Best Defense

One colonel’s thoughts on the end of our long, hard involvement in the war in Iraq

The New York Times came across some Haditha documents dumped in Iraq. I read the article but I didn’t see anything new. My Washington Post colleague Josh White covered all that stuff pretty thoroughly several years ago. More thoughtful are the comments below from Col. Teddy Spain. I knew him back in Baghdad in 2003, ...

ALI AL-SAADI/AFP/Getty Images
ALI AL-SAADI/AFP/Getty Images

The New York Times came across some Haditha documents dumped in Iraq. I read the article but I didn’t see anything new. My Washington Post colleague Josh White covered all that stuff pretty thoroughly several years ago.

More thoughtful are the comments below from Col. Teddy Spain. I knew him back in Baghdad in 2003, when he commanded the MPs in the capital, and I wrote about his experience in my book Fiasco. He’s a good soul. Recently he and I have been talking about the end of the war in Iraq. Here are his thoughts these days.  

By Col. Teddy Spain, U.S. Army (Ret.)

Best Defense guest columnist

Americans will be debating for many years to come the wisdom of the political decision that took us to war with Iraq in March, 2003. I served as the Commander of the U. S. Army’s 18th Military Police Brigade during the ground war and first year of the occupation of Iraq. I am deeply concerned about what happens after America departs. I don’t think we have achieved what we set out to achieve.  I’m concerned Iraq cannot secure itself and we will see an increase in Iranian influence. The soldiers of my brigade understood the importance of a credible Iraqi police force and worked heroically to stand up a functioning Iraqi policing system.  Not enough emphasis was placed on the development of the Iraqi police and rule of law during the first year of the war. From my past experiences, I don’t feel the Iraqi police will be ready by the end of this month to assume the burden of protecting Iraqis from the variety of influences who will be trying to undermine Iraq’s recovery and pursuit of democracy. The Iraqi police will be the target of their wrath in an effort to send a clear message to frightened Iraqis that even the police cannot protect them. I find it hard to believe we will not have to return at some point in the future, and perhaps lose even more soldiers, than if we were to keep a larger presence there now.

Being a commander in combat is a heavy burden.  Parents, brothers, sisters, and countless others entrust you with the care of their loved one.  As a commander you constantly balance mission accomplishment, with the welfare of your soldiers.  You understand soldiers will die, and you do everything in your power to ensure it makes a difference when they do.  When we pull out of Iraq in a couple of weeks, will that undermine everything my soldiers fought and died for?  Not to mention the ones sitting at home without all of their arms and legs?  I’ve been asked many times since I’ve retired what my biggest concern about Iraq is.  I always answer without hesitation that I’m concerned that my 13 soldiers died in vain. That concern will grow at the end of this month.  Many politicians talk about the cost of war in dollars.  I had millions of dollars worth of equipment destroyed in Iraq and never lost one minute of sleep over it.  However, every day of my life I think of those 13 soldiers and ask myself if there is anything I could have done differently to have brought them back home alive. I come up empty for an answer every day.  If I ever conclude they died in vain, I hope it’s not because yet another politician pulled us out of Iraq before we finished the job we were sent there to do.

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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