A LETTER FROM THE FRONT, 11 November 2005
By Lt.Col Eric Wesley
Forwarded by p38bob
I haven’t done as well staying in touch during this deployment. I suppose I am victim of the same thing that I tell journalists. That is, as challenging as this war is to fight, it is, in many ways, an even harder story to tell. But I was speaking last night to the parents of a soldier of mine who was wounded just yesterday. In the course of this discussion – mind you, their son had just been seriously wounded by a roadside bomb – they asked ME how WE were doing; in the midst of their anguish at the news of the insurgents’ drawing blood from their son, they were concerned about ME… about OUR mission… about our calling as a nation!
God Bless this fine family – and yes the honor of their son – for having the noble understanding that what we fight for is far beyond the self serving motivations of many of our critics. After speaking to his wife and his mother and father – and doing my best to describe our progress – “David’s” mother said, “we need to HEAR this… we don’t hear these things on the news!”
The conviction of hearing this “appeal” from the mother of one of my soldiers is what inspires me to write this letter. My gosh, it is the least I could do to honor the sacrifice of a soldier, a wife, a dad… a young man’s mom.
Two days ago, there was a suicide car bomb that exploded on the streets in a small village in my area. This car bomb was driven by a woman. She attempted to target, among other things, one of our coalition patrols. It exploded right in front of a girls’ school as classes were being adjourned. The net outcome: a minor wound to the arm of an American soldier, miraculously none of the Iraqi students were wounded, and she blew herself to smithereens.
This attack is a typical story you hear about in the news, I am sure. And it beats on Americans’ consciences like a steady drip of carnage that seems to achieve little more than more tragedy. And the American citizen asks “why… what are we doing there?” There are nuances to this, and other things about which you don’t hear, that are instructive to what we ARE doing here.
Are we making progress? “Sure,” some critics would say, “the election on 15 October was a success, but the attacks continue… the carnage of useless violence is prevalent.” Are we really making progress?
This car bomb is important to look at for a moment before I answer that. This was by no means the first such attack I have seen. But, at the expense of forcing you to read more of the macabre, I must tell you that as I surveyed this site I was disgusted by the grotesque nature of someone blowing themselves literally to bits – over 100 square meters - and for no tactical end. There was hardly a political “end” to this in that there was not even a morsel of media attention paid to it other than to strike a note of terror into the community. And as I walked around this site I was struck by the fact that there is nothing our soldiers - nothing our nation - has done that could drive someone to do such a thing to their own “gift of life” bestowed by our creator…other than unadulterated evil.
Make no mistake. This was not some frustrated Iraqi tired of American presence. This was a “third country national” import, likely from a middle class community who was recruited from outside Iraq. It was only evil, fostered in the heart of this “martyr,” that drove this behavior. Furthermore, as I surveyed this scene, it was apparent to me that a lack of action – that is had we NOT been involved in Iraq – would not attenuate such evil. After all, let’s be clear. The attacks on our nation on 9/11 – four moderately filled civilian aircraft flying into our cities – were nothing more than 4 gigantic suicide car bombs!
So what does attenuate such evil? Interestingly, the answer to that question is the same answer to the question, “are we making progress?”
As I told many of you before, I am the commander of an area in and around the town of Tarmyia – a fairly hard core conservative Sunni area that is a northern suburb of Baghdad characterized by former regime members, former military officers, and Wahabi/religious Sunnis. Just prior to my arrival here in February, on this my second tour in Iraq, you recall that the first election was held on 30 Jan. By all accounts this was a success. Interestingly, the Sunni people in my area attempted to disrupt and (as they hoped) invalidate the election by not voting. And they did just that. No one in my zone voted on 30 Jan.
Not long after my arrival I spoke to the leaders here and made a passionate argument explaining to them that it was not in their interest to disrupt the progressive efforts to move their country toward a democratic process… that it was in their interest to compete politically. If for no other reason, they HAD to compete because interest groups that they feared WERE in fact making great progress politically, all of which was to their disadvantage. I told them that their fight was not with coalition forces, but rather their fight was FOR their future.
By April of this year, these Sunni leaders admitted that they made a mistake by abdicating their right to vote. Yet attacks continued. By May they were strongly vowing to participate in the next election. And attacks continued. By summer, they and their leaders were actively pursuing electoral means to get polling stations in their area to enable their vote. By the end of summer, the election commission here in Iraq told them that they would NOT be allowed to have polling stations in their area due to the fact that their area was so dangerous. And yes, attacks continued. Not to be discouraged, they didn’t quit. With the help of American soldier involvement and coaching, they fought hard to involve themselves in the political process and argued their case for polling stations. Finally, the election commission relented and said, “fine, if you want polling stations, you run them, you hire the election workers, you ensure security, and you administer them.” And that, they did. By 15 October, they put in place an election plan that resulted in nearly 90% participation throughout the area. And get this: they had their ballots and materials collected and turned in before any other “precinct” in Baghdad. This is progress.
