel serving with the U.S.-led coalition.
It is my privilege to join that group for the next few months. I know the hardest burden in this deployment will be borne by my wife and daughters. I thank them for their sacrifice.
A few other thank yous are required. Thanks to Creators Syndicate and my newspaper editors for supporting this effort. A very deserved thank you to the reserve personnel section, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, US Army III Corps, Ft. Hood, Texas, which did a first class job of getting me back in uniform. A special thanks to the sergeants running the pre-deployment training at Ft. Hood. The classes were jam-packed with the kind of real-world insights and tips only veterans who've been there and done it can provide.