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American Diplomacy
Foreign Service Life

July 2004

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This journal is pleased to present below two communications conveying opposing points of view on the current state of American involvement in Iraq. Two U. S. army officers, Tramps C. Crowe and Christopher H. Varhola, one a regular and the other a reservist, are or have been involved recently in civic affairs in that country. They describe their missions and assess the missions' impact on Iraqis; the two officers clearly indicate their opposing views on the likelihood of long-term success. (Note that both officers are expressing their personal opinions only.)
Immediately below the reader will find Capt. Crowe's message. A career U.S. army captain currently on active duty in Iraq, he makes the case for supporting both our troops and the war, This message is followed by Major Varhola's commentary titled "American Challenges in Post-Conflict Iraq," which is republished courtesy of the Foreign Policy Research Institute.—Ed.

An Open Letter

Dear Readers of American Diplomacy:

With the passing of this Memorial Day, as we honor those that have served and fallen in service to our great nation, I thought it would be appropriate to send a message from those of us who are fighting that same fight now to those of you back home. In particular, I’d like to send this message to any and everyone of you who over the past eighteen months or so has relayed a sentiment that has become more or less accepted in the American political dialogue, yet has never really made sense to those of us toward whom that sentiment is usually directed. That statement is "I support the troops, but I don’t support the war" and it has been repeated ad nauseam by a large cross section of Americans who disagree with the current administration and its foreign policy.

As November comes closer, more and more politicians repeat the phrase in what I suppose is an attempt to relay the message that they do not agree with the current occupation of Iraq, yet lack the wherewithal to even so much as hint that they do not support American troops. I, along with many others, find this idea of support for the man yet not for the mission to be disingenuous and hypocritical. I have special insight into this problem because I am an American soldier currently stationed in Iraq. I work for the U.S. Army’s Special Operations Command as a Civil Affairs Officer. I have been trained in a variety of Arab/ Islamic historical and cultural issues. I speak Arabic, and have had a great deal of experience living and working in the Middle East. My job, as a part of a very skilled, experienced, and dynamic four-man team, is to go out and engage Iraqis on a personal level to help provide them with basic needs and services, while at the same time providing an interface between the populace and U.S. commanders on the ground. Having said that, I think that I am qualified to address the issue of support of this war and whether it is or is not warranted.

Now, let me begin by explaining why hearing people (especially politicians in places of power who are seeking election or re-election) say they support soldiers and not the war is counterintuitive to service members. Waging this war on terror is not some disease, habit or character flaw that you can choose to dislike while still loving the soldier. This endeavor is something we have volunteered freely to undertake. Our goal is and always has been to preserve the American way of life and this mission in Iraq is an activity toward that end. This mission in Iraq is what we do and what we do, quite frankly, is who we are. We wake up, literally, each day with the possibility that we may not see that day’s end. We know that the work we do in stabilizing this country is worthwhile. We believe in the idea that with the right help, this nation can become a place where democratic ideals can flourish in one form or another. In short, we believe in this mission. We have to. It would make our jobs a lot easier if you did, too. Knowing that back home you cry out against everything we live, breath, and sacrifice for on a daily basis makes our job that much more difficult. Toward that end, I thought I’d give you a few reasons to support our efforts so that you can stop being torn and get behind this undertaking. Then, maybe we can get it behind us all that much sooner.

First of all, I think it’s fair to say that in many ways skepticism towards this war is understandable based on the media’s portrayal of this conflict and how it has progressed (or not progressed) thus far. It might surprise you to know that many of us here in Iraq have satellite TV. As is the case in many burgeoning capitalistic societies, it did not take long for Iraqis to realize that Americans are infophiles and then, consequently, for Iraqi vendors to supply a product to meet our demand. Thanks to this arrangement, we are able to keep up with major media outlets like CNN, Fox News, and BBC World service fairly easily. I can say, having seen the reality of this war in person, that the global media’s portrayal of this conflict has been woefully unbalanced to the point of being outright misleading. Time and time again we have seen stories such as the scandal at Abu Ghraib or clashes with the Muqtada militia in Najaf played out in the international media well past their half-life here in Iraq. Make no mistake, the Abu Ghraib situation is one where a few misguided soldiers and civilians have left a scar on the military’s image that we all feel and regret deeply. However, in countless discussions with Iraqis over Abu Ghraib, I have yet to meet one who was enraged over the scandal. Instead the issue is met mostly with apathy by locals who will plainly tell you that they have greater concerns.

