This editorial by Prof. Bowen was published in the News Leader (Staunton VA: April 11, 2008): A9.
by Gordon L. Bowen, Ph.D.
(Professor, Depts. of Political Science and of International Relations, Mary Baldwin College, Staunton VA 24401)
Since it sometimes is difficult to read every word of a scanned article (as above), here is a clear copy of the original version of this editorial for readers' reference:
Few of us doubt that the situation in Iraq is messy. Thus, much like the rest of the country, citizens here in the Shenandoah Valley have been paying close attention to testimony about the war being delivered this week by Gen. David H. Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker. But, unlike those elsewhere who must attempt to sift truth from sandstorms of sound bites generated by a bevy of Senators including three Presidential aspirants, clearer insights have come into view locally.
On April 9, the Spencer Center for Civic and Global Engagement at Mary Baldwin College hosted U.S. Army Captain Lee Tate. Tate, a graduate of R. E. Lee High School (Staunton) and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, has completed two tours in Iraq. Serving in the war zone both early in the war and during the current “surge” of U.S. armed forces has provided Tate a rare perspective that both war critics and war supporters would benefit from hearing. Since most readers missed the event, allow me to report.
With appropriate modesty, combat veteran Tate focused most on the changes emerging in the part of Iraq he has known directly: the Sunni areas north and west of Baghdad. In 2004, he stated, this was an area where insurgents were rarely seen in the open, since they enjoyed sufficient local support to be able to melt away after planting roadside bombs. It was a region where nearly everyone was suspicious of American soldiers’ motives, and where Iraqi police were corrupt and unreliable. Few Iraqis then imagined that things could get better, and in this environment conditions worsened. When Tate returned to Iraq in October 2006, this time to the insurgent stronghold of Ramadi, “the situation was terrible.” No one disputes this assessment of 2006. After all, on April 8, 2008, as Petraeus was testifying, Pres. Bush awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously to Navy Seal Petty Officer Michael Monsoor, who died saving fellow soldiers in Ramadi on Sept. 29, 2006.
For many Americans, these are the sort of images of Iraq that, once recorded in their brains, have repeated themselves like a broken record, and been a reaffirming filter applied to all subsequent news from the place. American soldiers like Tate, however, have learned that to beat insurgents, they have to adjust the U.S. approach. Ramadi when Tate left late in 2007 was not the hell hole of a year earlier. Personal relationships had been cultivated with Iraqi Sunni tribal leaders. Sick of mindless violence against civilians, Iraqis turned against Al Qaeda in Iraq and against other foreign elements among the insurgents. Some insurgents with our blood on their hands switched to our side. U.S. armed forces and Iraqi military personnel showed the Iraqi public through their joint operations that we are a team there to protect their security, because it is linked to our own troops’ security.
This “Anbar Awakening” and pacification of the formerly most violent area in Iraq has been featured widely in news reports. But this substantial change in part of the war has resulted as much from the sensitivity and adaptability of officers like Tate as from doctrinal innovations. At the War Colleges, courses long have theorized about what it takes to successfully wage counter-insurgency. But it is the war experience gained at ground level more than abstract theories that enabled Tate to help the Staunton audience see beyond the simplifications to which the Iraq War has been reduced in our current national political campaign. Learning that success in counter-insurgency flows from using less force, and from holding its errant use more accountable, runs counter to the cartoon stereotype of macho soldiers wielding leaden death indiscriminately. To avoid leaving behind a shattered Iraq, more training in Arabic and in Iraqi cultural sensitivities may build further steps forward for both peoples, Tate suggested.
Tate is opposed pulling out of Iraq, but his message was no white wash. Students and community members attending Tate’s talk learned that in addition to what is working, serious problems remain. Gains in local trust forged by one set of U.S. personnel can quickly be lost if needed rotations of units back to the States bring in green replacement troops unable, or unwilling, to continue to build upon fragile relationships with local Iraqis. For soldiers whose lives depend on winning over the confidence of Iraqis, reputations are not built in a day, but can be undone still more quickly. If only we as a whole nation could appreciate this large lesson that one local veteran has seen at ground level.Gordon Bowen, April 9, 2008
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