Sunday, December 17, 2006

Moral Support for Liberty - A Lesson for Iraq?

Presidents Carter and Reagan perhaps set the pattern for the success of democracy when lending America's moral support to the dissident movement of Poland. What would be the difference if America could roll back the clock to late 2002 and make a decision for moral support of Iraqi dissidents instead of invasion of Iraq itself? Would the United States and the world be in a better position today?

Some acquaintances of mine assume that, because I served with the United States military in Iraq, that I necessarily supported the decision of the Bush administration to invade Iraq. This is not the case. I actually contemplated retirement from the military rather than supporting the invasion. Speaking with family members, friends, and co-workers I explained to them that I did not think enough evidence existed to support an invasion.

In early 2003, I was notified that my National Guard field artillery unit was being activated and sent to Iraq. Beside being a traumatic moment for me and my family, I also remember a strange feeling of calmness. My thoughts were, "I volunteered to be in the military, and I'm still in, and I've been ordered to active duty, so it doesn't matter what my political feelings are at this point."

I ended up not, as first impressions were, participating in the initial invasion of Iraq; instead my battalion served in place of a regular army battalion that did participate in the invasion.

Six months later we were back home, and again I contemplated retirement. My wife and I thought and prayed about the decision, and felt strongly that I should continue my military service.

Two years after my first active duty stint concluded, my battalion was re-called to active duty, and this time found itself in Ramadi, Iraq. Over the course of my stay, my primary goal was to give the Iraqi people not only a good impression of the United States in general, but particularly a good impression of the American military. A few of those experiences are shared as earlier posts in this web log.

In retrospect, my wife and I are both glad that we decided I should stay in the military, and we are especially glad for my service in Iraq. However, I often have wondered...

...President Ronald Reagan was and is a hero of mine. I admire his ability to stand up with optimism against the adversary of despotism. That is why the following story and commentary is so informative to me, and it makes me wonder what would have happened if we could go back and have a do-over in Iraq--something the Carter administration began, and something in whose eventual success Ronald Reagan participated.

December 13, 1981 signaled, in retrospect, the downfall of the Communist Polish government, rather than the feared failure of Solidarity and the struggle for freedom.

Janusz Reiter, Poland's current ambassador to the United States, has this to say about that event:

The United States made the right decision. President Ronald Reagan accurately perceived that Poland offered the fulcrum needed to move things forward from the so-called Yalta pattern of a divided Europe. The United States gave the Solidarity opposition the support it needed most -- moral support. By doing so the Reagan administration followed in the footsteps of President Jimmy Carter's administration, which had listened to the advice of its national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and strongly supported earlier dissident movements.

Ambassador Reiter also says of the United States' support for the dissident movement in Poland:

American leaders at the time showed a particular sense of psychological and political intuition.

First, they perceived in what direction Poland was moving and chose to support those who would later prove to be the catalysts of political and social change.

Second, there was never a doubt that Solidarity was a movement developed from Polish tradition and experience, and that the Poles knew what was best for their country. The United States respectfully accepted this.

Third, this was a great fight for hearts and minds. To win it, the United States opened its arms, in particular to the younger generations of Poles. Thousands of them -- scientists, artists, students -- then came to the United States. Some remained here, but many returned to Poland and used their American experiences to help deal with the growing pains of a newly democratic society.

Two differences immediately jump out at the way Poland and Iraq were treated by the United States.

  1. The Carter and Reagan administrations chose moral support, while the Bush Administration chose invasion, occupation, and nation building. The Bush administration's rationale was that the Hussein regime could easily attack us on our own soil, and therefore we must attack them on their turf; however, Carter and Reagan could have easily made a stronger case that the Soviets were much more able to attack us here than Saddam Hussein was.

  2. Solidarity, prior to the United States' moral support, had a much greater presence, organization, and purpose than did the dissident movement in Iraq. Lack of separation of church and state makes a sticky mess of political disagreement in the Middle East, so it may be a bit "pie in the sky" to expect Iraq's dissidents to be as unified as were the Poles of Solidarity. Nonetheless, a much greater groundswell toward liberty existed in the Poland of 1981 than did in the Iraq of 2003.

If George W. Bush had used the same tack for Iraq as Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan did for Poland, would Iraq be in a better situation today? In light of recent historical events in Iraq, if America steps back militarily from Iraq, will it be possible to provide moral support for the Iraqi "dissident movement", or is it too late?

A shorter version of this post originally appeared on


Sang J. Moon said...

You forget that Reagan invaded Grenada. Reagan wasn't above invasion and all that comes with it. The reason he didn't do the same with the USSR is because it would have been a devastating war for the USA which is why he supported space based defensive research so that the USA could do more Grenadas under its shield. Reagan would have no problem with Bush Jr. invasion of Iraq. It was an opportune time with nobody really liking Saddam enough to support him militarily and Saddam hasn't had time to use enough of his ill-gotten UN Oil-for-Food funds to build up his military enough yet. Our trouble was that we underestimated the ability of Sadr to build up a following among the poor Shiites, and we didn't see Al Quaida using Sadr's volatility to incite violence. We overestimated the ability of the silent majority of Iraqis seeking a peaceful united Iraq to overcome the extremist minorities. This isn't Vietnam revisited because there we were supporting a dictatorship. Here, we are supporting the Iraqi people, but the Iraqi people don't have the experience and will to make their country their own. It will improve over time, but the Iraqis will have to go through growing pains before it gets truly better. I think of South Korea as the closest parallel. The USA made mistakes there and created security forces that were used by failed starts at democracy to suppress the people, but because the USA persevered, South Korea became a success story. But in the end, it relies on the people of Iraq to make their country succeed.

Frank Staheli said...

You bring up a good point (several actually), but Grenada was small, and the entry and exit were seen to be easy. It seems that Bush thought Iraq would be easier than many experts were advising him that it would be.

The main point of my post revolves around the concept that your statement illustrates:

"the Iraqi people don't have the experience and will to make their country their own."

I agree. The Polish people were much more established in this domain. I estimate, like you, that "It will improve over time, but the Iraqis will have to go through growing pains before it gets truly better."

Destination Macedonia said...

Congratulations for your nice blog, keep the good job. Don't forget that there is no good war and bad peace.

I'am Macedonian and as was stated by Thomas Jefferson that "Every citizen should be a soldier. This was the case with the Greeks and Romans, and must be that of every free state", I'll integrate the Greek artillery, next week to do my military service for my country.

It will be a pleasure to read your comment on my blog.