Dear President Bush:
As we sit today at a crossroads in our War on Terror, I felt it was my civic duty to provide to you some of my own perspective on our path forward. I am honored to have this opportunity and I hope that what I have to say will have some impact on your decisions in the coming weeks.
In January 2003, I was tasked with commanding Task Force 2-7 Infantry, one of the key units in the initial phase of the Iraq component of the War on Terror. At that time, public sentiment for military action was very high and I can recall clearly enormously positive news reports on our soldiers and their brave and honorable sacrifice.
As a nation, we sensed a feeling of unification and power. As one of the greatest nations on the face of the earth, our military prowess was clear and present. Now, almost 4 years later, while the American public respects and generally supports our troops, that sense of pride and nationalism has waned. We are mired in a discussion about “go big, go long….go home” – pathetically simplistic terms for a complex situation. The world watches as we make our next moves, impacting not only our fellow Iraqis but the future action of other rogue leaders for decades to come. Your decisions are of maximum import and the tidal effect will be felt for years.
I want to bring us back to our own democracy, an experiment – at best. No one holds the cards for the future, yet we know today that millions sit waiting at America’s doorstep. But our democracy evolved in a way that laid the foundation for over two centuries of human freedom and dignity. The founders of our democracy could see the Big Picture. In Iraq, we have lost sight.
Having said that, all is not lost. But we must look to how democracies are formed to find the answer. We must remember that the first President of the United States was not George Washington – it was General George Washington. His power at that time was fundamental to creating stability and structure at the close of one of America’s bloodiest wars. The first step in any democracy, or to any form of government, is structure. That structure can only come from the power of the Commander in Chief. Even with our segregation of military and legislative powers, the President of the United States is the Commander in Chief.
Thus, the first step must be that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki (or who ever would be appropriate in this position) be situated and held as the leader of the military forces of Iraq. That leadership, at this point in their democracy, must be absolute. He must prevail, very publicly, over the troops and security forces of Iraq. This must be his primary focus – communicating to the Iraqi people, his neighbors, the gangs and the world that Iraq is a national power to be reckoned with. We should see on TV rows of Iraqi military, he should be giving speeches to them about the greatness of Iraq and their service to their nation, he should be demanding that those that join that are not supporters be punished quickly and with severe repercussions. Democratic institutions thrive only when there is a powerful military presence to create structure and maintain stability.
There has been much talk of the Iraqi people. Why don’t they rise up and help the Americans? Why don’t they take the initiative? We should be careful asking these questions, without our own personal reflection. Let us not forget how embarrassing it was when there was looting and killing in New Orleans after Katrina, or how the riots spread in Los Angeles. The regulation of interactions between humans requires a clear and strong military/security force. Without that, we (even lofty Americans) are resigned to protection of our own personal interest – taking up arms for protection or the establishment of gangs that prey on the weak and steal from business. The Iraqi people have not been sent a clear message from their government that it has the power or capacity to maintain democratic structures, so you can’t expect them to create democratic institutions in a vacuum. We wonder why some Iraqis have resorted to joining the insurgent gangs, herein lies a sense of power and control that their new government has failed to provide.
But as Americans, we are now worried about bringing home our troops. I think, here again, we have lost sight of the Big Picture. Iraq is just one battle in the War on Terror. If we win in Iraq, we are still at war. If we lose in Iraq, we are still at war. But, how we go about fighting must be changed.
As a component of the support for Maliki and the new government of Iraq, US troops should not “go big, go long.… or go home”, their role should be changed. An immediate infusion of weapons should pour into Iraq. The primary focus of the government should be to conscript (employ) Iraqi men and women in the Armed Forces. US forces should focus on only two functions: training the Iraqi forces and providing border patrol for the porous borders of Iraq. Every single firefight and battle against the insurgent gangs should be fought by Iraqis. Every ministry of the new government should be focused on supporting the Armed Forces of Iraq. Agriculture ministries should focus on providing food to the troops, women that are not in the Armed Forces should be employed in factories to produce those products needed by the Armed Forces. Churchill spoke directly to the coal miners of Great Britain during WWII and told them their work was essential to the fight – those men that wanted to join the Armed Forces returned to their mines and produced the coal needed for the war effort.
We are at war, lest us not forget. War is a time to fight, not to establish governments. We can not expect the Iraqis to form a democratic government while there is still a war. Win the war, devote the resources of the government of Iraq to the war, let them borrow from the US (we owed millions after the Revolutionary War) focus the people of Iraq on the greatness of the Iraqi Armed Forces ---- then, when that is all done -- have an election.
I bring you back to President George Washington. The historic moment in American history that our children are rarely taught was the day the first transference of power occurred in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania when President George Washington transferred power to President elect John Adams. What fails in many fledgling democracies is the transference of power. The military leader – George Washington – had the foresight to say “no” when he was asked to stay on as President and he passed his power on to John Adams, a democratically elected official. This was the first electoral exercise of our fledgling democracy, not the Presidency of General George Washington.
So, in Iraq we must establish the militaristic strength of the Maliki government. Refocus our efforts from nation building to military building. This will send a clear message not only to the Iraqi people, who are desperately looking for that structure and stability, but to neighbor nations and the world. Iraq has arrived and Maliki is in control – that message must be communicated. When that occurs, then the Iraqis can vote on who will take the reins of that power. We know they will vote, because they tested the electoral process. Now we must create the conditions that permit democratic institutions to prosper – we must protect them first.
In the end, if we alter our path and choose the one the truly reflects the roots of a fledging democracy we and the Iraqis will win. The Iraqi people don’t want to teach their children generations from now about the Battle of Fallujah – where the Americans fought the Iraqi gangs. Just as we don’t revel in the role the French played in helping us during the American Revolution. They want to honor the Iraqis that stood up to fight in these battles. They need to feel that national pride that compels ordinary Americans to answer the call to duty for our great nation.
Mr. President, I have faith that you have taken mankind down the right path. We must now let the Iraqis take the baton and move this process forward. As fellow humans on this great planet, I have faith that they will answer the call to duty. At this juncture, we must help them focus their new institutions on the most vital component of a democracy – the military – the one entity that when called upon can protect the foundation of a democracy. We must serve as supporters in this effort, protecting their flank as they forge forward.
We must keep our focus on the Big Picture. Once the military strength of Iraq is solid and evident, then can flow the process of conciliation, nation building and economic progress. We can only win in Iraq by providing their government with the military might to defeat all threats to their new democracy. We must not be the only winner; the Iraqis must win, and feel they have won for this to succeed.
Thank you Mr. President for the opportunity to write this letter to you. Everyday, I feel blessed to be an American for the short time that I am on this earth. My service to this country was a part of my life that I cherish. I pray for the men and women in uniform today and for your strength as we move forward in this War on Terror.
LTC Scott Rutter (USA, Retired)