Look, I don’t miss Iraq. I didn’t like the country, and the people didn’t like us. I don’t feel like I left anything behind that I need to go back and get. What we did there was important, and we played the best hand we could with the cards we were dealt with. But the deck was stacked against us, and ultimately we as a nation didn’t have the fortitude to finish the game. My comrades that sacrificed so much in Iraq can hold their heads high and know they did their part, even though right now it might seem like everything we did there was ultimately futile.
Many of my fellow veterans are currently discussing whether they want to go back to Iraq to fight ISIS and help stabilize the country. My comrades in arms seem pretty evenly split between two frames of mind when it comes to the current situation. The first I’ll call the “put me back in, coach!” approach. This one holds that Iraq is unfinished business, where much money and more importantly many lives were spent in pursuit of establishing and securing a free and democratic society; it’s time to go back and finish the job. Then there is the “let it burn” school of thought, which holds that we gave them opportunities to have an independent, stable, wealthy, and democratic state, and they blew it by turning their backs on our support, so they’re reaping the bitter harvest of their own bad choices. That mindset is particularly attractive to those among us who feel betrayed by the way we left Iraq and know that we, unlike the policymakers, will have to bear the brunt of Washington’s poor decision-making.
Both sides have good points, particular the “let it burn” approach. This one risks no U.S. lives and cost no U.S. money. There is also something deeply satisfying in being able to say, “I told you so.” This approach might be the one that wins out since President Obama has already ruled out sending in ground troops to help out the Iraqis. If this holds, then the best we can apparently do is send supplies, advice, and maybe some airstrikes.
But here’s why that line of thinking is flawed: ISIS now has the fighters, the territory, the natural resources, and thanks to the seizure of close to half a billion dollars in cash, the funding to create a viable base for the re-establishment of an Islamic caliphate.
Since they now control the Bayji Oil Refinery and the oil-rich areas of northern Iraq, they can continually fund their jihadist ambitions and either seize the entirety of Iraq or, more likely, break off a large part of it and keep it as their own. This will allow ISIS to overcome the entropy inherent in terrorist organizations and perpetually regenerate its money, manpower, and ideology. Given all of this, it is clear that if ISIS is successful in seizing Iraq, or in maintaining control of a significant portion of it, it will very bad for the US and its allies.
ISIS is a genuinely evil organization. Don’t believe me? Check out some of the videos they themselves are producing about the things they themselves are doing in Iraq. Murder. Maimings. Mayhem. And more to come, unless something… kinetic is done. And soon. If left unchecked, ISIS will be better armed, better trained, and better resourced than anything we have faced in the past. Having seized the state of Iraq, they will be more motivated than ever to spread their vile manifesto throughout the civilized world. That’s why the U.S. should act, instead of standing by in smug satisfaction while Iraq falls apart. Far better to crush the viper when it is still in its shell than to let it grow to a size that will threaten all of its neighbors. Far better to stamp out a nest of vipers in their own backyard instead of waiting until they creep into yours.
We know through bitter experience that airstrikes don’t stamp out anything; that has to be done with boots on the ground. The President is already planning to send special operations forces back into the fray, in a “non-combat” role. “Non-combat” isn’t what we need right now. “Non-combat” isn’t going to stop the ISIS steamroller. “Non-combat” can, and should, come later. Now is not the time for talk, it is the time for action.
Specifically, direct action.
So yeah, I’d go back to Iraq. Not out of some deeply felt sense of connection with the Iraqi people or for a closely held sense of moral obligation, because I have neither. Not because of the sunk costs of our losses there, although I still feel them acutely. Not to build a democracy, because the people there aren’t ready for it. Not because “we broke Iraq” or because people are suffering, since I feel pragmatism and self-interest trumps morality in national-level decision-making. The main reason why I am willing to go back to Iraq, as dirty, bloody, and frustrating as it is likely to be, is because I don’t want Iraq to be used as a base to threaten the U.S. or our allies and interests, and I know that acting now might actually save us blood, treasure, and national prestige in the future.
Put me back in, coach. I’m ready.
Scott Faith is a veteran of a half-dozen combat deployments and has served in several different Special Operations units over the course of his Army career. Scott’s writing focuses largely on veterans’ issues, but he is also a big proponent of Constitutional rights and has a deep interest in politics. He often allows other veterans who request anonymity to publish their work under his byline. Scott welcomes story ideas and feedback on his articles and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.