Iraq and the reality of hope

Although the war isn't yet won, there's good news: Violence is down, the insurgents' support is dwindling and reconstruction is under way. But is anybody paying attention?

June 05, 2008|By Brooks Tucker

After more than five years of tough, frustrating and costly effort, and the loss of many American and Iraqi lives, violence across Iraq has declined to levels not seen since 2004. In recent months, the Iraqi parliament has passed key legislation, and cease-fires were brokered in the strategic port city of Basra and in Baghdad's restive Shiite enclave of Sadr City.

Amid of these promising developments, Americans should not presume Iraq is a lost cause, but wonder if we are seeing hopeful signs of historic change.

Having recently returned from a deployment to the Marine Corps' area of operations in western Iraq's Anbar province, I am heartened by these positive developments, for they confirm the progress I saw firsthand. However, I am troubled that so many of my fellow citizens are still quite skeptical of that progress, and I remain concerned that polls consistently show a majority are convinced that the best way forward is to end the American involvement in Iraq.

Americans are right to look critically at the conduct of the war in Iraq, question this nation's long-range military objectives there and debate the direction of our strategic aims in the Middle East. But when skepticism and criticism ignore the changing facts on the ground and persist in defining Iraq as an abject failure of American policy - rather than as a belated yet budding success - the skeptics and critics exhibit myopia similar to what they often ascribe to President Bush and his administration.

It is true that Iraqi insurgents and rogue militias can still grab headlines by striking indiscriminately with deadly results. But their resources are fast diminishing, they have few havens, and the momentum of Iraqi politics and the tide of public opinion are moving against them. Consequently, the downward trend in attacks and the declines in American military and Iraqi security force casualties across Iraq have given ground commanders the opportunity to focus more attention and resources on civil-military operations.

When I left Iraq in late March, the Marines and the State Department's Provincial Reconstruction Teams in Anbar were fine-tuning a joint operational plan to help the Iraqis restructure and reform institutions of government at the local and provincial levels, build key elements of infrastructure, develop human capital and attract domestic and foreign investment. Progress was evident in my frequent travels throughout Anbar, where children flocked to schools, police were being trained and deployed, cell phone towers were being erected, city councils were learning to manage budgets, fuel delivery was becoming more reliable, and basic municipal services such as trash removal and sewage disposal were being provided.

This American-Iraqi partnership and the progress it enables are occurring at a varying pace in many Iraqi provinces; much work remains to provide for the security and welfare of all Iraqis.

Given Iraq's growing windfall from oil production and the increasing capabilities of its security forces, there are reasonable limits to what the United States should invest in Iraq and what the Iraqis should expect from us. But it would be shortsighted for Americans to believe that the Iraqis are fully capable of making this historic transition toward national stability and vitality without a robust and viable American presence to train, advise and support their security forces and provide technical advice for strategic reconstruction initiatives.

In the coming year, a new American president will make significant decisions on the scope of our mission and the size of our presence in Iraq, decisions that will have far-reaching implications and ramifications for the United States, Iraq and its regional neighbors. It is vital in this presidential election year for the American public to take the time and interest to see Iraq not as it was during the height of an insurgency but as it is today: an emergent nation, in need of our support but possessing the will and the resources to sustain its people's hopes for a better tomorrow.

Brooks Tucker, an Annapolis resident, is an investment adviser in Baltimore with a Wall Street firm and a lieutenant colonel in the Marine Corps Reserve. These opinions are not necessarily those of the U.S. Marine Corps or the Department of Defense. His e-mail is brooks.d.tucker@db.com.

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