Sixty two years ago this week, during some of the most difficult days of World War II, the Battle of the Bulge raged in Europe. Hitler had ordered one last attempt to split the Allied front, trap four allied armies, and reach the sea. His objective was to impel a negotiated peace on the western front. American and German casualties were gruesome and horrible. In a month’s fighting, the Battle of the Bulge claimed more than 100,000 German casualties and 19,000 American lives.
In the darkest chapter of the battle for Americans, the famed 101st Airborne Division was surrounded at Bastogne, Belgium. Bastogne was at the convergence of seven roads, and therefore, the key to victory for both Allied and German forces. The Germans launched their attack on Dec. 16, 1944, and by December 22; the 101st was completely surrounded and was receiving devastating artillery shelling from the Germans. The Germans demanded the surrender of the 101st Airborne Division. Gen. Anthony McAuliffe’s famed retort was, "NUTS!" This inspiring, very American response did not translate well into German, but the Germans got the message. Americans fought fiercely in hand-to-hand combat and, with reinforcements, defeated the German offensive. A very proud chapter in U.S. history was written, a legacy was handed to Americans yet to be born, and the destiny of the free world took a turn toward freedom on the seven roads to Bastogne.
Today we are engaged in a Global War on Terror. We have enemies on every continent who believe their path to salvation is in killing us. They cannot be appeased or accommodated. We cannot make concessions to them. If we supplicated ourselves before them and begged for their mercy, they will respond by beheading us. Their "civilization" feels threatened by Western Civilization. Iraq is now the central battlefield in the Global War on Terror.
During my trips to Iraq, I have consistently observed that a real perspective of the situation on the ground cannot be learned simply by watching the mainstream news media. Most of us have talked to soldiers who came home on leave, saw the news, and concluded that things had taken a severe turn for the worse since they left Iraq. The Iraq Study Group (ISG) could not have avoided this same perception. When some of them did travel to Iraq, most of them stayed within the safety of the Green Zone.
Congress, in one of its multibillion dollar appropriations bills, approved a benign-looking earmark for $1 million to the U.S. Institute for Peace. This earmark created and funded the Iraq Study Group. If the object of the legislation was to study how to win a war, why would Congress commission the Institute for Peace? The committee chair and the ranking member named James Baker III and Lee Hamilton as co-chairs of the ISG. This group then chose the remaining eight members of the bipartisan committee. I believe they thought their mission was to find a way to get out of Iraq rather than recommend a path to victory. Americans know intuitively that the conclusion a committee will reach is determined by the people appointed to the committee. It was ever thus.
One year ago, attacks against coalition forces were frequent in many areas of Iraq. Today, most of the violence is confined to Baghdad. One year ago Americans were coming to believe the objective for the enemy was to get Americans out of Iraq. There was an emerging consensus that if Americans pulled out of Iraq, peace would settle in, since there would be fewer targets for the enemy and no reason to fight if we were gone. In reality, the situation is far more complex. Today, there are five to eight different factions fighting for power in Baghdad. The Iranians are funding, supporting, and arming several of them. Shiite factions are trying to purge Sunnis from their neighborhoods and Sunnis are fighting to protect their historical power base. Al Qaeda is attacking everyone in the hopes everyone will attack each other. Al Qaeda thrives in anarchy.
All is far from lost. We are not surrounded in Baghdad. Instead, we have Baghdad surrounded. Our troops go anywhere they want in Baghdad when they want. And the ISG has called for a gradual deployment out of Iraq. Al Qaeda has called it surrender and they would be right. Victory belongs to those who, when the fighting is over, are standing on the ground that was fought over. If we leave, victory will belong to al Qaeda, Saddam’s Baathists, and the proxy agents of Iran and Syria. It will not matter how we spin it.
Possession is 100% of the law in the history of warfare. Our enemies would be given a great inspirational boost. Iraq would become a safe haven for terrorists. Iran would control most of Iraq and its oil. There would be no way to stop the Iranian nuclear effort. Think Afghanistan during the Taliban regime, pre-9/11 times a factor of about a hundred. Also, think about the very real prospect that, if we do not prevail in Iraq, we could not, within generations, mount a foreign expedition again to stop terrorists. Think about nuclear armed terrorists living in a sanctuary country, training and recruiting at will, and rich with oil and coffers full of cash.
We are not in desperate straights. We own the ground we have fought for. We are training more and more Iraqis. The Iraqi Army, now 10 divisions strong, is stepping up to the fight. The situation is far from hopeless. We are not surrounded at Bastogne. Our enemy is surrounded in Baghdad, making their last stand, and, ironically, today’s 101st Airborne Division has played an important role. If you ask Major Gen. Thomas R. Turner II, who today commands the 101st, what he thinks about surrender, I expect his answer would be, "NUTS!" We would have to be nuts to consider any alternative except victory in Iraq. The stakes are too high. As Prime Minister Malaki said, "If the war against terror cannot be won here in Iraq, it cannot be won anywhere." We did not ask for this war. It came to us. If we leave, our enemy will follow us home. We can fight it now, or be consumed by our enemies later. It’s your decision, America. If we reach an absurd conclusion and call our troops home, history will judge us, "NUTS."