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From Operation Iraqi Freedom: “We Have Done Something Really Good Here”
From Sgt. Joe Roche, writing from Operation Iraqi Freedom:
This is a special day to be an American soldier in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Ninety years ago, hopes for freedom and self-determination sprung up all over the Arab world. After centuries of despotic foreign rule by the Ottoman Empire, European powers angling for survival in World War One’s vast killing fields made all sorts of false promises to manipulate Arabs as proxies. Betrayals became the norm.
Despite dreams of self-determination after that war, our world was instead brutalized by the most horrific tyrants and genocide ever witnessed. Fascism, Nazism, Imperialism and Communism not only killed tens of millions and enslaved much of Asia and Europe, but other regions such as the Arab Middle East were gravely traumatized. Much of the fascism witnessed in the Arab world and in Islamic fundamentalism from Egypt to Iraq are largely a consequence from the manipulations by and ferocious ideologies of Europe and Asia.
American idealism for liberty and self-determination was felt here after World War One. President Woodrow Wilson dispatched the King-Crane Commission, which was followed by several other American envoys over decades trying to find ways to achieve self-determination. But the Great Powers of that time had other ideas. Hitler courted a lot of Arabs, particularly Islamist leaders in Jerusalem, bringing Muslims to the front lines with German forces outside Stalingrad, and facilitated a pro-Nazi coup in Baghdad in 1941. Though Israel’s creation was a moment of great inspiration and achievement, the Arab world naturally felt it was just another in a long series of betrayals and conspiracies against them.
Because of the Cold War, the Arab people were left to languish for almost six decades under a series of megalomaniac tyrants, as long as stability was ensured. The Soviet Union’s efforts at destabilizing the most vulnerable regions coerced surrender and apathy on the part of those who had once dreamt of self-determination in the Arab Middle East. Iraq became tied to the Soviets and was the recipient of Moscow’s largest foreign military aid during the 1970s. The collapse of the Soviet Union did unleash the virtuous spread of American liberty and self-determination in most parts of the world, but the Arab region remained frozen until Operation Iraqi Freedom.
I was part of the initial push in 2003. I had lived in this region before, and Iraq’s suffering under repression and tyranny coerced the entire region to be in a constant state of war, paranoia and extremism.
I knew this would take a long time, but I had hope. As an American sharing our country’s experience with democracy to Iraqis, I often reflected on how the United States had to discard our first constitution of 11 years after Shay’s Rebellion, and yet the resulting constitution still had the institution of slavery. Women couldn’t vote for over a century. We had a huge civil war, the effects of which were still violently playing out in the South in the 1960s.
I got to know many Iraqis. They impressed me greatly. I had known some Iraqis in exile before 2003, and I understood they were a very vibrant and strong people. Surviving the terror of Saddam Hussein’s regime in a land tortured by centuries of conflict and turmoil, I knew these people could withstand a lot.
My unit in 2004 trained hundreds of Iraqis who served their military forces. They are some of the bravest people I ever met. Their casualty rates in the face of a horrendous terrorist offensive were 20 times worse than anything we faced, yet they kept showing up.
Over the past several months, I’ve seen those Iraqis we trained take over command of their country as we pull back. For the first time, self-determination is being expressed. Ninety years of betrayal and false promises are finally being corrected.
This is the achievement of America. Yes, there were scenes of protest in opposition to the treaty, but overall this was the remarkable — and once unimaginable — process of Iraqis debating the future of their own country. While most news only reported the protests, there were other large demonstrations in support of the US-Iraqi agreement, such as the 5,000 in Hillah last week.
To behold this is amazing. Some might want to just see the negatives, but I’d point out that our own experience with democracy gives us no basis to expect more from the Iraqis less than six years after being liberated by us. There will be further challenges. Ours is the world’s greatest democracy, but we had a shooting, a clubbing and even a sword used in the US Congress. Even one of our great Founding Fathers, Alexander Hamilton, was killed in a duel. The birth of democracy is not a smooth process, but it is inspiring to participate in.
This is a proud moment. As an American soldier having been here at the beginning of this mission, and to be here now again at this moment of self-determination coming to fruition, is awesome. Lafayette came to us when we needed help. We’ve come here and finally reversed 90 years of betrayal. This is good, just and honorable. I’m very happy for Iraq and for our military mission. Out of the ashes of the September 11th, 2001, terrorist attacks, we have done something really good here.
For more of Joe’s writing from the front and elsewhere, please go here. A profile of his life and army service published by Stars and Stripes in 2004 can be found in this post.
Labels: Defense, Foreign Policy, History, Human Rights, Joe Roche, Terrorism