Getting the Military’s Record Straight

Critics miss the big picture on military accomplishments.

by Victor Davis Hanson

Tribune Media Services

Last week’s approval of the Iraqi constitution saw 10 million people freely vote in the Arab world’s first democracy. The jihadists cannot be entirely defeated without such a political solution. Yet Iraq’s democratic voters would never even have had an opportunity without American soldiers, whose sacrifices offered a chance of reform.

The United States military ousted Saddam Hussein from power in three weeks — in an effort designed to liberate Iraqis rather than aimed punitively against an entire nation. Some observers, however, on the eve of the war predicted a protracted effort to remove Saddam. Later, during the war itself, they warned further that we were supposedly bogged down in a sandstorm on the way to Baghdad.

In the ensuing 30 months, despite hundreds of horrific deaths and thousands of wounded, the military has never lost a single engagement with the terrorists. It has trained hundreds of thousands of Iraqi police and military units, and, now, with last week’s election, seen its hard work pay off in the ratification of the constitution. More parliamentary elections are slated for December.

Yet for almost two and half years of constant combat, the American military’s mission has been misrepresented or caricatured. Some said soldiers were fighting to secure oil, although since the invasion oil prices have skyrocketed and the Iraqis’ petroleum reserves have come under their own transparent control.

Others alleged the real reason for military operations was Halliburton’s profit or Israel’s security. But what our soldiers accomplished better revealed their reasons for being there: no more no-fly zones; no more Kurdish or Shiite state massacres; no more attacks on Kuwait, Iran, Israel or Saudi Arabia; no more assassination attempts against former presidents — and now a democracy in place of a terror state.

Throughout this entire war, we have asked our soldiers to do the near impossible: remove a dictatorship, put down jihadist assassins and create a democracy — while sometimes being shamefully derided by their own countrymen back home. Michael Moore praised the terrorists who were killing American soldiers and so-called jihadists as “Minutemen.” Eason Jordan, while a CNN news executive, implied — without evidence — that our troops were deliberately targeting journalists. Sen. Dick Durban, D-Ill., indirectly compared our military guards in Guantanamo Bay to those in service to Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot.

When Saddam’s statue fell, nearly everyone praised the miraculous conduct of war — at one point, 74 percent of Americans expressed approval of the military’s incredible victory. Now only half of us say the mission was worth the effort and cost.

In between those highs and lows, we have endured the teeth-gnashing over George Bush’s flight suit, the blame game over the Iraqi archaeological museum looting, the controversy over the embalming of Qusay and Uday, the supposedly humiliating oral exam of a captured Saddam, the accusations of everyone from former security analyst Richard Clark to the errant ex-diplomat Joseph Wilson, false reports of flushed Korans at Guantanamo, the abuse of Abu Ghraib compared by Sen. Kennedy, D-Mass., to Saddam’s own mass murdering, and troops in Iraq (but not in Okinawa, Germany or Korea?) supposedly shorting the effort in New Orleans.

Politics guides much of the media’s portrayal of our soldiers. There have been thousands of American heroes in Iraq, but instead the most discussed soldier in the public eye is still Army Pfc. Lynndie England, convicted of abusing inmates at Abu Ghraib. Likewise, there are almost 2,000 mothers of fallen Americans, yet the public recognizes the name only of Cindy Sheehan (“We are waging nuclear war in Iraq”).

When the military created the conditions to allow a critical January inaugural election, pundits back home claimed it should be delayed and would fail. When it succeeded with higher turnouts than our own presidential elections, former Clinton administration diplomatic aide Nancy Soderberg scoffed, “Well, there’s still Iran and North Korea, don’t forget. There’s still hope for the rest of us . . . . There’s always hope that this might not work.”

To read the opinion columns is to shudder as flip-flopping insiders post facto write, “I told you so,” reaffirming, renouncing or hedging their support for the war based on the hourly pulse of the battlefield. Through all this, the U.S. military has fought a successful war first against Saddam Hussein, then ex-Baathists and now Islamic jihadists, battling beheaders, car bombers, improvised explosive devices, suicide bombers and assassins.

The obstacles to protecting the democracy are almost surreal: Too much force threatens to alienate wavering Iraqis whose support is critical for the new constitutional government; too little and civilians might well join the terrorists’ side in expectation that it would win. We hear mostly of how much we’ve done wrong in Iraq, but last week we should have been better reminded of just how much we have done right — and only because of our mostly unheralded soldiers who gave freedom to 26 million without it in the hope that this might just work.

©2005 Victor Davis Hanson

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