Getting Beyond Stalemate to Win a War

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By John Batiste and Pete Hegseth
Saturday, December 8, 2007

Congress has been entangled in a war-funding debate that pits war "supporters" against antiwar "defeatists." With all sides seemingly entrenched, a stalemate looms. The Pentagon, meanwhile, will soon begin stripping money from its training budget to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Our military men and women deserve better than partisan politics; they deserve honest assessments of our nation's performance in fighting the Long War.

We are veterans of the Iraq war with vastly different experiences. Both of us commanded troops in Iraq. We, too, held seemingly entrenched, and incompatible, views upon our return. One of us spoke out against mismanagement of the war -- failed leadership, lack of strategy and misdirection. The other championed the cause of successfully completing our mission.

Our perspectives were different, yet not as stark as the "outspoken general" and "stay-the-course supporter" labels we received. Such labels are oversimplified and inaccurate, and we are united behind a greater purpose.

It's time to discuss the way forward rather than prosecute the past. Congress must do the same, for our nation and the troops.

Overall, this will require learning from our strategic blunders, acknowledging successes achieved by our courageous military and forging a bold path. We believe America can and must rally around five fundamental tenets:

First, the United States must be successful in the fight against worldwide Islamic extremism. We have seen this ruthless enemy firsthand, and its global ambitions are undeniable. This struggle, the Long War, will probably take decades to prosecute. Failure is not an option.

Second, whether or not we like it, Iraq is central to that fight. We cannot walk away from our strategic interests in the region. Iraq cannot become a staging ground for Islamic extremism or be dominated by other powers in the region, such as Iran and Syria. A premature or precipitous withdrawal from Iraq, without the requisite stability and security, is likely to cause the violence there -- which has decreased substantially but is still present -- to cascade into an even larger humanitarian crisis.

Third, the counterinsurgency campaign led by Gen. David Petraeus is the correct approach in Iraq. It is showing promise of success and, if continued, will provide the Iraqi government the opportunities it desperately needs to stabilize its country. Ultimately, however, these military gains must be cemented with regional and global diplomacy, political reconciliation, and economic recovery -- tools yet sufficiently utilized. Today's tactical gains in Iraq -- while a necessary pre-condition for political reconciliation -- will crumble without a deliberate and comprehensive strategy.

Fourth, our strategy in fighting the Long War must address Iran. Much has been made this week of the intelligence judgments that Iran has stopped its weapons program. No matter what, Iran must not be permitted to become a nuclear power. All options should be exhausted before we use military force, but force, nonetheless, should never be off the table. Diplomatic efforts -- from a position of strength, both regionally and globally -- must be used to engage our friends and coerce our enemies to apply pressure on the Iranian regime.

Fifth, our military capabilities need to match our national strategy. Our military is stretched thin and will be hard-pressed to maintain its current cycle of deployments. At this critical juncture, we cannot afford to be weak. Numbers and capacity matter.

After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, America was not mobilized for the Long War. This was an opportunity lost, but it is not too late. Many Americans are frustrated by the war effort, the burden of which has been shouldered by less than one percent of our citizenry. Our country is accustomed to winning. We deserve a comprehensive strategy that is focused on victory and guided by decisive leadership. America must succeed in Iraq and Afghanistan, but we also cannot focus too narrowly on those conflicts. We need a regional and global strategy to defeat worldwide Islamic extremism to ensure a safer world today and for future generations.

The day after his famous Pearl Harbor speech, President Franklin D. Roosevelt again addressed the nation. "I was about to add that ahead there lies sacrifice for all of us," he said. "But it is not correct to use that word. The United States does not consider it a sacrifice to do all one can, to give one's best to our nation, when the nation is fighting for its existence and its future life." His words inspired the "Greatest Generation," and they should inspire us again today.

Americans must mobilize for the Long War -- bolster our strained military, galvanize industry to supply troops with what they need right now and fund the strategy with long-term solutions. We have no doubt that Americans will rally behind a call to arms.

America's veterans -- young and old -- are resolved to support and defend the Constitution from all enemies, foreign and domestic. This commitment, and nothing less, should compel us to stand together, in and out of uniform. Would that Congress finds the courage to bury its pride and do the same.

Maj. Gen. (Ret.) John Batiste commanded the 1st Infantry Division in Iraq from 2004 to early 2005. Lt. Pete Hegseth served in Iraq with the 101st Airborne Division from 2005 to 2006 and is executive director of Vets for Freedom.


© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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