AP Reporter Heading Back to Iraq — As a Marine

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By: Dennis Anderson

A few weeks after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, my best buddy from the Associated Press, Jeff Wong, entered Marine Corps officer basic at Quantico. He said he wanted to ?make history rather than write about history.? He knew we were at war, and going to war.

He commissioned in infantry and a few weeks after Christmas in 2002, he was headed for Kuwait, then up the road to topple the odious Saddam Hussein. Wong returned home briefly and headed off to Afghanistan to pursue Taliban and Al Qaida miscreants.

In 2005, his four-year commitment done with two combat tours packed in, he headed off to postgraduate work, and he has a job that he likes, a nice lady he loves, and he is buying a house.

And he is most likely going back to Iraq sometime later this year or early next. It wasn?t his idea. He is a USMCR (reserve commission) officer, experienced in the deadly combat arts. The spin cycle of deployments continuing, his skills are in demand and trained officers are in ever shorter supply. Junior officers started voting with their feet years ago.

There are ways to get out of this if you make a mission of looking for the side door. But Wong, who graduated from a good school (USC) and was a better than pretty good journalist, doesn?t look for side exits. He serves.

?I?ve thought about it, over and over,? he told me the other evening in a phone call. He’s not complaining. He’s packing.

Three combat tours, and a callback from civilian life only recently acquired? World War II vets called back for Korea remember that sort of thing. A good many of them didn?t like it, but they understood duty. So does Wong and his brothers and sisters in service.

?How can I justify trying to get out of a third deployment if some other poor wretch has to do four because I didn?t do three?? he said.

And that?s how the math is calculated by the honorable. If I point out to my comrade in arms and former AP colleague that the two-tour combat vets have done about ten times more heavy lifting to protect mom, and dad than the rest of the American populace, that is not how the honorable company of serving military does that math.

Sure, there are uniformed personnel who are looking for a side exit, but these unambivalent professionals don?t let the failed politics of an unpopular war sway their commitment to comrades. It?s about the guy next to you.

Of course, the reason all the reservists are being called back is because it?s painfully evident we have far too few military in the ground forces to sustain the pace of the deployments to date, and those nearly certain to come.
Another blunder, initiated by President George Herbert Walker Bush at the end of the Cold War, abetted by Congress, and accelerated during the Clinton years: too few soldiers and Marines.

In the byegones of 2003 in a column for Editor & Publisher I wrote words to the effect that whatever the reasons given for having gone to war in Iraq it was our responsibility not to abandon the innocent citizens of the country we invaded to the tender mercies of Saddamists, Sunni insurgents — many the worst sort of killers — or to the emergent militias.

My Op-Ed views have not changed a great deal. It has so little to do with the fiasco of juiced intelligence about Weapons of Mass Destruction, and it finally has little to do with the blunders of the civilian end of the military establishment overseen by President George W. Bush.

If President Harry Truman was accurate when he said ?The buck stops here,? then President Bush cannot pass the buck for sending too few troops, for the reliance on wishful thinking as intelligence, for the devastation of postwar Iraq anywhere south of Iraqi Kurdistan, for Abu Ghraib, Haditha, Walter Reed, for Donald Rumsfeld?s legacy, Vice President Dick Cheney?s mordant wanderings and on and on.

The buck has to stop somewhere, and that is on the president?s desk. It is the president, in history?s judgment, who will be held to account in the record. It may be argued who was right or wrong, but none can argue this thing has been led or managed well. Our troops have succeeded in spite of their government, not because of it.

So, in a week when 171 Iraqis are killed in another series of cunning and cruel car bomb attacks, in weeks when my hometown newspaper editor duties carry me to yet another local G.I.?s funeral, why not go with the majority?
A majority not only of newspaper editors — a group somewhat suspect to the American people — but the simple majority of the American people that holds, by now, that the war was a mistake, and that the effort has not been worth it?

Why oppose — in the opinion-editorial realm — the Democrat-majority Congressional timetable for pullout? Why when this country?s best continue to be killed in a cruel reign of bombs not say ?enough is enough??

The people of Iraq have not turned on their tormentors. That is what congressional representatives glibly refer to as ?the Iraqis stepping up.?

Horribly, the innocent have continued to sustain torment. It?s worth noting that Gen. David Petraeus and Co. are pursuing their own counterinsurgency goals in the Baghdad security plan, and have so far damped the sectarian death squads. It remains open whether that progress will be wiped out by a new car bombings, a strategy of Sunni insurgents to inflame sectarian passions for civil war. And to usher a U.S. withdrawal so the real fighting can begin.

In history?s longer view, the Korean war was once cast as the ?wrong war in the wrong place for the wrong reasons.? So, those are the wages of bucks that don?t stop anywhere until it?s way too late.

Meantime, it?s those third-and-fourth tour soldiers and Marines, backstopped by honorable sailors and airmen who are paying the price for all that buck passing. It rises quickly as one of those profoundly acrid ironies of history that the most honorable and brave citizens of the current generation of serving military are paying the price for mangled decisions made by non-serving executives far from the line of fire who would have to have that kind of honor taught to them like a foreign language. And likely they would learn that language about as carefully as they studied Iraq before the invasion.

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