Iraqi Army soldier
Some say we should pull our troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan now, some say we should pull them out next summer, others say keep them there through 2014 and beyond. There are as many different opinions and suggestions as to when to pull out as there are military experts. Much depends on what we hope to accomplish and by when. Personally, I think American history illuminates a clear path for us to follow.
In the late summer of 1781 Lord Cornwallis and his army of British regulars retreated to the south eastern tip of the Virginia peninsula, to a place called Yorktown. Cornwallis ordered his soldiers to furiously shovel and throw up defensive earthworks. General Washington and his soldiers marched south hoping to entrap Cornwallis on the peninsula. Then on August 14, 1781 French Admiral de Grasse sailed with a massive fleet from St. Dominguez, bringing an additional 3,500 French troops to reinforce Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette, “… sending the British fleet scurrying back to New York and leaving the French in undisputed control of the Chesapeake Bay.”
The situation in the thirteen colonies could have been much as it is in the Middle East today. Iraq and Afghanistan remain viable and stable countries only so long as American led allied forces do much of the serious fighting for them and keep their countries from falling apart. Indications are that when U.S. forces withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan, the two countries may cozy up to Syria and Iran becoming terrorist sympathizers.
If France had followed the same strategy after the Revolutionary War as the U.S. is now using in the Middle East, it would have kept its troops in our country for another ten or so years. France would have built utilities, provided schools and teachers, trained our armed forces and civilian police and improved the colonial infrastructure. But that was not what happened.
As the French and the thirteen colonies saw it, America was our country and if we didn’t know what to do with it once the war was won, that was our problem. Perhaps our efforts at self- government would fail. Perhaps we would descend into chaos. Perhaps we couldn’t protect ourselves from the so-called “savage Indians” on the frontier. We wanted independence, we got it, and it was up to us to make it work. Whatever happened, the future was to be all ours.
Without the aid of the French army and navy, it would have been impossible for General Washington and the Continental Army to defeat the British armed forces. After the Battle of Yorktown was over and the Revolutionary War won, the French lingered in the area only long enough, “… to protect the Continental Army while it gathered up supplies,” and they, “… set sail up the bay, then headed for the long trip back.”
Similarly, without the aid of the U.S. and its NATO Allies, it would have been nearly impossible for Afghanistan to overthrow the Taliban and introduce their country to the form of democracy they now have. What the leaders and citizens of Afghanistan and Iraq have to understand, is that their countries are theirs not ours. If they don’t make them work, we can’t do it for them no matter how much we might want to, and no matter how much they might want us to.
After our armed forces and civilian advisors are withdrawn they will have to pick up the pieces, tighten up the slack and make their countries function successfully. If they aren’t able and willing to take responsibility and do what is necessary to run democratic countries, then they will simply become two more failed Muslim states. Their destiny rests in their hands.
In the early 1960s I was an advisor to Korea, and in spite of U.S. efforts, Korea never became the success it is today until the Korean government took responsibility for the nation’s reconstruction. Seoul, Korea’s capitol city, was a mélange of oxcarts, ancient Japanese streetcars, trucks of all kinds, motor scooters, pedestrians and busses pounded out of 55-gallon gasoline drums – all intermixed and struggling for contrary passage. The result was endemic chaos on the streets of Seoul mixed with massive doses of gridlock.
One day Korea’s Supreme Council for National Reconstruction announced that the confusion on Seoul’s streets would end one week from the coming Monday. On that day only streetcars would run on the tracks in the middle of the streets. Cars, busses and motor scooters would run in the lanes on either side of the streetcars. Oxcarts and bicycles were banished to the area between the cars, busses and curbs. Pedestrians were to walk on the dirt paths alongside the open ditch sewers.
Of course everyone assumed that there was a zero chance that the Council’s orders would be obeyed. So we all were surprised, when on the appointed day shortly before daylight, Korean military trucks roared through the streets of downtown Seoul and screeched to a halt at major intersections. Rolls of concertina barbed wire were dragged out of the back of the trucks and dumped in the intersections. Other trucks disgorged squads of Korean Military Police. Day broke as usual, but this was not to be a usual day in the Capitol city of Seoul.
Grim, humorless, no-nonsense military police grabbed anyone who broke the new laws and herded them into hastily erected barbed wire enclosures. Once imprisoned, the offenders remained locked up in the enclosures for 24-hours, chilled at night, baked by a relentless sun during the day without food, water or toilets.
Within a week, order and discipline had been imposed on Seoul’s streets and traffic. Streetcars ran in the middle of the street, pedestrians walked on the dirt sidewalks and all other traffic moved in its appointed lanes. As quickly as they had appeared a week before, the concertina wire and military police departed.
It was their country and they had taken hold of it and given it a violent shake, which is precisely what the citizens of Iraq and Afghanistan must do. It is what our Founders did. They didn’t ask the French to stay and sort things out for them, or to insist that the British rebuild the nation’s infrastructure or somehow make reparations.
No, they said, “It is our country and we accept responsibility for making it into a ‘Shining City on a Hill.’ It will be the envy of all the nations of the world and people will come from afar to admire what we have built here.” — And so they did.