Put Me Back In, Coach – The Reasons I Would Go Back To Iraq

Updated: July 1, 2014


By Havoc13

Like many members of the US military, I served in Iraq multiple times.  I was there in 2004 during the heady days of post-invasion euphoria, when optimism was running high and the people were on our side.  I was there in 2006, when things were bad and getting worse, and everyone was calling the war “unwinnable.”  And I was there in post-surge 2008, when Iraq was slowly struggling to its feet.  All of my tours in Iraq were with special operations units, which gave me the opportunity to gain a perspective that included the tactical, operational, and strategic levels of that conflict.  When I left Iraq for what I hoped would be the last time, Iraq’s central government was weak and thoroughly corrupt, but it looked like things could, just maybe, turn out OK.

It looks like I was wrong.

Apparently I’m in good company when it comes to erroneous appraisals of the situation in Iraq.  In 2003, President Bush declared an “end to major combat operations” in Operation Iraqi Freedom.  History, and Al Qaeda, proved otherwise.  As recently as 2010, Vice President Biden declared that Iraq would be one of the “great achievements” of the current administration.  I’m pretty sure he would not make such an assessment knowing what we all know now.

What we all know now is that Mosul, Tikrit, and Kirkuk have joined the list of major Iraqi cities that the Iraqi government no longer controls, having lost these population centers to the Al Qaeda-affiliated group ISIS (also known as ISIL) or other armed sub-national groups.  Currently, Iraq appears to be in a death spiral, with the Islamist cancer that has been festering for far too long in the western city of Fallujah now metastasizing and spreading counterclockwise throughout the body of the state of Iraq and getting closer and closer to Baghdad, like water circling a drain.  It is clear that the fragile government we left behind in Iraq is coming apart at the seams.

While it is true that Iraqis are signing up in large numbers to fight Al Qaeda and its proxies, what we’re seeing is not a rush to protect the state but is instead the opening maneuvers of Iraq Civil War 2.0.  Iraq needs help badly, and so far the only ones willing to provide it on the ground is Iran, which apparently sent two battalions of its elite Quds Force to “help Iraq retake” (i.e. seize for themselves) the city of Tikrit, which allowed Iraq to trade one group of occupying religious extremists for another.

iraqNow, for those of you unfamiliar with Iraq’s geography, take a look at a map of the country and see how far inside Iraq the city of Tikrit is (sometimes spelled as “Tekrit”).  If Iran can send two battalions that far into Iraq, and ISIS can seize everything north of it, is there any doubt that Iraq may be breathing its last as a unified nation?  The current situation in the north and east doesn’t even address the issue of the Shiite militias in the south, the Sunni separatist movement to the west, or the territorial aspirations of Iraq’s Kurds in the northeast.

We knew that Iraq would be complicated, messy, and fractious for quite some time after we left, but it seems more and more obvious that what we thought were the growing pains of a newly born democratic state are instead its death rattle.  Iraq had a chance to come together as a nation and decide its future together, but we’re far from what we saw as the promise of a (relatively) stable, unified, and democratic Iraq.  So what went wrong?

Many things, apparently.  The first and most obvious was, of course, President Bush’s decision to invade Iraq in the first place.  Then President Obama came to power in part on a promise to end the war in Iraq.  “End,” he said, not “win.”  That’s an important distinction. While the war is over for the US—for now—I guess Al Qaeda, Iran, and the other groups fighting there didn’t get the memo.  More than that, though, we chose democracy for a people who weren’t ready for it, and couldn’t handle its responsibility, and then wondered why it didn’t work for them.

I believe that all men have an inherent right to live free under a government of their own choosing, and I think that a democratic form of government is ultimately the most fair, equitable, just, and profitable one in the world.  But I’m also interested in promoting what’s best for America.  So while we might hate to admit it, in order to have a stable, coherent nation in Iraq that we could use to promote our national interests in the region, a dictatorship might have been the best form of government for Iraq’s current composition and level of development.  We took that out of the equation and didn’t give the Iraqi people something that they thought was better.  Both nature and identity politics abhor a vacuum, and radical militant Islam was there to ooze into the gaps we left behind.

