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J.F. Kelly, Jr. - Contributor

J.F. Kelly, Jr. is a retired Navy Captain and bank executive who writes on current events and military subjects. He is a resident of Coronado, California. [go to Kelly index]


Code of Wartime Conduct

..for politicians and journalists...
[J. F. Kelly, Jr.] 6/15/04

Are we winning the war in Iraq? Or, to put it more precisely, are we achieving our objectives there? For answers, we can rely on the liberal media with the daily commentaries on how badly things are going, reinforced by the administration’s political opponents who tell us how misguided our foreign policies are and what a disaster “Bush’s war” has been.

Or we can listen to our military commanders and read the emails from the troops, from which a totally different picture emerges. From them we hear not only of the setbacks, disappointments and casualties, but also of the accomplishments and steady, if unspectacular, progress. Is it all worth the cost in lives and treasure? That’s for historians to answer, not journalists or political candidates whose motives are to discredit their opponents and win elections.

Sadly, however, the latter seem already to have passed judgment and pronounced the war a failure. Setbacks in Fallujah and other areas in the Sunni triangle, home to many of the Saddam loyalists, have been extrapolated to project a picture of disaster for coalition forces throughout Iraq. But this picture is simply not accurate.

To measure progress in Iraq, one has to consider the whole of the California-sized country. The Kurds, in the relatively peaceful and prosperous north, welcomed our intervention and welcome us still, fearing mainly that we will leave too soon, as we did after the first gulf war, before some degree of security can be counted on in the wake of our departure. Other large parts of the country are relatively peaceful as well and most Shia acknowledge that they are infinitely better off than they were under Saddam’s tyrannical rule.

The positive, constructive accomplishments in the country are not being reported by a news media far more interested in fueling controversy by keeping a contentious debate over Bush’s foreign policy alive throughout the election campaign. And Bush’s political opponents, determined to regain the presidency at any cost, seem incapable of restraint even if it harms our war effort by demoralizing our soldiers and encouraging the terrorists.

The media and political opposition exploited the Abu Ghraib prisoner mistreatment scandal to the point where it clearly became a distraction to the military leadership at a critical juncture, just prior to the scheduled June 30th handover of sovereignty to the Iraqis. Demands for Secretary Rumsfeld’s resignation have weakened his influence, though hopefully not critically.

The campaign to undercut the president appears to be working, judging from the polls that show approval of the president’s conduct of the war declining. It is, of course, part of the greater campaign to defeat his reelection bid. But what happens if his political opponents gain the presidency but lose the war? Are we reliving Vietnam?

This is surely what the terrorists are hoping for. Don’t expect a major terrorist attack on the United States prior to the election. Another major terrorist attack on American soil would so inflame Americans that they would unite behind Bush in the war on terrorism and we would witness a political shift to the right. The terrorists may be ruthless but they are not stupid. Whom do you think they’d prefer to see in the White House, John Kerry or George Bush?

The goal of getting an independent, democratic (sort of) Iraq up and running, serving as an example to other Arab nations is a commendable and attainable goal, in pursuit of which, we have invested much blood and treasure. It is urgent that we succeed. Success is rendered most difficult, however, when the commander-in-chief of the armed forces is under constant attack in the press, not for his performance as the nation’s chief executive, but for his conduct of a war to which thousands of our troops have been committed. It seems to me that war, if this is truly a war, demands certain standards of conduct for journalists and politicians that permits them to do their jobs honorably without impeding the war effort as it were, especially since most of them are clueless as to what they would do differently, considering the situation we are in.

With respect to those who loudly proclaim themselves to be against the war, remember that troops are on the ground, fighting and dying to accomplish what they were sent to do by our duly elected leaders. Since we elect people to govern for us, we are bound by their decisions. Therefore, this cannot be pawned off as Bush’s war. It is our war and these troops are fighting on our behalf, whether we like it or not. They deserve our support.

Understand also, that they believe in their cause and their mission whether the critics do or not. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be there, this being an all-volunteer force. So if you exercise your constitutional right to disagree publicly with the war or the correctness of their mission, please don’t insist that you support the troops but oppose their mission. Since they put their mission above their own lives, that sort of hypocrisy doesn’t play well with them. We simply can’t have it both ways. If we support the troops, we support their mission. We are either for them or we are not. CRO

copyright 2004 J. F. Kelly, Jr.

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