First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC
A "Different Iraq," the First Debate, and Why Kerry Is Scary
Leonard Pitts, Jr.'s, column in the Monday News & Record sneeringly asserted that President Bush must know about a "different Iraq" from the one we ordinary citizens know about.
What President Bush knows about Iraq comes from the reports of sober professionals, who have the perspective of what's happening in the whole country.
These are people who face the casualty reports, who have to drive in convoys or heavily armored vehicles called "rhinos" to get into and out of the green zone; who go to sleep to the sound of mortar fire almost every night. They are not wearing rose-colored glasses.
A friend of mine who is in Baghdad right now agrees that yes, the insurgents and terrorists are redoubling their efforts -- but that doesn't mean we're losing.
"These people are getting desperate," he says, "because the latest [poll] numbers show that the people are turning against the insurgents, especially as the reconstruction projects have increased significantly."
Politicians who have a vested interest in making the war look like a failure refuse to accept the fact that the vast majority of the Iraqi people recognize (a) that life is better now than it was before we came, (b) that the present government offers their best chance for freedom and democracy and stability, and (c) the insurgents and terrorists are their enemies, not just our enemies.
Of course the polls all say that Iraqis want us to go. Why in the world would they want anything else? Polls in Germany and Japan after World War II would have shown that they wanted U.S. troops out of there ... unless the alternative was Soviet troops ... or chaos.
Iraqis are volunteering for the police and military in large numbers. Again, cynical American politicians claim that this is because they are starving and need the jobs. But that's absurd.
These are patriotic Iraqis who recognize that the way to get full independence is to have an effective military and police force that can keep these insurgents from creating chaos or, even worse, becoming the new dictators of Iraq.
Most of Iraq is at peace. In most areas, the citizens report suspicious activity and do not cooperate with terrorists. For one thing, they've caught on that it's their children who get blown up by terrorist bombs. For another, they recognize that the terrorists are either foreigners who don't care diddly about the Iraqi people, or insurgents from the Sunni triangle, whose desire is to impose their rule on the non-Sunni/non-Arab majority.
Our media naturally cover the explosions and attacks and American deaths. This is not a media conspiracy, it's in the nature of the beast -- reporters go where the action is.
But it can give a very false impression, just as the media did in the Tet offensive in Vietnam. Americans got the impression that we were losing the war. The American public despaired. Yet we won that battle.
The thing to remember is that the enemy can pick when and where to attack our forces. They can concentrate their efforts on points of weakness (and there are always points of relative weakness). So for a moment, they seem to prevail -- the inflict casualties, they may even seize territory.
Think, for instance, of the Battle of the Bulge in World War II. It was obvious to everyone that Germany was losing the war -- even to the Germans! But that didn't prevent them from concentrating their forces for one last-ditch offensive against the western allies.
They pushed us back. We "lost" the first days and weeks of that battle. And many American soldiers died or were captured.
But the story didn't end there. What mattered was that we responded, we recovered, and we won the battle -- and the war.
Our soldiers have to be constantly on guard -- but they also know that in most of Iraq, citizens inform on would-be terrorists. In most of Iraq, citizens recognize that we are the ones restoring and creating the infrastructure that will make their lives safe and prosperous. They resent those who blow up that infrastructure, and they have no sympathy with those who are killing American soldiers.
That's the part that is grossly underreported. Yet that is precisely the information that President Bush has in mind when he speaks of the fact (not the opinion) that we are winning this war.
John Kerry is actually being pessimistic when he promises to withdraw in four years.
While nobody can promise anything, the Iraqi police and military are coming along reasonably well in their training, and will be able to assume the bulk of the burden of law enforcement and ground anti-insurgency operations surprisingly soon.
There is a widespread belief that Arab soldiers can't fight -- Israel's victories in so many conflicts created that impression.
But the truth is that no soldiers can achieve victory when led by incompetents. Most Arab armies have promoted generals and officers for political reasons -- not least because a truly competent general would be a threat to the government and would have to be eliminated.
But in the new Iraq, the officers are being promoted on the basis of competence alone. The soldiers therefore are learning to trust them, and then the fervor of men fighting for their homeland comes into play. They know that when they can do the job of keeping their country safe, the Americans will go home.
The irony is this: By helping the Iraqis create the first truly effective military force in the Arab world, we are creating a grave danger for our ally, Israel. Iraqi forces have "helped" attack Israel in the past, but were so incompetently led and so unmotivated that they were swatted away like gnats.
That will not happen again. If Iraq should become involved in an anti-Israeli campaign, it will be with a highly trained, well-equipped, and competently led army that will not easily be swept aside.
Indeed, we will have set Iraq up to be what Saddam only dreamed of being: the militarily dominant leader of the Arab world.
So it becomes all the more urgent that along with our operations in Iraq, we work to settle the situation with the West Bank and Gaza. Israel's hardest days are yet ahead, I fear.
Meanwhile, however, when President Bush sounds optimistic about the war in Iraq and Kerry and his friends sound cynical and pessimistic, remember that (a) Kerry has a vested interest in making things appear as dark as possible and (b) President Bush is accurately reporting the assessments of our excellent and honest military on the ground in Iraq.
