Writing from Operation Iraqi Freedom, A Soldier Comments on the Election

Many of our long-time blog readers will recall the 2004 blog entry “A Soldier Assures Us: Our Progress is Amazing,” by my old friend Joe Roche, then on active duty with the U.S. Army’s 1st Armored Division in Baghdad.

For those who don’t recall or weren’t readers back then, Joe’s essay was published by over two dozen newspapers across the U.S., linked to by Matt Drudge, read aloud on the radio by Rush Limbaugh, Michael Reagan, Kirby Wilbur and many others, was linked to by at least 286 blogs, was quoted by President Bush in his acceptance speech at the 2004 Republican National Convention, and was quoted in a Smithsonian Institution exhibit. Among other things.

Joe spent 14 months in Iraq with the U.S. Army in 2003-2004; then was posted in Europe and the U.S. He left the army, only to recently return, and has once again been deployed abroad, to Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Joe is again writing essays I believe will be of interest to this blog’s readers. Watch for more of them here in coming days. The first of these I’ll post comes from Joe writing from the Mideast the night Barack Obama was elected.

Joe’s thoughts:

On the election:

The elegance of America is clear for me to see. I know that being home in the USA the election must appear jarring and messy sometimes. Being overseas, however, is a special way to experience our Republic’s moment of decision.

The fascination w/ our election is overwhelming to see among all the other nations and peoples of the world. Over the past months we have heard the usual talk of how our impact on the world is waning and that we are isolated. If you look back, you will find that such notions are always said about our country, especially from foreign press that feels intimidated or jealous of us. We must not apologize for this because it is part of the burden of leadership. Those who seek to emulate the values of justice and progress will celebrate, but those who merely want to take from us that which we have been blessed with will always lament our decline.

I watched as European elites in the press proclaimed that the sub-prime mortgage crisis signaled the end of American economic influence. Yet, those same elites said nothing when the US Federal Reserve pumped hundreds of billions of US taxpayer dollars into the European Central Bank a few weeks ago to keep Europe afloat. Now Hungary, Iceland, Greece, Italy, the Baltics and others are all falling deeply into economic malaise because Europe has a banking, financial and export crisis on its hands that has been triggered because of the financial crisis that hit our country. Asia also is now squirming as the export and credit crises hit them as we slow down to re-tune our economy.

We have an annual $14 trillion dollar economy, with the second largest foreign economy being below $4.5 trillion, and the next five put together not adding up to ours. We are the only nation in the world with the expeditionary military capability to intervene to maintain not only our own country’s direct interests, but also to protect our allies in every continent.

These are not things we took from others. Rather, this was imposed on us by the reckless destruction brought to the world by tyrants over the past century that laid waste to many of the world’s great nations. Communism, fascism, tyranny of all forms has cruelly destroyed the well-being of millions. Into the void left after World War Two and then the Cold War, it was America that was left to spread her influence, alone.

The impact has been the most extraordinary growth of liberty, democracy and human rights that the world has ever seen. Nothing like the past decades of American exceptionalism on the world stage has ever been seen in history.

As a soldier, this election has been especially gripping because of the impact it has on our missions. However, our ideals and values and hopes for the rest of the world, and as regards America’s unique and special role in the world, does not change. Instead, the elites who criticize us will learn again, as they always do in the months after an election in America, that it is the USA that stands as the best last hope for mankind on earth.

I have watched with my fellow soldiers, missing out on sleep because of the hour difference between home in the US and being in the Middle East, the election results. It is the commentary and fascination foreigners have that has most intrigued me.

The electoral college, an institution that we Americans often criticize, stands elegant again. Rather than having the malaise of coalition governments with small minority single-issue parties dictating the survival of government, as happens in parliaments all over the world, the electoral college ensures that the two-party system of our Republic is solid. I have heard those at home who want it to be otherwise, but as I see in foreign observance of our system, parliamentarism would be a disaster for America.