With that said, I’ll leave the “could have” and “should have” of our most recent Iraq excursion to the historians and concentrate on the here and now.  Right now, strategically-important Iraqi cities are falling like dominoes and Iraq seems to lack both the will and the capability to do anything about it.  Additionally, every group with an identity, some kind of territorial ambition, a coherent narrative, and an armed militia is seizing territory for itself.  Aside from the various armed Sunni terrorist groups vying for power in the north and west, the Kurds have moved in to fill the power vacuum created when Iraqi forces abandoned their positions in what many aspire to be “Greater Kurdistan.”  The Shiites in the south are mobilizing again as well.  Potentially-stabilizing forces such as aid workers, investors, and foreign workers are fleeing the country.  Even the US’s massive, billion-dollar embassy, the most expensive and purportedly the most secure one in the world, is reportedly on the verge of being evacuated.

soldierLook, I don’t miss Iraq.  I didn’t like the country, and the people didn’t like us.  I don’t feel like I left anything behind that I need to go back and get.  What we did there was important, and we played the best hand we could with the cards we were dealt.  But the deck was stacked against us, and ultimately we as a nation didn’t have the fortitude to finish the game.  My comrades that sacrificed so much in Iraq can hold their heads high and know they did their part, even though right now it might seem like everything we did there was ultimately futile.

Many of my fellow veterans are currently discussing whether they want to go back to Iraq to fight ISIS and help stabilize the country.  My comrades in arms seem pretty evenly split between two frames of mind when it comes to the current situation.  The first I’ll call the “put me back in, coach!” approach.  This one holds that Iraq is unfinished business, where much money and more importantly many lives were spent in pursuit of establishing and securing a free and democratic society; it’s time to go back and finish the job.  Then there is the “let it burn” school of thought, which holds that we gave the opportunities to have an independent, stable, wealthy, and democratic state, and they blew it by turning their backs on our support, so they’re reaping the bitter harvest of their own bad choices.  That mindset is particularly attractive to those among us who feel betrayed by the way we left Iraq and know that we, unlike the policymakers, will have to bear the brunt of Washington’s poor decision-making.

Both sides have good points, particular the “let it burn” approach.  This one risks no US lives and cost no US money—at least not up front.  There is also something deeply satisfying in being able to say, “I told you so.”  This approach might be the one that wins out, since President Obama has already ruled out sending in ground troops to help out the Iraqis.  If this holds, then the best we can apparently do is send supplies, advice, and maybe some air strikes.
But here’s why that line of thinking is flawed:  ISIS now has the fighters, the territory, the natural resources, and thanks to the seizure of close to half a billion dollars in cash, the funding to create a viable base for the re-establishment of an Islamic caliphate.  Since they now control the Bayji Oil Refinery and the oil-rich areas of northern Iraq, they can continually fund their jihadist ambitions and either seize the entirety of Iraq, or, more likely, break off a large part of it and keep it as their own.  This will allow ISIS to overcome the entropy inherent in terrorist organizations and perpetually regenerate its money, manpower, and ideology.  Given all of this, it is clear that if ISIS is successful in seizing Iraq, or in maintaining control of a significant portion of it, it will very bad for the US and our allies.

ISIS is a genuinely evil organization.  Don’t believe me?  Check out some of the videos they themselves are producing about the things they themselves are doing in Iraq.  Murder.  Maimings.  Mayhem.  And more to come, unless something… kinetic is done.  And soon.  If left unchecked, ISIS will be better armed, better trained, and better resourced than anything we have faced in the past.  Having seized the state of Iraq, they will be more motivated than ever to spread their vile manifesto throughout the civilized world.  That’s why the US should act, instead of standing by in smug satisfaction while Iraq falls apart.  Far better to crush the viper when it is still in its shell than to let it grow to a size that will threaten all of its neighbors.  Far better to stamp out a nest of vipers in their own backyard instead of waiting until they creep into yours.

dusty bootsWe know through bitter experience that air strikes don’t stamp out anything; that has to be done with boots on the ground.  The President is already planning to send special operations forces back into the fray, in a “non-combat” role.  “Non-combat” isn’t what we need right now.  “Non-combat” isn’t going to stop the ISIS steamroller.  “Non-combat” can, and should, come later.  Now is not the time for talk, it is the time for action.

