I've now read the Newshoggers interview with Col. Steven Boylan a couple of times. I've read the comments from readers. I'm struck by several different thoughts as I go through it.
First, this is a damn hard working man doing a truly monumental job. Reading his words, I can feel the sobriety in his assessments and his overpowering desire to make it work. It reminds me of my father, who did two tours in Vietnam, 23 years in the service, and believes to this day that we failed the south Vietnamese by abandoning them. He doesn't want us to do the same in Iraq. Neither does Boylan.
For the record, neither do I. It's why I wrestle with the issue so much. It's a big part of my problem with the president; I had a good suspicion at the outset of this adventure that it was going to take ten years to achieve the goal of a democratic Iraq. A lot of people had that feeling. But not President Lowball. He let us down and he let Iraq down by not setting realistic expectations.
But anyway... the interview is with Boylan. I've always been skeptical of shoving the occupation of Iraq into the greater "war on terror", so I was pleased that we asked how he defined it and how we would know when we won.
I like his definition well enough: preventing extremists and state-sponsored groups from creating instability and acting as they choose. I'm not sure what it has to do with Iraq, exactly, but obviously the policy of the United States should be (and always has been) to disrupt anti-American terrorist organizations.
So, nothing new there really, except we've somehow ended up occupying a nation of tens of millions half a world away.
As for when we'll know The War on Terror is over, Boylan says, "[W]hen there are nations that refuse to allow their lands and people to be used to foment terror and allow their lands to be used a launching platforms to conduct these attacks against people of other nations and walks of life."
I have to wonder if Boylan believes this is a goal that can be achieved. Since we were small bands of hunter-gatherers, groups of humans have conducted warfare and terrorism against one another, and the idea that we're going to be able to stop that behavior just because we're America and it's the 21st century... well, it makes me think of America's other stunningly successful eternal war, The Drug War.
Big siphon of money and talent, that one.
I appreciate what Col. Boylan does and where he's coming from in his answers. I'm an Army brat myself with a brother in the Guard now, and I know that successful American soldiers are people of enormous dedication to the principles that make our country great, and devotion to achieving victory in the missions their country assigns them.
But I've really had it with America's wars against human behavior. Yes, maybe if we bleed ourselves dry of treasure and lives for generations, we can somehow cause humanity to stop squabbling with each other across lines on a map, but I'm not idealistic enough to hold my breath for that. And I'm not willing to see my nation crushed under the weight of Ahab-ian obsessions with changing the world through military force. There are other options, other approaches, and I can't wait until January 2009 when we get to try those alongside the military path.