Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Ask the warriors

Proceedings
August 2004

Ask The Warriors About Iraq


By Lieutenant Colonel (select) Stanton S. Coerr, U.S. Marine Corps Reserve

President George W. Bush gathered U.S. support for invading Iraq by using two arguments: Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and Saddam Hussein supported al Qaeda terrorism. Now, vicious words and gratuitous finger pointing keep coming from people who insist they were misled. Politicians and TV experts sharply critique the Bush administration. Yet, I have not heard a word from anyone who actually carried a rifle or flew an aircraft in Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and its ugly aftermath. What about consulting the guys who had—and still have—the most to lose?

As a Marine Corps reserve major, I was the senior U.S. officer attached to the 1 Royal Irish Battlegroup (a reinforced British rifle battalion). I commanded five Marine air-naval gunfire liaison teams and was the liaison officer between the U.S. Marines and the battlegroup. Seventeen days after activation on 14 January 2003, my Marines and I were in Kuwait, ready to go to war.

Having studied political science at Duke University and government at Harvard University, I understand realpolitik, geopolitical jujitsu, economics, and the realities of the Arab world. I am not a blind follower. But the war made sense then—and our presence there makes sense now.

At dawn on 22 March, we crossed the border in trace of the 5th Marine Regiment’s sweep through the Ramaylah oil fields. We were the guys you saw on TV every night: filthy, hot, exhausted. Although the National Rifle Association’s right-to-bear-arms mantra is a joke to me, I carried a loaded rifle, a loaded pistol, and a knife at all times. I pointed a loaded weapon at another human for the first time in my life. We killed numerous Iraqi soldiers. I directed air and artillery strikes in concert with my British artillery officer counterpart. Close up, we saw dead bodies, helmets with bullet holes in them, handcuffed prisoners, and oil well fires with flames leaping 100 feet in the air. In short, I did what I had spent 14 years training to do.

Apart from the violence, a number of things lifted our hearts. Thousands of Iraqis ran into the streets at the sight of us, screaming, waving, and cheering. They ran from their homes when our vehicles roared in from the south, bringing us bread, tea, cigarettes, and photos of their children. Much was lost in language differences, although my clear impression was: “Thank God, someone has arrived with bigger men and bigger guns to be on our side at last.” We saw in the eyes of the people how a generation of fear reflects in the human soul.

For those who oppose the war, let there be no mistake: the Ba’ath regime was the Nazi Party of the second half of the 20th century. Saddam Hussein’s brutal dictatorship raped, tortured, murdered, extorted, and terrorized the Iraqis for 35 years. Mass graves bear testimony to countless crimes. One U.S. Marine battalion liberated a prison populated entirely by children, where the jailers had brutalized the weakest of them and killed the strongest.

The Ba’ath Party retained power by placing officials in every city and village to keep the people under its boot. We found munitions and weapons everywhere. In Ramaylah, the local Ba’ath leader’s desk contained brass knuckles and a handgun. These are the people who are in prison—where they belong.

Consider this analogy. For years, you watched the same large man come home at night. You listened to his yelling and the screams of children and the noise of breaking glass. You and everyone on the block knew he was beating his family. On behalf of the neighborhood, you asked him to stop. Then you begged; finally, you threatened him. Nothing worked. So, after 13 years, you muster the meanest guys you can find. You kick his door down, punch him in the face, and drag him away. The house is a mess, the family poor and abused. But now there is hope. You did the right thing.

I can speak with authority on the opinions of British and American infantrymen: at no time did anyone say—or imply—to any of us that we were invading Iraq to rid the country of weapons of mass destruction and avenge the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks. We were there to oust a tyrant and return Iraq to its people. Marines carry out policy decisions, not make them—and none of us had the slightest doubt about the righteousness of our actions.

Take it from someone who was there and stood to lose everything. We must stay the course in Iraq. We owe it to the Iraqis and to the world.

Lieutenant Colonel (select) Coerr, a Marine reservist activated for Operation Iraqi Freedom, is an attack helicopter pilot and forward air controller. He is in the Home Depot Store Leadership Program in San Diego, California.

3 Comments:

Blogger 91ghost said...

Another great essay.

Thanks for your response yesterday. It looks like Al-Sadr might become history sometime here in the next few days...I certainly hope so.

