I know a Marine. He sits in a bar in North Carolina. He came there by way of Fallujah. The same close-cropped blonde fuzz glimmers on his head in the dim light as burned under the hot sun of Iraq. He’s the greatest storyteller I know, spinning tales about his overseas exploits, both combat and otherwise—only with the express permission of the mixed company present, of course.
He speaks with a wit and color that would surprise John Kerry. He is not a quiet man. But I wonder what he would say this week. I wonder what he would say to the Iraq Study Group’s proposed “change in the primary mission of U.S. forces in Iraq that will enable the United States to begin to move its combat forces out of Iraq responsibly.”
I imagine he’d just shake his head at me. He knows what the new “primary mission” is, as does anyone who’s even skimmed the report, and it’s not the type of mission Marines are accustomed to. The mission is to lose. Lose slowly, lose “responsibly,” lose diplomatically, but lose without a doubt. My lively Marine friend would likely be disgusted into silence.
But there’s another kind of man who is not silenced by the prospect of an American military defeat. He’s downright enthused.
Tim Russert’s first word for the report was “extraordinary.” Later in the day, he had much more to say:
This was such a sobering report. Powerful. Passionate. Bipartisan. Unanimous. I think it's not only a wake-up call for the Bush White House, but for the whole country. We are in very difficult straits…
I mean, when you sit here and read these recommendations, it is numbing how passionate, how bold they are, and how bleak the assessment is.
These accolades for a report, which acknowledges that “a slide toward chaos could trigger the collapse of Iraq’s government,” a “humanitarian catastrophe,” and a “propaganda victory” for al Qaeda, but insists that the U.S. should carry out its “planned redeployments even if the Iraqi government” is not ready.
How do people find so much to be gleeful about in such a plan? There is nothing “extraordinary” or “bold” about quitting in the face of an enemy who wants to swallow up our very way of life in one sharia-abiding caliphate by way of suicide and dirty bombing. Smiling and pretending there is honor in giving them a win does not make it so, unless you are in Washington.
I know a Marine. He sits on a low bench at Walter Reed Hospital, white paper crinkling beneath him as he works his left knee back and forth. Below the knee is about 12 inches of tibia, wrapped at the end in gauze and tight bandages while the wound heals.
His left foot took its last step in Ramadi. It landed on an IED instead of Iraqi sand. He was on his way to clear a tower of an insurgent sniper when it happened. His fellow Marines—some double amputees jogging on treadmills and lifting weights—rib him, calling the injury a “flesh wound.”
Across town, Sen. Harry Reid is positively delighted by a report that suggests America “engage constructively” with the neighboring countries who likely fund many of the insurgent forces that hurt my friend and his fellow Marines.
The Iraq Study Group… I feel so good about them. They tried so hard to do the right thing. And their report indicates that they agree with what the election results were on November 7th. There must be a change of course in Iraq. The Iraq Study Group is a rejection of the policies of the Bush administration on war in Iraq. It calls for redeployment. It calls for a change of course, I repeat.
At Walter Reed, I doubt there are many men who think asking Iran and Syria for help is the “right thing.” They have spent years and lives and limbs trying to defeat the insurgent arms of these radical governments and the violence they foment, and now the Washington policy elite and press corps would ask them to team with them in a misguided attempt to quell violence in Iraq.
Only at Washington dinner parties could such a sell-out be worthy of so many smiles.
I know a Marine. He remains in Ramadi while his brother learns to walk again back in D.C. Their mother stands in the rehab room at Walter Reed wearing a t-shirt that says, “Half My Heart is in Iraq.” Both her boys put much of their hearts into winning their missions in Iraq.
But when they leave, it is of very little concern to some people what is left behind them, as long as we leave it behind. Joe Biden on the “new way forward:”
I think the most significant thing about the report is it has moved the debate in a fundamental way, from not if, but when and how we move our forces in Iraq.
Carl Levin explains where all the excitement is coming from:
The report represents another blow at the policy of ‘stay the course’ that this administration has followed. Hopefully this will be the end of that "stay the course" policy. The elections in November were the first major blow at that policy.
Only in the halls of Congress could a military loss for America in Iraq be considered only a political loss for George W. Bush. There are few who would argue that Iraq doesn’t need a new policy, a new strategy—perhaps one with more teeth than the present one—but not the kind George Stephanopoulos lauds:
If I had to pick out one recommendation that could have the kind of teeth you're talking about, it's recommendation No. 41. The study group says that the United States government should tell the Iraqi government that the United States is going to carry out its planned redeployments even if the Iraqi government doesn't meet the benchmarks. That is a real threat of withdrawal. That could be a significant change of course. It's going to be important to see what the President's reaction is to that single recommendation because that's the clearest one that indicates a path out of Iraq.
Only in a Washington TV studio, perfumed with hairspray and haughtiness, could running away before the job is done be considered tough and resolved.
I know a Marine. He is packing his stuff this week. On Saturday, he will bend down, kiss his wife good-bye, and deploy again for Iraq. He will not leave with a mind to allowing the collapse of Iraq’s government, a humanitarian catastrophe, a propaganda victory for al Qaeda, the diminishing of America’s global standing, or negotiations with the enemy, just because it means we can get out of Iraq quickly.
He’ll go with a mind to win, and he will not find boldness, passion, toughness, glee, or honor in anything less. That is a practice for Washingtonians, not Marines.