In the case of Muqtada al-Sadr, locals here in Northeast Iraq laugh at the very mention of his name. One Turkman village leader recently told me that Sadr was like "Michael Jackson" and that young, disaffected youth would claim support for him publicly because they see him on television but that they wouldn’t actually follow him anywhere. Those kinds of loyalties are saved for what he called "real men of God" like the Ayatollah al-Sistani. The media almost never report on those kinds of common everyday Iraqi sentiments. Instead they seem to find a few unhappy Iraqis and use their opinions as harbingers of our sure defeat in this war. One example of this irrational negativism was found in a May 25 Associated Press release about the U.S.-sponsored UN resolution on the upcoming handover of sovereignty. In the article, Edith Lederer wrote that U.S. post-occupation plans for Iraq "have been severely shaken by violence in the country." That simply is not true. Iraqis are concerned about the upcoming handover, no doubt, but to say they are "severely shaken" is simply an alarmist overstatement. Most Iraqis I come in contact with have shown a guarded optimism towards the future. They simply want to wait and see how it goes. That’s understandable considering that Iraqis are about to do something they essentially never have done: rule themselves freely. All this "the sky is falling" reporting about the situation here is just not accurate and is terribly unfair to those of you back home who rely on the news to provide you with an accurate portrayal of the situation here in Iraq. So support the war because the situation is better than you have been led to believe.

Now for the good news: So many positive things have happened for the Iraqi people that it could fill volumes, yet has mostly gone unreported. So, support the war because today in Iraq my team medic, Sergeant First Class Dennis Guthrie of Cincinnati, diagnosed a boy with elephantiasis. The disease has left the ten-year old Kurdish boy, Zana Abdeen, with terribly deformed hands and forearms, two fused fingers and a noticeable hump in his back. During Saddam’s regime the boy was pushed through the Iraqi health system only to be told by doctors that his only hope would be treatment outside the country. The cruel caveat to that is that Kurds living south of the old no-fly zone, like Zana’s family, weren’t allowed to leave the country. Today, however, Sergeant Guthrie is working with organizations like "Doctors without Borders" so that Zana and others like him might get a chance at a normal life.

Or support the war because last week my engineer, Staff Sergeant Marc Losa of Kinderhook, NY, inspected a well in Changalawha that was drilled with CPA funds, then installed and supervised by U.S. Army resources. Now the well brings cold, clear water to this village of 4,000 for the first time. Support the war because yesterday Sergeant First Class Donald Doby of Yazoo City, MS, brought tears to an Arab girls eyes because he presented her with a gift so precious to her that it was almost overwhelming—a box of crayons and a coloring book. Most of all support this war because these acts of kindness and humanitarian assistance represent only the smallest fraction of the whole of good works which your servicemen and women are providing the people of Iraq day in and day out.

Finally I would ask that you support our mission because of what it has resulted in. I know that many of you do not support this war because you feel that you were led into this engagement on false pretenses. I am not in a position to debate those arguments, but I am in a position to assess the effects of our conflicts in both Afghanistan and Iraq on the overall war on terror. It is no accident that there has not been a major terrorist attack on US soil since 9-11. Countless domestic agencies have worked tirelessly to ensure that we stay safe at home and they should be commended for it. But we cannot overlook the effect that our recent military exploits have wrought on our radical Islamic enemies. U.S. foreign policy in the '90’s led the extremists to believe that America was easily intimidated and weak, that we preferred appeasement of rather than engagement with our enemies. The wars in Afghanistan and then Iraq have changed that perception. Now, the al-Qaedas and Ansar al-Islams of the world know that when they act they are practically assured of a swift, destructive response. Many terrorists have come here to Iraq where we are fighting them daily and winning. Yes, the fighting has resulted in losses for our side, and any time an American loses his life in service to his country, it is a tragedy for all of us. It is the alternative, however, that chills me to the bone. The alternative to my being here and fighting terrorists is being home with my family, friends, and Americans like you fighting terrorists. I believe with every fiber of my being that this path to war we have gone down has brought the war on terror to Baghdad rather than Baltimore, to Kandahar rather than Kansas City and to Mosul rather than Montgomery. That should be considered a good thing.

In conclusion all I ask is that you support us as well as the work we do. If you do not support what we do, that is your inherent right. But call your lack of support what it is. Do not be afraid to withhold your support for our efforts because of how it might make you look—to do otherwise cheapens the very reason we risk everything, everyday for what we believe in: the continued safety and prosperity of Americans like you.

Always the best,

Trampes C. Crow
Captain, United States Army



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