Specifically, direct action.

So yeah, I’d go back to Iraq.  Not out of some deeply felt sense of connection with the Iraqi people or for a closely held sense of moral obligation, because I have neither.   Not because of the sunk costs of our losses there, although I still feel them acutely.  Not to build a democracy, because the people there aren’t ready for it.  Not because “we broke Iraq” or because people are suffering, since I feel pragmatism and self-interest trumps morality in national-level decision-making.  The main reason why I am willing to go back to Iraq, as dirty, bloody, and frustrating as it is likely to be, is because I don’t want Iraq to be used as a base to threaten the US or our allies and interests, and I know that acting now might actually save us blood, treasure, and national prestige in the future.

Put me back in, coach.  I’m ready.

This article original appeared on Havok Journal.
[email protected]




  1. OhioCoastie

    July 1, 2014 at 7:23 am

    Sounds like what you’re describing is a punitive expedition: go in, kill the vipers, break their stuff, then leave. I can support that.

  2. Reese Maddux

    July 1, 2014 at 9:44 am

    Gotta flush ISIS now. The more established they get the harder it’ll be later.

  3. wilson

    July 1, 2014 at 4:07 pm

    Alexander The Great did quote. “The only way take middle East is extermination” We can’t do that so it’s not a war that will end. I fight for people who can’t protect themselves. In the matter of this topic all I’ve to say is It’s like a modern crusade eventually their numbers will grow and Victory will be impossible.

  4. leftoftheboom

    July 1, 2014 at 7:54 pm

    My thoughts on this subject are very specific, somewhat inelegant, and fueled by a bit of self-righteousness. I have spent a couple of tours in Iraq, 2005 in the north at Speicher which is just a short drive from Tikrit, and 2009 in the south at Adder, aka Talil.

    While we may not have been the best at everything and the political morass of American politics made a hard job even more difficult, the Iraqi people were given the opportunity to stand on their own feet, form their own government, and break the hold that tribalism and religious fanaticism has over their very lives. They failed to take advantage of it. Or more correctly, those in power took advantage of the power for what it would bring them, and singularly failed to perform the duty for which they were given the power in the first place.

    I dealt with locals in the contract arena as we hired them for various tasks. Getting the job done required understanding of the uniqueness of the challenge. You had to hire family to work with family, you had to put a senior family member in charge, and if you did all that properly, the work go done. If you tried to get two groups, who were not related by blood, to do anything, you got nothing done. That is the small scale, now imagine it on a national level. Saddam ruled by an iron fist and by making sure his family was at the top and putting loyal family in key places.

    There is no place for tribal considerations and blatant nepotism in a democracy. Toss in religion and it was doomed from the start.

    We gave them the opportunity, we spent the lives of our finest and their health, everyone carries something back from there, and we spent a lot of money.

    I say support the creation of the Kurdish state, it will be the most dependable tribal group for us, and let the rest burn.

    As to the future, I believe the ISIS will turn their eyes towards America. I believe that they will devote time and effort into plans and operations that will cause us harm. I believe that they will attack U.S. soil at the first chance they get. And when they do, I will crow the loudest and make sure the blame goes where it should, to the liberal democratic party and its members who do not understand that once you start a war, you keep killing the enemy until they quit, are dead, or are so utterly devastated that they will never again pose a threat to us.

    A General in the 1950’s made a statement about the choices of the democratic president at the time and was relieved of command. We are still paying for that failure. Now we watch a whole new generation learn the same lessons.

    If you care enough to start a war, you should keep going until the job is done. If we have to go back into Iraq, I want every member of congress, the senate, the joint chiefs, the executive branch, and the white house to ensure that every eligible family member who is of age, is in the military and on the fucking front lines. Then maybe they will think about it with a better understanding of the cost.

