Thursday, December 23, 2004

Iraq Is a Real Fight? That Changes Everything!

Several years back, I did some training with a friend who had been into martial arts almost his entire life. He had a small group of students he trained in various things, from karate to swordplay. Unlike most of the martial arts schools around, he put a tremendous focus on actual sparring. Not point-sparring, mind you. This was the kind where you fought until one person surrendered (or became incapacitated).

Having grown up with parents who very much disapproved of violence, it was the first experience in my life with something like that. My prior experience with violence had come in very controlled forms; like playing football, wrestling in gym class, and a bit of foil-fencing. I quickly learned that the reality of fighting was nothing at all like what I had assumed.

Previously I had visions of great martial artists wading through lesser fighters, dishing out devastation and being left without a scratch. But I quickly discovered that real fighting hurts – often a lot. Even when you win, it’s sometimes just because you refuse to quit before the other guy.

I remember a discussion about this I had with my martial artist friend, and another friend also training with us who had been at it for years. When I mentioned my surprise that even when you gained the skills, fighting still hurts, they both burst out laughing. Of COURSE it hurts, they replied. How could anyone be so foolish as to think otherwise? The scariest fighters are the ones who want to hurt you so bad, they don’t mind how much they hurt themselves in the process.

This came to mind today reading commentary regarding Iraq. Apparently there is now a general consensus among some previously pro-war pundits that the post-war situation has gone horribly, and Iraq is now a bungled hell-hole, as evidenced by the continuing casualties.

From William Saffire:

“I now admit to having expected the war in Iraq to be won in a matter of months, not years. Saddam's plan to disperse his forces and conduct a murderous insurgency, abetted by his terrorist allies, was a surprise.”

Joe Gandleman responds

“Fair enough. And as someone who has supported the war, The Moderate Voice would say the same thing.”

I see these comments from two very intelligent men (that’s not sarcasm, they truly are), and I have to shake my head. Just like I expected fighting to be “clean and neat” once I learned it properly, these folks seem to think war is much the same. If you plan it right, it’s a clean and orderly affair, and you’re finished in short order.

My reaction? Of COURSE war hurts! I’m just as baffled (but not nearly as amused) as my friends were when they heard my naïve preconceptions about fighting. You mean to tell me there really were people who thought that once Saddam was caught, everything would be just rosy? That’s probably an unfair way to state it. But this is not: Were there really that many people who expected something far better this soon after the collapse of the Saddam regime than we see today?

It’s not the talk about the failings of post-war planning, or the second-guessing about troop-levels, or the concern about pre-war intelligence that really bothers me. Kvetching about the conduct of a war is a time-honored tradition – usually practiced to perfection among the troops themselves. What galls me is the entirely out-of-proportion significance these things are given; the “enemy made a successful attack, so fire Rumsfeld and find out who lied to us” perspective.

Maybe this is an inevitable result of people starting to realize that the “War on Terror,” was not a euphemism like “War on Poverty,” or “War on Drugs.”

Iraq - a single theater of the larger war - was invaded to take Saddam out. Saddam had to be taken out because he had a history of sponsoring terror, hostility to the U. S., and the potential to provide terrorists devastating weapons. None of those reasons have been invalidated by anything discovered post-war.

It's time for many folks to wake up to the realization that war is painful. The pain we're feeling in Iraq ought to have been expected. The real question is whether Americans have the fortitude to see our way through that pain to victory. If we don't, the best plans and equipment in the world won't be enough to win real wars of any kind.


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