Before We Rush Out of Iraq

By Bob Howard

January 12, 2006

[Bob Howard is a recently retired Marine Gunnery Sergeant with extensive background in operational intelligence.]


Before I comment, I want to make it clear that I'm now living a comfortable life and away from the craziness being in the field as a Marine. I would like to share some personal observations on the issue of withdrawal from Iraq and impressions I get from other Marines.

The challenge of pulling out is a moral dilemma regardless of our beliefs about the genesis of this conflict. For politicians and the general public who have not been on the ground, they often see the tragedy of losing our service members to death or dismemberment. For military persons on the ground, this is more involved because the members are dealing with individual people face-to-face. Pulling out now may be more psychologically and spiritually damaging to them than the wounds one might receive physically. Why? Honor, courage and commitment to see things through to protect those whom we personally know from a threat they cannot defend themselves from – our belief system and why we exist and do the things we do are being challenged. Right or wrong, this is an internal struggle the people on the ground must contend with. That is why I think you see some people volunteering for 2nd and 3rd tours into Iraq. I still feel guilty at times for not being there myself.

I believe this was a similar struggle some servicemen dealt with when they had to leave the Montangards back in Vietnam.

I think what has made this war really ugly, in addition to our controversy over the rationale – Saddam Hussein’s alleged ties to terrorists and WMD – is the way we conduct operations. We go kinetic, kinetic, kinetic. So far the reporting I'm receiving from both operators and intelligence types indicate that leadership engagement – face to face discussions – have provided the best results, combined with select use of kinetics. When we [speaking as a former military member] see progress on the ground, we cannot help but feel hope to press on. This is why some of us would feel it would be a dishonor and tragedy to leave Iraq behind without careful consideration of all aspects of that decision.

Service members and the public may perceive that we fight for mom, apple pie and Chevrolet, but reality is that we fight for each other, once the commitment is made. Some of that commitment has spread as our Foreign Area Officers, Civil Military Operations types and other personnel developed rapport with the local leadership and population. Warfighting, like we've been taught, is a 3 dimensional environment of the physical, spiritual and the mental. To some service members, this is their jus ad bellum.

Some of the elements that I feel are prolonging this war include:

  • kinetic operations that inflict collateral damage on the Iraqi collective community

  • perceived vacillation in our will to seize the objective

  • UN inaction that resulted in prolonged sanctions against the people of Iraq

  • political maneuvering by various parties within the US

I feel this President took a step that the UN simply wanted to ignore, yet nobody is attacking the UN. The U.S. did not collapse the infrastructure of Iraq, we merely pushed the rusty statue over. The UN's prolonged inaction contributed to the deterioration of Iraq. We are the ugly guys for doing something about it.

I wrote a rant in the fall of 2002 supporting the President and his decision to go to war [], but that was because I emphatically believe the decision to go to war was clearly made by then. There were indications in the media that Saddam was considering leaving Iraq, but this initiative may have fallen apart due to U.S. vacillation and to potential behind the scenes agreements being made with him that were possibly compromised via the media. The reason why I believe this is because all of the preoperational planning was so closely held that we could not even tell the participants/lead elements who were to be engaged in the fight what to expect – this runs counter to every principle I've been taught about preparing for conflict.

My personal belief is that this war was actually a ruse gone bad. Just think of how many delays there were before finally going in: the U.S. kept giving him [Saddam] opportunities to give up while the press kept poking Saddam's ribs about stepping down. The media/world failed to realize that Arab pride was now publicly challenged and thus he now had to make a stand. Did anybody think that cornering him like this might have also taken us to war? Had we stepped away at that point, we would have enhanced Iraq's status in the world as being able to stand up against a U.S. mega power and would have made Saddam a modern day Ozymandias.

All of these considerations will play into how our troops in Iraq perceive and react to our decision process for withdrawing.

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