    • veteranofadifferentwar

      July 3, 2014 at 12:55 am

      Or more correctly, those in power took advantage of the power for what it would bring them, and singularly failed to perform the duty for which they were given the power in the first place. THIS SOUNDS EXACTLY LIKE WHAT THE AMERICAN PEOPLE ALLOWED OUR SO CALLED LEADERS TO DO OVER THE LAST 50 OR SO YEARS IN OUR COUNTRY.
      I agree with you about being willing to have the guts to win the war after it is started (or don’t start it). The leaders of this country do not understand war in that it does in fact include collateral damage, not all sides can win, and if you as a leader put US in the middle of these things then you better damned well have the sack to see it through. Even if some pansy ass war protesters or the UN or anyone else objects to you doing whatever it takes to win. Our lawmakers are too worried about their next re-election to run the country right. Make it mandatory that Congress, POTUS & VPOTUS have served in uniform before becoming a politician and things will change. And at my age I could go on & on but hell no one is listening to me so I’m done.

  5. havoc13

    July 1, 2014 at 9:23 pm

    LOTB- can you hit me up via email? We should chat.

    [email protected]

  6. Zack Emmett

    July 1, 2014 at 10:39 pm

    Hey douche bag there wasnt a draft we all volunteered to fight in something we believe. So what if sensenators kids arnt there fighting I love my country and I would fight till death for every country to have the freedom and luxury we have in the greatest country on earth the U.S.A

    • leftoftheboom

      July 3, 2014 at 7:10 am

      Thank you for your verbal defecation. Your opinion has been noted; now do be so kind as to allow the rest of us to have an opinion that differs from yours without resorting to name calling.

  7. Bill

    July 2, 2014 at 3:50 pm

    As a nation, we are overextended and in an unfathomable amount of debt. It is not our job to be the global police. To invade again will bring us into ruin. Why should young American soldiers die and the US and spend billions in an unwinnable war? These people will figure out on their own that their religious extremism and anti-antisemitism leads to death and pain. This way of thinking will die out in time.

    Do not use a chain saw when a scalpel is needed. US defense needs to be tactically aware of what is going on. Today’s technology allows us a clearer and more expansive picture of the battlefield then ever before. Our defense system needs to know, with clarity and precision, what is happening? Why? How does this or could this affect the US in the short and long term? Likely, elimination of key targets and precision strikes will be needed. Special forces or navy seals may even be needed to be deployed in short term operations. A mass deployment would be a mistake.

    Give more power over to Intelligence and allow them to use the technology they need. Let them get eyes on the country to the greatest extent possible. Listen to their advice. They will tell you that the US military and defense actually has to do a lot less than you are predicting, and it will go our way. To an extent, they will self-destruct.

  8. Lcpl210

    July 4, 2014 at 1:44 am

    As much as I disliked my deployments to Iraq I would go back in a heartbeat. Not out of any loyalty to the people of Iraq, but first to make the sacrifices of my buddies not be in vain, and mostly because I hate Islamic extremists with a passion that others would hold for local sports teams. I know that if no one goes in and deals with them in a terminal fashion they will grow like a cancer and spread their evil across the world. I may be broken now but I can still fight better than how the IA are doing.

  9. Ding R3G

    July 10, 2014 at 3:09 pm

    A very well thought argument. I only made the trip to Iraq once but what I encountered was a strong-willed and fiercely loyal population. I for the most part only worked with small time local businessmen, junior enlisted Soldiers and police officers, and teachers. I had extremely candid discussions with these people and almost always they expressed unmitigated hope as to what the future held for their country. I am saddened when I think of what has befallen the region they live in. If I were not still serving in the US Army I would seriously contemplate volunteering to fight beside them again.

    First and foremost, I am an American. I love my country and will always err on the side that presents the greatest opportunity for Americans to live without fear of foreign aggression. ISIS and their new Caliphate present a clear danger to our way of life. Maybe not now, nor next year, but someday ISIS will want to threaten us, our allies, and our interests.

    Second, as a Muslim I am enraged at the actions of these and all the other extremists. I am sick of them abandoning the advances and goodwill that modern societies foster. I am sick of them attempting to drag the world back to the 8th century. I am sick of the sectarian distinctions and violence. I was always encouraged by the Iraqis I met who, when asked if they were Sunnni or Shia would respond with a uninterested, “Does it matter?”.

    America deserves to have another partner in the region and a known enemy crushed before it can turn its eyes our way, and the Iraqis deserve our help in crushing another evil regime.

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