An Honest Victory

NY Times Sept.20th, 2005

Excerpts from article written by Nathaniel Fick, a former Marine captain who led infantry platoons in Afghanistan and Iraq, is the author of “One Bullet Away: The Making of a Marine Officer.”

As things stand, American citizens – and the military – have been offered a false choice between “staying the course” in Iraq and precipitous withdrawal. The historian James Chace compared the former to a sailor who, having been blown off course in a storm, continues to sail straight ahead, but in the wrong direction. Cutting and running, on the other hand, isn’t a strategy. A hasty exit would give us anarchy, civil war and maybe revenge killing on a scale unseen since Rwanda. That withdrawal is frequently advanced as the “humanitarian” option is appalling. There must be a third way.

Envision this: In a primetime address to the nation, President Bush focuses the power of his office on Iraq. He doesn’t claim that we have turned a corner or that the insurgents are fighting harder because they are weaker. He speaks honestly, acknowledges the administration’s mistakes, accepts responsibility for them and explains why creating a stable Iraq is in America’s national interest. Then, and this is the key, he announces a reassessment of American strategy spanning from the roles of the commander in chief to the lowliest private.

Conventional armies have been fighting guerrillas since ancient times, and this history offers countless cautionary examples, from Masada to Malaya. The nearest thing to a universal maxim is that counterinsurgents that fail to see their mistakes and to adapt on the fly are doomed to lose.

The military has proved itself adaptable in Iraq. Robots now zap roadside bombs with jolts of electricity and microwave energy. Junior officers and noncommissioned officers now post accounts of the hard lessons they’ve learned on military Web sites for quick dissemination to their peers. Soldiers and marines now return for second and third tours, armed with a better sense of the landscape, geographic and cultural. But these better methods will not become standard across Iraq unless the president himself encourages the military to undergo strategic adaptation. Officers must be granted authority to change course by the person who bears ultimate responsibility for the outcome.

The particulars of whatever strategy we decide to go with are, at this point, secondary. First, commitment to change must be made, and quickly.

An Honest Victory – New York Times

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