Now some critics would say, “well, they overwhelmingly voted ‘no’ to the referendum on the constitution… and also attacks continue.” This is true. But the fact is, THEY VOTED. They admitted their Jan 30 mistake, they took action to rectify it in the political realm, they invested in it themselves, and they VOTED. Furthermore, after losing their referendum objective (to deny the constitution), they have not quit. No, instead they are now fighting hard to have several of the local leaders run in the 15 December election. Their goal? To get elected officials into the government with the charter to modify the constitution through the amendment process. God Bless them! Do you know what this is called? Yes, it is called DEMOCRACY. It is the obvious means to leverage influence and interests NOT by the end of the barrel of a gun (or car bomb as it were), but rather through the political democratic process!
I will admit to you that we do get discouraged. The attacks do continue. I am appalled at the culture of insidious violence that seeks universal power and, where power comes up short, terror, to impose selfish, extremist views on others. This culture will take a long time to change. But the culture of terrorism didn’t start yesterday, nor did it start in March of 2003. We as a nation have been experiencing this for nearly 30 years. And it might just take a generation to incrementally change the nature of this culture to embrace a system of governing that surrenders power not to the dictator or the narrow few of extremism, but to the broad power of an electorate, thus disenfranchising and overwhelming the few.
I told a journalist a few weeks ago that the key word in this process is incremental improvement. There is no silver bullet solution that will satisfy our desires in short order. We will, in the months and years ahead, claim cultural increments of change and improvement, while those that attack seek to preclude that change. The people that attack us in Iraq today were likely not terrorists in March 2003. But let’s be clear. The authors of this insurgency have a lot to lose. The third country involvement flowing through the borders want no part of a democracy on their flanks. The religious extremists want nothing but theocratic influence over their “flocks.” And former regime members would prefer their old, dictatorial powers to an objective ballot. But these groups, by achieving their ends would thus be the same groups financing and supporting future attacks against our way of life – democratic, free peoples pursuing liberty – that we have been experiencing for a generation.
On the other hand, a successful process in Iraq will put those on the borders and those who would seek the influence of theocratic dogma on notice – a notice that challenges universal power and/or terror in favor of broad democratic influence by people that moderate extremist behavior.
But…it is incremental. And it will take a long time. Perhaps a generation.
We are making progress. My “Sunni friends” are running in this next election. “They” frankly are also still trying to kill me and my soldiers as they have not completely changed their entire culture nor those that would finance evil But we are making progress.
And for what? President Bush, regardless of what you may think of him, chose bold action after nearly 30 years of this insidious dynamic called terrorism. He did not pursue a semi-tolerant, business as usual approach to terrorism. He sought to remove the potential threat of a WMD-empowered enemy (loudly proved incorrect) AND (not so loudly recognized) to initiate, through a democratic driven cultural change, an “antidote” to terror that has the potential for a more thorough solution to the steady onslaught of the carnage… an antidote that has the potential to provide people the means to disenfranchise evil extremists through democratic reform (not disproved, and rarely noted).
Is there a cost? YES. I see it everyday! Every time I attend a memorial service for one of our heroes, the emotion inside makes me painfully aware of the investment we, as a nation are making in the form of America’s sons and daughters. But God Bless those who are willing to make an investment in the pursuit of liberty and to counter evil.
I observed three groups of women in the last two days. One, the car bomb driver, is dead for a cause of evil and carnage. She was a failure. David’s mom invested the honor of her son, and she felt the pain of the cost in the damage done to his 23 year old body. Strangely she did so for another group of women. She did so, in a way, for the future opportunity of young Iraqi girls getting out of school the other day… girls who watched both the horror of evil explode before their eyes, and the activity of noble American men enduring that evil while they seek to instill an antidote that, over the course of a generation, might just preclude attacks that we all watched on September 11th 2001.
So, what do we do now? One more story about my soldier. As “David” lay in some pain on the gurney in the emergency room at the hospital, the doctor was explaining to him his condition and that he would need emergency surgery that would require months to heal. As he grimaced somewhat in discomfort, he said, “ok sir, so I guess I will have to suck it up for the next several months. Ok, I got it. Let’s get to it!” And with that they began to prepare him for surgery. We as a nation must do the same. It will take much longer than several months. It will likely take many years. We must be steadfast and resolute as we proceed through these incremental steps. I pray that we can be just that.
God Bless all of you.
Eric J. Wesley
Cdr, 1-13 AR