It may be fine for countries such as Italy, Switzerland, Israel, Germany or Japan to have constantly crippled coalition governments in which deals have to be made with small parties dedicated to one single issue. The problem is that our country’s responsibilities simply wouldn’t survive such malaise in our leadership. It is good and necessary that we have a system that keeps our country focused on two parties that therefore are dedicated to national interests. In an age of challenges such as we face since 1945, we must have strong leadership that is stable and can make unpopular decisions. The alternative would leave the world vulnerable to the re-emergence of the fury and destructiveness that so bludgeoned the world before. There is no substitute for American leadership.

The process of electing our leaders, without tanks firing at buildings and no assassinations and no militias taking up arms to over throw and terrorize various states may sound normal, but it isn’t. Much of the rest of the world lives like that and has seen tanks, bombs and massacres when leadership is changed, overthrown, or otherwise challenged. Not in America. We may not all like what happens in our votes, but we don’t resort to violence.

I had laugh when in Italy and France various journalists recently wrote that Vice President Cheney called up us soldiers so that we could fight in the streets of America to maintain power for President Bush after the election. Don’t worry. Such ridiculous sentiments have always been expressed by those who have yet to learn from America.

I also feel such a sense of awe and respect from all the foreigners observing our election as they speak with fascination about Virginia, Florida, Ohio, and other places they have never seen. They are watching us, seeing the process, and there is great admiration.

Always remember that the easiest thing to do, and the lazily attractive way to sound intelligent, is to criticize. That is what the elites in foreign lands like to do when talking about us. But notice that after 1945, the world has transformed in ways that are simply remarkable and beyond any precedent in history. Even today as economic experts decry our recession as signaling the end of our influence, their economies are catching pneumonia from our cough, and their banks are being bailed out by American taxpayers.

If you ask why American exceptionalism exists and why it is that America is this great and powerful country, the answer is so simple that you might miss it because too many of us take it for granted. It is an answer that the rest of the world yearns for, and as long as we remain committed to our ideals and principles of our Constitution and our way of life, all humanity will benefit from. The answer is freedom. That is what it is all about, and that is what makes it all be this way.

It is our freedom, economic and political freedom, that is the engine of our growth. All of our prosperity comes from freedom. All of our influence and gravitas comes from freedom. Freedom is the one and central factor that dictates progress and strength.

Just look at some of the lands around where I am at, or in places like North Korea, Myanmar, Sudan, or other places where great human suffering is occurring. It is because of the lack of freedom.

The French Revolution gave inspiration to the Bolshevik Revolution because some took the cause of freedom to be something closer to anarchy and mob rule. In America, it is our Republic which has fostered and maintained freedom’s greatest expression because as Americans, we also know that freedom brings with it responsibility. The basic understandings that the rule of law must be the foundation to freedom’s maintenance, and that such law must have the lessons of Judeo-Christian values imbedded, are key to this.

This means we don’t just go yell fire in a movie theater. That is not freedom. Freedom has to be protected, and that means even from the government. That is why our economic freedom is so important.

Again, I know that being at home in America our high taxes and large government makes it seem like economic freedom was lost long ago. But travel abroad and see how socialism in the form of communism, fascism, religious fundamentalism, and other forms of tyranny has put on straight jackets against prosperity and progress. Then you will realize that while we do have to maintain our vigilance against the tyranny of the state in our own home, we still are far more free than any other society on earth.

This past election season has exhausted many Americans. Nonetheless, it has also been one of the greatest events for the rest of the world to watch. I’m not saying that the election turned out the way I voted, but I am saying that the vibrancy and brilliance of America’s elegant Republic has shown bright again to the world. Be proud no matter what, even if your candidate lost, because America’s role in the world is far larger and far more lasting than any one election can undo.-Joe

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If you would like to know more about Joe Roche, a profile of his life and army service published by Stars and Stripes can be found in this post from 2004.


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