Originally, I was going to write solely about what has–in the blogosphere, at least–become dubbed “The Bridge Incident.” Let me give you a little bit of background before I continue.
On January 2 of this year, a team of soldiers in my brigade stopped a couple of Iraqis near the town of Samarra. We were engaging in counterinsurgency operations there, trying to stabilize the town so the area could begin to recover and rebuild from the rigors of war. And on that day, one of the men I knew and had worked with, CPT Eric Paliwoda, lost his life during a mortar attack.
Four soldiers stopped two Iraqis. In the passion of war, on a day marred by anger and tragedy, the two Iraqis ended up getting thrown off a bridge. The bridge in question was, if I recall correctly, about 15 feet above the Tigris. The river, at that point, was about 6 feet deep.
That much we know; that much is beyond dispute. Beyond that, everything is in dispute. A man may or may not have died–the soldiers claim he lives, the other man who was flung into the waters says he met a watery doom.
But there is one other thing that I haven’t mentioned yet that is also beyond a doubt. No matter what happened on that bridge, the soldiers were ordered to lie about it. And they were ordered to lie about it not just by their team leader, but by the entire leadership of their unit, from their company commander all the way up to their battalion commander.
How do we know this? Because at the Article 32 hearing only 2 weeks ago, their commanders, under grant of immunity, said so.
“You will not lie, cheat, or steal, nor tolerate those who do.” Those words are etched on an archway at West Point. Many of the officers in question, including the battalion commander, went to school there, there to be schooled in the profession of arms. Those words form the core of the West Point honor code, legendary in its rigor.
And yet, from top to bottom, they lied. They showed remarkably little remorse for the life or death of an Iraqi, presumably innocent. One of their own had died that day; having held a soldier as his life’s blood seeped slowly out, I can readily see why.
And yet, from top to bottom, they lied. They lied because they saw their careers in jeopardy, they lied because they felt their men were threatened by the law while they themselves were trying to bring law to a lawless town, they lied because they feared the insurgents using the sad events of a January night as a propaganda coup.
No matter the reason, they lied.
And yet, I find myself strangely calm at seeing and learning of this breach of faith.
Perhaps it’s because the rot, the decay doesn’t stop at a battalion commander, or a brigade commander, or a general or two.
Perhaps it’s because the breach of faith lies higher, and is more fundamental than that.
No, it’s because it lies higher than us, ensconced in the arms of those who claim to love America, even as they do everything to ruin her good name.
Frankly, this never should have happened. This never should have taken place. We never should have been on that bridge in Samarra, in that Najaf cemetery, sleeping fitfully, dashing to cover whenever we hear the ominous thud of the mortarman’s call.
We never should have been sent to Iraq without any clue of how to win the peace, the hearts, and the minds of an Iraqi public who knew full well that we supported Saddam when it suited us, that we backed a rebellion against him when it was convenient, and that we left their brothers to twist slowly in the wind when it wasn’t.
We performed proudly, and even now, as I write this, I’m every bit as proud of the good we did over there as I was the day I stepped off that plane. But we never should have had to make it up as we went along, and that’s exactly what we did.
That battalion commander should never had been placed in that position. It is to his discredit that he chose to do what he did. But what he did, he did because he felt he had no other choice–given the nearly impossible task of winning a counterinsurgency, he performed as best he knew how, and by and large he performed magnificently.
I’ve often told people that there are two ways we can win this insurgency: we can either be bloody about it (and replicate our experience in the Philippines in the process), or we can be gentle about it. We seem to veer from extreme to extreme. In Najaf, we are being comparatively gentle; in Samarra, we are being comparatively bloody.
But either way, we are making it up as we go along. We don’t have enough men for the job; we don’t have enough resources for the job; and we really don’t have any idea of how to do the job in a way that will keep the loss of life on both sides at a minimum, while restoring safety and normality to the lives of Iraqis.
There’s only one man who’s responsible for all of this, for the vast mess that is Iraq tonight, and his name is George W. Bush. But you wouldn’t know it from the news tonight, or from watching him speak.
I’m not surprised. The man has spent his whole life escaping responsibility when it called out his name, so why should this be different?
It should be different because a good man’s career lies ruined. It should be different because tonight, 930 of my brothers and sisters in arms lie dead. They’ll never see their daughters walk down the aisle, they’ll never celebrate their graduation from college, or see a midsummer night again.
Why did this happen? Why?
Don’t tell me it was because of freedom; we never had a plan to establish it in this land. Don’t tell me it was to protect America; the whole time we thought Saddam was plotting our demise, he was writing treacly romance potboilers instead.
And please, for the last time, don’t tell me about the schools. The schools need paint in Sudan; do we go there? They need paint in Haiti, and Venezuela, and Somalia, and Burma; do we go there?
More to the point, the schools need paint in Mississippi. They need paint in Ohio, and in Colorado, and California and New York. Do we go there?
The sound of silence is deafening.
So tell me. Why is it that we’re fighting, and dying, in the sands of Iraq?
And if this is the definitive battle of our time, why is it that the President’s daughters and nephews and nieces aren’t part of it? Why is it that the only people constantly asked to sacrifice are the people who wear our uniform?