Sunday, January 12, 2014

Losing Fallujah and Losing Face

As I pointed out in a previous post, Adam Gopnik thinks that we worry too much about honor. Apparently, he would prefer the dishonor of defeat to the honor of having fought nobly and lost. He doesn't quite understand the importance of saving face. 

In that he would make common cause with President Obama. Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates described Obama the warrior in his new book:

As I sat there, I thought: The president doesn’t trust his commander, can’t stand [Afghan President Hamid] Karzai, doesn’t believe in his own strategy and doesn’t consider the war to be his. For him, it’s all about getting out.

As yourself this: has President Obama honored the victory achieved by the Marines in, for example, Falluja? Did he honor the successes achieved by American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan? Or, did he dishonor them by precipitating a withdrawal that erased their achievements? Does Barack Obama believe in American honor? Does he care if America loses face?

The New York Times answers these questions in a moving report about how Marines who had won Fallujah reacted when it fell back into the hands of al Qaeda.

For those who do not understand what it means for a group of people to be demoralized, this article offers an excellent picture. When calculating the psychological cost of defeat we should pay close attention to the fact that defeat, or even tossing aside the fruits of victory, depresses.

With the loss of honor comes a loss of national pride.

Obviously, the Marines who fought in Fallujah feel it the most acutely. It is far more difficult to measure its effect on the rest of the nation, especially when the nation voted for the policies that have led to the loss, but it is vitally important for a newspaper to tell the story.

The Times report presents the situation:

The bloody mission to wrest Falluja from insurgents in November 2004 meant more to the Marines than almost any other battle in the 12 years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many consider it the corps’ biggest and most iconic fight since Vietnam, with nearly 100 Marines and soldiers killed in action and hundreds more wounded.

For many veterans of that battle — most now working in jobs long removed from combat — watching insurgents running roughshod through the streets they once fought to secure, often in brutal close-quarters combat, has shaken their faith in what their mission achieved.

Being fair and balanced the Times reports that some veterans blame President Obama for having walked away from Iraq, while others blame George W. Bush for having gotten into the war itself:

Some now blame President Obama for not pushing harder to keep some troops in Iraq to maintain the stability. Others express anger at George W. Bush for getting them into a war that they now view as dubious in purpose and even more doubtful in its accomplishments. But either way, the fall of the city to insurgents has set off within the tight-knit community of active and former Marines a wrenching reassessment of a battle that in many ways defined their role in the war.

What does it mean to see an American president toss away your very hard fought victory for political reasons? What does it mean when the president does not believe in a triumphant America?

It means nothing good:

“This is just the beginning of the reckoning and accounting,” said Kael Weston, a former State Department political adviser who worked with the Marines for nearly three years in Falluja and the surrounding Anbar Province, and later with Marines in Afghanistan.

Mr. Weston, who is now writing a book but remains in close contact with scores of the men he served with, said Marines across the globe had been frenetically sharing their feelings about the new battle for Falluja via email, text and Facebook.

“The news went viral in the worst way,” he said. “This has been a gut punch to the morale of the Marine Corps and painful for a lot of families who are saying, ‘I thought my son died for a reason.’ ”

Now, the parents of brave men and women believe that, in the eyes of their nation, their children died for nothing.


Sal said...

But all said and done, Iraq doesn't belong to the Marines, Obama, the US, etc.

It belongs to the Iraqis and they must handle its problems.

We need to stop meddling.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

True enough, Iraq does not belong to the Marines. No one is suggesting that we go back into Iraq, but we are pointing out the cost of a policy of getting out at all costs. Also, we have troops stationed in South Korea to this day. This does not make us meddlers and does not mean that South Korea does not belong to the South Koreans.

Dennis said...

It is because we maintained forces in Germany, Japan, South Korea et al that we gave time for the governments of those countries to establish themselves as governments and therefore succeed. The mere fact that Obama did not is one of the reasons that the government in Iraq, and Afghanistan by extension, are going to fail. In each of the above cases there were/are forces that had/have the capability and capacity to affect the eventually future of those countries. Where we had forces that stayed it allowed collations to form that keep many of those countries from falling back into the hands of radical elements.
Sadly, Obama just want out at the expense of creating a larger enemy, which we will have to fight here, in the future. 911 happened because radical elements had a place of relative safety from which to operate. The Obama administration is, through incompetence, creating larger areas that can be used against us. Asymmetrical warfare is not something we are good at at the moment. Short term thinking vice long term solutions.

Jimmy J. said...

I lost six friends in Vietnam. After we double crossed the South Vietnamese and the killing began in Southeast Asia, it hit me that what my friends had died for was all lost. We had tried to give the South Vietnamese a chance at freedom like we did in South Korea. We didn't lose the battles but lost our national will. I suppressed a seething rage at our politicians for years. It took a couple of years of anger management counseling to finally rid myself of the corrosive effects of that rage and an advanced case of survivor's guilt.

I can only imagine how our retreat from Iraq and Afghanistan is going to affect the survivors of those wars. Plenty to keep the VA shrinks and you busy for years.