View Full Version : Three Marks on the Horizon

08-13-07, 01:06 PM
Three Marks on the Horizon

August 13, 2007

Almost everyone (by now) must have heard about the “lazy” Iraqi parliament members who, like so many Neros fiddling while Rome burns around them, are taking a month off. Yet comparatively few Americans will ever hear or read about IA Scorpion Company Commander Captain Baker; or Iraqi entrepreneur and community catalyst, “Tonto”; or the Mayor of Baqubah, who summoned the courage to step out of the shadow of al Qaeda and fight to get his constituents a warehouse-sized stockpile of food.

False advertising is afoot. I write these words from Indonesia, soaking wet, having just returned from photographing rice paddies in a pouring rain, wearing a Florida Gators shirt. That means there is a green alligator on my chest. While supporting my team, my shirt perpetuates the myth that alligators are green, when in fact they are black when wet, gray when dry.The mantra that “there is no political progress in Iraq” is rapidly becoming the “surge” equivalent of a green alligator: when enough people repeat something that sounds plausible, but also happens to be false, it becomes accepted as fact. The more often it is repeated—and the larger the number of people repeating it—the harder it is to convince anyone of the truth: alligators are not green, and Iraqis are making plenty of political progress.

There may be little progress on political goals crafted in America, to meet American concerns, by politicians who have a cushion of 200 years of democracy. Washington might as well be on the moon. Iraqis don’t respond well to rules imposed from outside their acknowledged authorities, though I have many times seen Iraqi Police and Army of all ranks responding very well to American Marines and soldiers who they have come to respect, and in many cases actually admire and try to emulate. Our military has increasing moral authority in Iraq, but the same cannot be said for our government at home. In fact, it’s in moral deficit because many Iraqis are increasingly frightened we will abandon them to genocide. The Iraqis I speak with couldn’t care less what is said from Washington but large numbers of them pay close attention to what some Marine Gunny says, or what American battalion commanders all over Iraq say. Some of our commanders could probably run for local offices in Iraq, and win. To say there has been no political progress in Iraq in 2007 is patently absurd, completely wrong and dangerously dismissive of the significant changes and improvements happening all across Iraq. Whether or not Americans are seeing it on the nightly news or reading it in their local papers, Iraqis are actively writing their children’s history.

When I wrote the op-ed piece, “I Have Seen the Horror,” published August 3rd in the New York Daily News, I cited three areas that had experienced dramatic change in 2007—change that convinces me the “surge” is working:

1. Iraqis are uniting across sectarian lines to drive al Qaeda in all its disguises out of Iraq, and they are empowered by the success they are having, each one creating a ripple effect of active citizenship.

2. The Iraqi Army is much more capable now than they were in 2005. They are not ready to go it alone, but if we keep working, that day will come soon.

3. General Petraeus is running the show. Petraeus may well prove to be to counterinsurgency warfare what Patton was to tank battles with Rommel, or what Churchill was to the Nazis.

I based my appraisal not on the common wisdom about Iraq, but on what I had seen firsthand and had been writing about in the recent series of dispatches about the days following the launch of Operation Arrowhead Ripper in Baqubah. These contain many concrete examples of the kinds of change referenced in the first and third of mile-markers. For example, the constructive engagement of former insurgent groups like the 1920s Revolution Brigade in the push to drive al Qaeda from its “caliphate” in Baqubah was the focal point of Feasting on a Moveable Beast: Al Qaeda on the Run. Likewise, Second Chances addressed the critical change in military leadership and its impact on the ground situation.

In the interests of balance, I offer this dispatch about an Iraqi Army mission I observed earlier this year and Mosul as concrete evidence of the dramatic improvement in Iraqi Security Forces that I have seen firsthand.