In 2008 I toured the WWII battlefields of Monte Casino and Anzio in Southern Italy. Later that same year I returned to Iraq to study the effect the Surge had on operations in Iraq. Visiting past and current battlefields drove home one major point for me: there is no certainty in human endeavors. War is not a calculated mathematical problem that can calculated with certainty, far from it – in fact leaders rarely get it right and when they do get war right; the results are obvious and impactful.
During the beginning years of WWII, Allied Forces did not have a strategy for victory. Several years passed until the winter of 1943 when Winston Churchill demanded an Italy campaign that he believed would break the back of the Germans. That campaign would take place in the Mediterranean and specifically in Southern Italy. Churchill’s efforts resulted in American and Allied forces under the command of General Mark Clark marching toward Hitler’s vaunted Gustav Line. Churchill’s theory was that Germany would have to siphon off troops to support the Gustav Line resulting in weaknesses at places like Normandy, where America’s main effort would eventually turn the tide of the war.
Likewise, America did not have a strategy for victory in Iraq until the Surge in 2008. President Bush acted on the advice of General Petraeus and former General Keane and adopted a plane to reduce the violence in Iraq, thereby allowing Iraqi and American forces the operating space needed to create security capacity. In short, the Surge worked and the results were amazing. Attacks on civilians went down 90 percent, IED attacks on coalition forces were down 75 percent and almost three thousand families in the Karhk district alone migrated back to their homes after initially fleeing militia-led religious cleansing.
There is no doubt that mistakes were made – in all human endeavors mistakes will be made. The pundits will argue about wether weapons of mass destruction existed in Iraq, however the historical records show there was bi-partisan agreement that Saddam Hussein posed a threat to America’s national security interests. Then President Bill Clinton asserted in 1998 that America was prepared to act against Iraq and his policy was that Iraq maintained weapons of mass destruction. President George W. Bush’s policy was the same as Clinton – Iraq maintained weapons of mass destruction. In the early days of the war in Iraq satellite photos showed massive Iraqi trucks removing materials from suspected WMD sites. After the invasion WMD teams found the remnants of WMD and found chemical warheads separated from the rocket boosters.
What there is no argument about is the courage and sacrifice of the human beings who fought this war. 1.5 million Americans served in Iraq, over 4,486 lost their lives (including over 1,000 contractors) and almost 33,000 were wounded. The men and women executing America’s foreign policy saluted the flag, went to war and fought their guts out for comrade and country. The lives of those lost will be remembered, their valor will be celebrated. The yardstick of history will measure the success of the warriors who fought in Iraq – and I’m confident their feats will have, “left the vidid air signed with your honor.”