6:42 AM  
Blogger redleg said...

We could learn from the Marines how to get our story out there.

The best guy we have right now is CB. Get the reporter to the common soldier and he always tells our story the best- warts and all. The Marines learned that one back in the revolutionary war.

The Iraqis have to kill Sadr. We can't. They must.

I think you ought to put your writings together for a book on the Great Patriotic War I (as I like to call it). You have something to share with us all.

Really like the reality of your writing

7:14 AM  
Blogger this we'll defend said...

Great essay.

But I'm a little confused.

He says "Bush gathered U.S. support for invading Iraq by using two arguments: Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and Saddam Hussein supported al Qaeda terrorism. Now, vicious words and gratuitous finger pointing keep coming from people who insist they were misled."

He then says "Yet, I have not heard a word from anyone who actually carried a rifle or flew an aircraft in Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and its ugly aftermath. What about consulting the guys who had—and still have—the most to lose?"

Well, for one thing the military briefs daily. Many soldiers have written editorials (you posted one a few posts ago). And none of them have shown or provided any details that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction or that Saddam Hussein supported al Qaeda terrorism. None. Why? If they can I would love to hear from them. Well, maybe this guy can do so. I read on.

He gives a gripping account of the service and sacrifice of our brave military. He details how despicable and brutal Saddam is. He tells of grateful Iraqis. All true.

And then he says "at no time did anyone say—or imply—to any of us that we were invading Iraq to rid the country of weapons of mass destruction and avenge the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks."

Well, fine. Nobody implied it to the troops. But did anybody imply such things to the American people? They didn't imply, they came right out and said so.

What were the voters told? Did the president and his team ever say, or imply, that the invasion was due to WMDs and the "lessons of 9/11?" Gee, you think? Maybe a few times? Just once or twice? Every day for about a year, maybe? Usually more than once a day? And still doing it, as shown by the first night of the RNC convention?

Apparently the military officers in charge of our soldiers and Marines knew that it was bunk and didn't lie to their troops. Great. I would hope for the same from the Commander in Chief, but oh well.

What were we told? Are you actually under the impression that this war wasn't sold on the pretense of WMDs and 9/11? Please say that out loud so that I can begin quoting Bush, Cheney, Rice, etc. Remember when Sec. Powell went to the UN - I believe he might have briefly mentioned WMDs in passing, but hey, I could be wrong. But I thought so since that was his entire brief. I remember something about yellowcake uranium in the State of the Union address, but that's not a big speech or anything. Something about WMDs and the lessons of 9/11 in the speech the President gave to the nation the night the offensive was launched. But hey, who am I to argue with a military guy? Saddam was a bad guy so enough said, right?

Wrong. We were lied to, and to claim the war was sold on the "help the poor Iraqis be free" theory is to lie some more. It was all about WMDs and terrorism and you people know it. You just don't care.

The Iraqis are better off, we aren't.

He finishes with an impassioned "Take it from someone who was there and stood to lose everything. We must stay the course in Iraq. We owe it to the Iraqis and to the world."

Well, yes, that's right. Take it from someone who was there and stood to lose everything in other conflicts - sometimes we make mistakes. That doesn't mean losing is the better alternative, and it isn't here. We must win. And we do owe it to the Iraqis and world. But that doesn't mean AT ALL that we were smart or right to invade in the first place. Our soldiers are fighting and dying now to avoid even worse harm to our national security, but we were better off, safer, more secure, the day before the invasion was launched than we are now. The Iraqis are better off, but not us.

The president owed it to the American people to tell the truth. He did not. His "WMDs" - excuse me, "Weapons of mass destruction-related program activities" were never a viable threat. This war liberated the Iraqi people at the expense of US lives and harm to our national security. The President owed his first loyalty to us, not to Iraqis. That we liberated people from a tyrant doesn't change that or make the invasion a good idea. And changing the story now about why he claimed we should invade is just more smoke and mirrors. That some people getting shot at believe him doesn't make it true. And claiming that we should stay until Iraq is stable and secure is true, but it doesn't change the fact that we were misled.

I guess that is vicious and gratutious finger-pointing. But I've been under fire too, and I don't see any argument from almost-LTC Stanton that shows we weren't.

5:06 PM  

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