A View From the Cheap Seats

February 7, 2008

Another Unsung Hero

Filed under: Iraq — trzupek @ 11:50 pm


By Rich Trzupek

Our conflicts overseas have given us many heroes, but it has been a long time since anyone in a leadership position has been recognized as such. Arguably, we’d have to go back to Douglas MacArthur to find a general that a significant portion of the public would honor for their service.

There’s a lot of reasons for that trend, and there’s no reason to delve into them here. But let’s consider adding a new name to the illustrious role of American military commanders who have exercised brilliant leadership in the pursuit of liberty: Major General Rick Lynch.

What Lynch, and his soldiers of the 3rd Infantry Division have accomplished in Iraq is nothing short of remarkable. Along with a number of other leaders on the ground, he implemented the strategy that has turned the tide in Iraq so markedly that even critics of the war grudgingly have to acknowledge that the “surge” is working.

Unfortunately, it’s very unlikely that the media or the public will ever recognize Lynch (or his counterparts) as heroes, because he didn’t do anything that meets our modern-day definition of “spectacular” that is so necessary to grab people’s attention.

He didn’t lead a Pattonesque charge through enemy positions. He didn’t wear down the enemy and capture their capital, like Grant. He didn’t lead a broad coalition that tore down a tyrannical empire, like Ike.

Instead, Lynch’s troops have done something much quieter, much more difficult and, in this war at least, much more effective: they gave peaceful people a chance to live in peace.

Before Petraeus, before the surge, the military in Iraq focused on wiping out the resistance, down to the last suicide bomber. Our troops were headquartered in huge bases and would roll out on seek and destroy missions that too often resulted in civilian casualties.

As we found out in Viet Nam, and in Japan and Germany after World War II, wiping out a determined resistance with such tactics is an almost impossible task. You can’t find every enemy body and bomb and, in the course of trying to do so, you create more enemies among people who would otherwise be your friend.

To be sure, the Bush administration deserves a lot of the blame for the failed strategy that almost lead to disaster in 2006. Like Johnson before him, Bush ignored the advice of the professionals, looking for the “quick fix” that merely made things worse.

The US Army knows how to quell a rebellion in a country where the majority of the population simply wants to live in peace. A sound, effective “counter-insurgency” doctrine has been part of the Army’s playbook for decades.

The appointment of Patraeus, who called for the change in strategy, was a signal that managing the war in Iraq would now be strictly the responsibility of the professionals. It was a change that came not a moment too soon.

Elements of Lynch’s 3rd Infantry were some of the first to arrive as part of the surge. But, instead of kicking down doors and looking for rebels, they broke up into some 50 small bases south of Baghdad, determined to protect the population at the local level.

There, the General said, his troops found that ordinary Iraqis welcomed the Americans with open arms. “Once you’re there, the local citizens come forward and ask two questions: `Are you gonna stay?'” Lynch said.  “If the answer is yes, they say: `How can we help?'”

Local men began to come out, to help provide security and rebuild towns. Iraqi patriotic organizations, known as Awakening Councils, Concerned Local Citizens or the Sons
of Iraq, were formed, not to drive the Americans out of their country, but to help the Army get rid of Al Quida.

American troops largely patrol these days, making the populace in towns and neighborhoods feel secure enough to get on with their lives. It’s a more thankless job than the slashing attacks of the past, and not spectacular work at all, but one imagines that it’s gratifying for the ordinary grunt. They are helping to rebuild a nation, one community at a time.

There is no doubt that the new tactics have been successful. Since May 2007, rebel attacks in the 3rd Division’s zone of control have dropped by 74 per cent, civilian casualties have dropped 81 per cent, and coalition casualties have dropped 85 per cent. Moreover, those figures are repeated over and over again, throughout much of the country, where commanders focus on protection, not destruction.

We may, and certainly will, argue about whether it was wise to go into Iraq in the first place, but that decision can not be unmade. So whether you support it, as your humble correspondent does, or abhor it, as many critics do, we should also focus on another discussion: what is best for the people of Iraq, here and now?

It seems clear that we are doing much more good in Iraq that ever before and that a peaceful, happy conclusion – while still a long way off – is finally in sight. For that we can thank many an unsung hero, from the men and women on the ground, to Generals like Rick Lynch who had the courage, patience and skill to do the right thing.


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