President Bush did poorly in the debate, not because of what he said, but because of what he showed.
He forgot the cardinal rule of television argument: Whoever gets mad, loses.
I remember back in '84, when the debates between Jesse Helms and Jim Hunt were televised.
It was Jesse Helms who functioned in a spiteful, angry way in the Senate, and Jim Hunt who was a good governor who built consensus. But in the debate, it was Jim Hunt who looked angry, and Jesse Helms who looked avuncular and kind.
No matter what Hunt said, Helms kept his cheerful demeanor. While Hunt got visibly angry and harsh.
The result? The debates were a disaster for Hunt.
It's understandable that President Bush got angry. Remember the vile and terrible things that Kerry and his buddies in Hollywood and the Senate have been saying about President Bush. The lies have been outrageous, and the media, which would have refuted any anti-Kerry lies they could, have been supporting or at least ignoring the false statements about President Bush.
It's not paranoid to think you're surrounded by enemies when, in fact, you are.
But the President needs to remember in the future debates that he is not talking to or with John Kerry. He's talking to us. We aren't his enemies. All we need is reassurance that we have a calm and wise and decent man at the helm.
Meanwhile, John Kerry may have presented the right image in the debate, but the substance of what he said is terrifying.
The most telling moment was his acquiescence in the Communist-promoted idea that we should have bilateral talks with North Korea.
Of course that's what North Korea wants -- and China, too! Because they know that nothing enforceable can possibly emerge from bilateral negotiations. We already had bilateral agreements with North Korea, and they might as well have been written on toilet paper and flushed.
We can't take action in North Korea because China looms over the whole situation. And when it comes to military action between the Yalu river and the South Korean border, China is the region's only superpower. So only if China is committed to the enforcement of an agreement on nukes in North Korea is there any hope of North Korean compliance.
It's not just that Kerry is too dumb about foreign affairs to realize that. (We already knew he was dumb because he buys into the sloganeering about how Iraq is a "distraction" from the war on Al-Qaeda.)
What is most telling about Kerry following the bilateral-talks line is this:
Kerry is the guy who went to Paris and talked to the North Vietnamese during the Vietnam War. He then came home and spouted the Communist propaganda line about the actions of American troops in Vietnam.
He didn't get those ideas in Vietnam, because they weren't true and therefore he couldn't have learned them from experience or from other soldiers.
His account of American atrocities came from the North Vietnamese.
In all his years in the U.S. Senate, he has shown a consistent pattern of treating the advice and findings of the U.S. military with utter contempt, while taking the ideas of America's enemies very seriously.
Kerry trusts our adversaries more than he trusts our own military and intelligence communities.
So if Kerry ever becomes President, we will have a foreign policy based on disbelief in American sources, and blind trust in the claims of our enemies.
Kerry will believe Palestinian accounts of Israeli atrocities, and ignore the actual facts. Kerry will believe that we are losing the war in Iraq even though our own military knows better.
Our military is not perfect. But it is disciplined and it is led by smart, dedicated public servants. I have had the opportunity in recent years to assess firsthand the quality of our military leadership -- and they are, as a group, intellectually and morally far superior to, say, the U.S. Senate.
They are also absolutely committed to remaining supportive of and obedient to the elected and appointed civilian leadership. These leaders, after all, endured eight years of Clintonian scorn for and misuse of the military; they will endure Kerry as well.
The difference is that when Clinton was President we were not at war. To put Kerry in charge of these men right now, while soldiers' lives are on the line, would be an act of unconscionable stupidity on the part of the American people.
So what if the Iraq war was "the wrong war at the wrong time"? Even if Kerry were right about that, we are in that war. And Kerry's track record and current statements show that as commander-in-chief, he would treat our own military with contempt as he made his decisions.
In other words, the military leadership would know that regardless of the information they gave him, he would not act upon their assessments, but rather would make decisions based on our enemies' assessments of the battlefield situation.
It is hard to keep military morale up in a situation like that. And the military would soon recognize that the only thing they could do to support their troops would be to keep them out of harm's way as much as possible, because they could not and would not be effectively used to achieve reasonable objectives.
John Kerry is and always has been the enemy of the U.S. military. He got out of his duty as quickly as possible; he slandered his fellow soldiers when he returned from Vietnam; he voted against every weapons system that is now making our military irresistible on the field of battle; and he believes our enemies more than he believes our own sources of information.
That's what the debate showed -- as if we needed to be shown it again.
So what if President Bush got angry? Wouldn't you, to hear a man like Kerry stand up and pontificate and judge, when Kerry knows less than nothing and is, in fact, deeply stupid about foreign relations and military affairs?
Soldiers will do their duty in the face of danger and death, provided that they have confidence that their sacrifice will accomplish a good purpose for the nation that they serve.
Right now, our military knows they have a commander-in-chief who will not spend their lives in vain. They can't campaign for him. They can't even say out loud (and have not said to me) how much they dread a Kerry presidency.
But if you really support our troops, you won't saddle them with Kerry. Even if you think Bush was wrong to go into Iraq, you can count on his doing what it takes to achieve the good goals of that campaign, and to continue prosecuting the war on terror.
Copyright © 2004 by Orson Scott Card.
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