Iraq is like no other conflict in American history. It is arguably no longer a war, but a low-level insurgency. We are not fighting a country, but a transnational conspiracy that operates more like an international fast-food franchise than a military force. In this conflict, there will be no "D" Day or signing of a peace treaty.
What is victory? It is easy to take for granted the fact that there has not been another attack on American soil since 9/11 – how do you show progress when the goal is basically for nothing to happen? Few are gullible enough to believe that victory in Iraq would mean turning back the clock to a pre-Sept. 11 bliss of bloodless security.
Those who complain there was no al-Qaida in Iraq before 2003 lament how many terrorists have been created since the fall of Saddam, but how many had been created before Sept. 11, long before we ever went into Iraq? How many decided to join the jihad when they saw the falling of the World Trade Center broadcast throughout the world?
If the invasion of Iraq has indeed created terrorists, it most certainly has killed at least as many. Al-Qaida declared Iraq the battleground for jihad, and al-Qaida has lost that battle. In Ramadi, American soldiers had to prevent a mob from killing a potential terrorist who wanted to plant a roadside bomb. In small towns, members of al-Qaida beat men for shaving their faces and cut the fingers off of those who wanted to smoke. (Smoking is a favorite Iraqi pastime; Iraqis tend to smoke Gauloises, a French brand of cigarettes.) After assassinating many innocents, today no one believes al-Qaida has the well-being of the average Iraqi in mind, but Osama bin Laden was a hero after pulling off the initial attacks.
There is plenty of acrimony over the "intelligence" or a lack thereof.
In 2002, a United Nations report estimated a six-figure casualty toll due to the inevitability of Saddam's use of weapons of mass destruction. Egypt, Saudia Arabia and Iran believed Saddam had acquired nuclear capabilities, which was not a stretch. Again, in 2002, Pakistan surprised the international community by successfully testing an atomic bomb. "They'll have to deliver it from the back of mule," joked one late-night comedian, but the situation was serious, as Pakistanis, many of whom sympathize with the Taliban, danced in the streets.
In the build-up to the war, I recall sitting in Germany and reading the mostly anti-American press that did not care for American action of any sort. The German chancellor was elected mostly on the basis that he would prevent Germany from cooperating with the United States or Britain, regardless of whether or not Saddam had weapons. In the novel "One Bullet Away," author and former Marine Capt. Nathaniel Fick describes the enormous precautions taken to protect American troops from biological weapons, much like the biological weapons that were used against the Kurds. In the blistering heat of Iraq, putting on NBC gear (Neurological, Biological and Chemical) is like wearing a full-body fat-burning suit and a plastic bag over your head while only breathing through a straw. When you add the carbon that is smeared to provide an extra layer of protection, you discover a whole new level of discomfort. No one would take such precautions on a whim.
We believed WMD were in Iraq, and Americans overwhelmingly supported the cause. Now, we believe we were wrong, but do we believe the action in Iraq helps to protect us back home? Would we rather fight al-Qaida and radical terrorism in Baghdad or in Boise?
Five years later, where are we in Iraq?
Since the 2007 strategy of increasing troops by 30,000, there can be no doubt, the situation in Iraq has drastically improved. The killing has gone down, but for some the casualty rate was never a barometer for success or failure in Saddam's former fiefdom. Many Americans don't want to be bothered with an "unpopular war," but wars are not contestants on "American Idol" and should not be voted on or off our television sets according to the whims of callers with speed-dialing capabilities. War is devastating and should always be unpopular.
Five years after the initial push into Iraq we are heading in a positive direction, yet it remains to be seen if Americans will enjoy victory even if it comes. ___________
Matt Sanchez is a war correspondent who has embedded with the American, Iraqi and Afghan military. He resides in New York City and is a frequent political commentator in both American and French media. His work has appeared in the New York Post, National Review and Human Events.
Sanchez is a Marine and student at Columbia University who says his mission in Iraq is "to report on the stories that matter the most, first-person accounts by the men and women on the ground and in their own words."