The Fall of Tikrit, Mosul, and Some Thoughts on What it Means.
By RU Twisted
I spent most of 2009 in the Tikrit AO. What I saw then and how it applies to the recent news that Tikrit fell to al Qaeda may piss some people off, but it’s my honest assessment and it needs to be made.
I’m not surprised in the least.
Here’s the thing. I’ve said this since 2008 when I got to the Salah ad-Din Province and I will say it again now: it would not have mattered if we had pulled out in January of 2009, a year later, or a decade later—we would have seen the same results we are seeing right now.
This brings up several questions, responses, and emotion, of course. And as well it should—many men and women sweat and bled for that territory and now it all seems like a waste considering the state of things.
I don’t believe for a second that it was a waste, but I will get back to that in a moment. First the questions that immediately arise when hearing of news such as this, such as who’s at fault, could it have been prevented, and should we be doing anything about it now?
Who is at fault? A lot of people are going to start screaming about Obama-this or Bush-that, but those are, at best, distractions. Implicit in this question is also the one of whether or not it could have been prevented, and to that I offer a resounding no.
Coalition Forces did the job. Of that there can be little question. But addressing the issue of whether or not this could have been prevented requires answering the question of what—if anything—could have been done to ensure a different outcome.
Was there some magical strategy that, if employed, would have guaranteed that the Iraqi people worked hard to secure their country against AQI and other threats? Was there a certain tactic that Coalition Forces should have used, but didn’t, to help foster a stable Iraq?
Furthermore, if these strategies were not employed—or, perhaps, employed but for not a long enough time frame—how long would it have taken for them to “stick”? In other words, was there a magical amount of time we needed to stay in order for it to work out perfectly?
The sad reality is that it never mattered how long we stayed past about 2008 (one could easily argue even earlier). We could have stayed another week, month, decade, or century; all we would have succeeded in doing the longer we stayed is spending more taxpayer dollars.
Argue with me if you will, but everyone I knew—from battalion commander down—who operated in the Tikrit AO (as well as the rest of Iraq) in 2009 said the same thing: it didn’t matter if we stayed another day or decade, the ultimate result would be the same. Iraq would be a state where “the strongest tribe” would rule the day and another Saddam-like despot would take power. I’ve simply never heard a solid argument as to how our presence there for any extended period of time would have changed that.
I think one of the biggest problems regarding these questions is the fact that most people fear that an admittance of Iraq’s degraded state is somehow reflective of the United States military as a whole or its mission there. A great many people believe that if we say the state has failed that we are therefore implicating all those who served there as having fought for nothing.
Let me be very clear when I state this, for the record: I do not in any way associate the failures of Iraq as a safe place with the responsibility of the United States military, or the forces from other countries who lent their support. The men and women who put their lives on the line in places like Tikrit and Mosul can hold their heads high because they did their jobs and did them well. Insomuch that a military could succeed, ours did so with honor.
I can state this with confidence for two simple reasons.
One, no politician ever had a realistic, definable goal as to what “success” in Iraq would look like. “Democracy” was thrown out numerous times, but everyone who has spent more than five minutes talking to Iraqis knows that their definition of that word is wholly different than our own, as is the very concept of personal freedom.
Was it ever really possible to make a free, democratic Iraq? Not from a military perspective, no. We kicked the crap out of Saddam’s army, stayed around long enough to get torn up, and whupped ass on the guys who did that, too. But that doesn’t mean that the people who live and work in Iraq are willing to do what it takes to ensure that those victories have lasting meaning.
Two, the United States military and Coalition Forces proved that they fight for one another, even in the shittiest of circumstances. I can’t tell you how many people—both in the Officer Corps and NCOs alike—uttered the rhetorical question “what are we doing here…” only to go out, roll up their sleeves, and do the job anyway.
Some may argue that this is blind allegiance. I for one argue that it bred a whole generation of warfighters that now understand better than their leaders the true cost of war and what that means to our society as a whole.
Yes, there has been suffering; yes, we have lost too many. But no, it was not for nothing. The United States military proved once again that its true strength comes from its people, not its technology. That its power stems not from the best tanks or planes, but from individuals coming together as a brotherhood to accomplish a task as well as it can be done.
That the “leadership” in this country—both past and present—had a flawed sense of reality concerning different cultures and their own ability to turn a gift into a shit sandwich should in no way be considered a failure on the part of Coalition Forces. We did the absolute best we could with the situation—probably far surpassing what was previously believed possible, to be fair.
What will happen to Iraq? Will it fall into chaos and end up with Iran coming in to pull security? I don’t know, and frankly I don’t think it’s my place to know.
What my position does entail, however, is one of realistic commentary on what it was and what the possibilities were and still are. Can a military make a Middle Eastern country peaceful? Can a foreign power force democracy? Frankly, that’s not what militaries do—so why should it be surprising if it didn’t work in a place that apparently never wanted those things to begin with?
If you fought in Iraq, hold your head high. You worked to give the people there a better life. Don’t let it get you down that they couldn’t get off their asses to make the most of it.