The truth is, liberals should love the war in Iraq, since it’s being fought to a great extent along notions of soft power over hard power. It’s much less about firepower than it is about the power of basic services to bring about peace. It’s about bringing “good government” and civil liberties and human rights to war torn Baghdad, a city that has seen none of those things in decades, if ever. At least half the war’s most vital action takes place in meetings like this one in Al Salam to discuss works projects, school re-buildings and urban renewal. It’s all part of the complex mission in Iraq, a mission that morphed from the defeat of an entrenched dictatorship to one focused on building a civil society that will survive after the Americans leave. CPT Bare and the rest of the US military are trying to build a nation that Saddam Hussein broke, both by keeping the Iraqi people under his boot heel for 35 years and by leading it into needless wars to establish himself as a latter-day Nebuchadnezzar. In Saddam’s rule by fear, the basic idea of taking care of one’s own community broke down in favor of the daily need to survive by avoiding attracting the Baathist government’s attention. The Americans have to remove the fear that built up over decades, restore hope and help the Iraqis rebuild their lives and nation. Hard power may clear and hold Baghdad’s rough streets, but it will be CPT Bare’s relentless application of soft power that will win the war.
This is how the conflict in Iraq will be won, or lost. There won’t be an Iwo Jima flag raising to signal that the fight has turned in our favor for good. The American people will have to understand and accept that little things like a neighborhood council finding a contract garbage collector, and the re-opening of an elementary school, represent the end state of a community’s recovery and therefore signal battlefield victory. Our leaders in Washington need to teach us that that’s what victory in Iraq looks like. Our press needs to show us that that’s what our troops are doing in between the brief and often bloody firefights, but instead it’s busy picking up where the insurgencies leave off in delegitimizing the US mission and the Iraqi government. Peaceful, secure communities have no interest in the militias and despise the al Qaeda terrorists and insurgents. Beyond the fighting of Haifa Street, the war in Iraq will be won or lost by injecting good government in place of Saddam’s republic of fear. Which is why liberals, if they understood the ground realities of the war in Iraq, should embrace it instead of incessantly demanding retreat and defeat.