Iraq and Afghanistan: Staying Until the Fight is Over

By: Greg C. Reeson

The Armed Forces Press Service recently quoted Army Chief of Staff General Peter J. Schoomaker as saying that the current level of soldiers in Iraq could remain constant through 2010. Naturally, this sounded alarms in the mainstream media, which had been reporting for some time that the Army planned to reduce troop levels significantly during late 2006 and into 2007.

There are two important things to note here. The first is pretty straightforward: troop levels are constantly adjusted to meet the conditions on the ground. When the level of violence dipped in Iraq, the commanders on the ground reduced the number of troops in the country to just over 100,000 and talked about further possible reductions. As the level of violence steadily increased this year, though, troop levels again went up, with some deployments accelerated and some re-deployments delayed. The same held true in Afghanistan, where NATO countries were called upon to increase troop levels in response to increased Taliban activity in the southern part of the country.

The point is that there is no magic formula for the number of soldiers on the ground. Troop levels rise or fall in direct proportion to the levels of violence in Iraq and Afghanistan. Calls for massive troop reductions ignore the realities in both countries. The fight is far from over and Afghanistan and Iraq could easily be lost if our resolve wavers.

The second thing to note is a bit more conceptual and thus more difficult for people to understand: we are an Army (and Navy, and Air Force, and Marine Corps) at war, but we are not a nation at war. What I mean by this is that everyday Americans go about their lives largely unaffected by the carnage in Iraq and Afghanistan. The vast majority of the population doesn’t serve in the military and only a small number of people even know someone in the service, much less in the two primary theaters of the war on terror.

Everything they know about Baghdad, Fallujah, Ramadi, Kandahar, Bagram, and any number of other key battlegrounds is obtained from their nightly news broadcasts and local papers.

The soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines currently forward deployed understand what they are involved in. They risk their lives everyday while we argue over “stay the course” and “cut and run.” Unlike World War II, when the entire nation was engaged in the war effort against Germany and Japan, the Global War on Terror is witness to a select few volunteers putting everything on the line while the rest of us go about our daily routines in ignorant bliss.

This attitude concerns General Schoomaker. In a recent speech to soldiers and defense industry representatives he warned that support for the war effort had been “tepid.” In fact, he said, only 4% of the nation’s gross national product had been committed to defense, compared with 38% of GNP during the Second World War. “Ultimately, victory requires a national consensus…in words and actions,” he said. “Another 9/11 should not have to occur to shake us into action.”

While politicians and the public alike complain about the money being spent in the two war zones, a figure quoted at over $1 billion per week, military members across the country are cutting back on nonessential expenditures so that every available dollar can be used in support of the men and women on the ground in Afghanistan and Iraq.

On military posts throughout America, quality of life projects and family support programs are cutting back to free desperately needed funds for the war effort. The very people who volunteer to sacrifice so much for the rest of us are bearing the entire burden of the War on Terror while average citizens complain about gas prices or discuss Madonna’s adoption of a child from Malawi. As General Schoomaker said, providing the military with the funds it needs “…is a matter of national priority, not a matter of affordability.”

Most Americans don’t equate the War on Terror with World War II. The fight against the Axis in the 1940s was viewed as a fight for survival requiring the support of the entire country. Americans need to understand that we are again locked in a life-and-death struggle with a radical ideology bent on our subjugation and eventual destruction.

Americans accept Afghanistan because they can link the Taliban and Osama bin Laden to the attacks of 9/11. Iraq may or may not have been a front in the Global War on Terror in March 2003. Intelligent people can debate that topic equally well from both points of view. But there is no question that Iraq has now joined Afghanistan as a central battleground in the fight against radical Islam. Jihadists from across the globe have flocked to Iraq to wage war on the United States and the west.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said in an October 16 speech that “There’s no way the United States can lose militarily against the terrorists, but the center of gravity of the war in Iraq is not in Iraq, it’s in Washington, D.C.”

If we pull out of Iraq now, our enemies will be emboldened. If we leave before the job is done, we will breathe new life into the cause of Muslim fundamentalists, much as the Soviet Union did when it pulled out of Afghanistan in 1989. The calls for troop withdrawals must be resisted, and we must stay until the fight is over.

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