Friday, December 29, 2006

The Best Present

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

There are so many things that I normally wouldn’t think could fit into this one act; but they all do!

I am not big on how we got into the war in Iraq. I am not a big flag waver and yet I am fast to point out those who improperly display the flag. I don’t like overly sappy efforts to be patriotic either.

This is my brother-in-law, Chief Warrant Officer 3 Randy Weatherhead. He is a member of the California National Guard. He seems to have been in the service all of his life. He flew helicopters in Vietnam and more recently in Iraq.

He retired as a major from the Army and went into the Guard to fly. He’s one of their senior pilots and their safety officer. Most of the time he’s off training or fighting forest or wild fires and doing the occasional mountain rescue or medical evacuation. He’s also flown California governors on flights to inspect disaster areas.

He calls me his favorite liberal.

I just opened my Christmas box from my sister’s family and I received an American flag, the three by five foot variety. It was accompanied by a certificate, which reads:

I heard recently that the death toll of American service personnel killed in Iraq exceeded the number people killed as a result of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. I don’t equate one with the other. However, it is more significant than just the fact that there are now more than 6,000 people dead.

Once our president took us into Iraq, the argument about not going became moot. A new argument took its place. I believe that we had to dominate the country, to make it ours, in terms of security and stability. We didn’t. We ran the fourth or fifth largest army in the world off. Where did they go? They didn’t drop their guns and leave; they took their guns with them.

We made a fundamental mistake, perhaps similar to one we made in Vietnam. We allowed the political leadership to dictate what the military should do, rather than loosing the dogs of war on the enemy. I am not suggesting that there should not be civilian control of our military. I feel that civilian control must understand the actual ramifications of too little or inappropriate use of existing force; ineffectively brought to bear in Iraq.

Iraq is a political issue to be resolved by the Iraqis. Some in this presidential administration continue to call differing political operatives within the country insurgents. They are not all insurgents; some are the political opposition. Though the violence they use must be stopped, they represent a group of people who still have a vested political interest in the outcome of their country.

There are some foreign mercenaries, bent on fighting the U.S. It is not the same thing as a standing military force. Nor is it just about some radical religious faction. It includes a minority fighting for greater control than the one man, one vote standing allows.

I see the role of the U.S. military as continually shifting. Stability is now the primary role. Giving the elected government enough cover to reestablish its own police and internal security systems. Their need for a standing army is not threatened by neighboring countries as long as the U.S. military is present.

As important as the safety of our American military personnel is, I don’t measure success in Iraq with our death toll. However, I will measure success in the death toll and nature of the deaths of Iraqi police and police recruits.

There is an inherent problem, as I see it, having to do with establishing effective civil law enforcement. Have you noticed in the news that police stations are one of the favorite targets in Iraq? The policing function, anywhere in the world, is dependent upon the support of the citizenry. When the differing political operatives’ militias and actual foreign insurgents want to keep the existing government from establishing order, it is the police that are attacked.

When the police are safe from militia and insurgent attack, then they can provide the civil protection to the populace. Other government and civil service, water, electricity and oil delivery can be provided without harassment, shops can open and when it is safe to walk the streets; that will be the measure success. Until then, we have to do better.

I support our troops. I believe the American fighting forces are mighty and capable. I only wish that their efforts had better support from smarter civilian leadership.

This gift of the flag is an honor to own. It is not the same honor as the larger flag that covers a casket. The honor is in knowing that the crew of the Blackhawk helicopter carried it with pride and were aware that protecting its 64 pieces of cloth, also represented all from our nation protecting those in Iraq. Iraqis also yearn for the similar benefits offered in our country

It could be easy to consider this gift as sappy patriotism, but I do not. I plan to frame the flag and certificate and hang it on the wall. I will fly it on the day we totally withdraw our troops from Iraq. That will be a time to celebrate freedom in two countries.

Read USA Today's article on Vietnam Vets In Iraq See 'Entirely Different War' by Steven Komarow;

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