Editor's Note: George W. Bush, who famously hates to admit mistakes, seems headed toward a military escalation of the Iraq War, in part, he says so as not to betray the sacrifice of the American soldiers who already have fought and died in Iraq.

So, in the weeks ahead, much will be debate about protecting the honor of the U.S. troops, even as more are sent to early deaths or are consigned to live out their lives with horrible wounds. Without a decisive political change in Washington, it looks like the disastrous war will continue indefinitely.

In this guest essay, which originally appeared at American Chronicle, novelist Steve Hammons writes that whatever the outcome in Iraq, there should be no question about the courage and honor of the U.S. forces sent to fight a misbegotten war:

He said, "There's only one thing worse than an overstressed Army and Marine Corps, and that's a defeated Army and Marine Corps. We saw that in 1973. And I believe that this is a recipe that will lead to, sooner or later, our defeat in Iraq."

McCain was responding to recommendations coming from various sources about beginning a redeployment away from active occupation and combat operations in Iraq. He has consistently advocated significantly increasing the number of American troops in Iraq to achieve some level of “victory” there.

McCain’s statement and words deserve deeper analysis. He seems to be worried that a “defeated” U.S. Army and Marine Corps will result from a redeployment away from occupation and combat or some other strategy.

Rest easy, Sen. McCain. The majority of our Army troops and Marines on the ground have apparently performed well under very difficult conditions. The tremendous mistakes and failures we have seen and that we face now have not been created by our soldiers and Marines. They have not caused a “defeat.”

The disaster in Iraq was created by those in the current administration and their friends and allies who badly wanted to invade Iraq for a variety of covert reasons, reportedly fabricated intelligence to deceive us into supporting the invasion and then apparently made every mistake possible in the occupation of Iraq.

Any “defeat” is theirs, not our Army soldiers and Marines. In fact, the word “defeat” may be minimizing the degree of disaster in the situation. Some experts claim it is a foreign policy, humanitarian and criminal tragedy of immense proportions.

In fact, many people feel that our Army troops and Marines, and their families, are as much the victims of this disaster as the Iraqi people and the rest of us are. Our military men and women were misled, manipulated and carelessly put in harm’s way.

Yet they still fight and try to do their best, despite the very problematic leadership in Washington. For the most part, our Army soldiers and Marines have retained their honor as warriors, as Americans and as decent human beings.

They have been killed, terribly wounded, deprived of adequate equipment and led by incompetent leaders in Washington. They have been worn down, pushed to and beyond the human breaking point.

If there has been a failure of intelligence, competence, honor and human decency that has resulted in a “defeat” of some kind, it is not the fault our soldiers and Marines.

They have not been defeated and will not be, no matter what the eventual outcome of the Iraq invasion and occupation is.

Options Now

Finding the best option now, or as many experts are saying, the “least bad” option, is obviously difficult at this point.

Ideas like adding more troops in a temporary “surge,” increasing training personnel for the shaky Iraq government’s military and police, redeploying American forces, partitioning Iraq, achieving some measure of coexistence between ethnic groups there and all of the other strategies now under consideration should be and are being vigorously discussed.

Honest people can brainstorm, consider, debate and disagree on what might be the most intelligent steps to take at this point.

However, we should not forget that many of the same people who got the U.S. into Iraq in the first place also want us to stay there, maybe for decades.
Why? For oil, for strategic positioning of U.S. bases in the Middle East, to protect allies in the region, to increase military spending and profits for contractors, for chicken hawks to prove that they are “macho” armchair warriors and other schemes we can only guess about.

Sen. McCain may truly feel that our Army and Marines could be perceived as “defeated” military forces if we redeploy from the massive active combat and occupation operations in Iraq. This worry, though somewhat reasonable, may not be necessary.

An equally strong case can be argued that the continued expenditure of our troops’ blood, military equipment and American moral authority in the world could be worsening the situation and truly degrading our military forces and our nation as a whole.

Options that include redeployment strategies away from open-ended occupation of Iraq might actually strengthen our military in terms of readiness, competency and honor.

All ideas should be on the table: Innovative information operations and persuasion operations, other creative PSYOP efforts, dialogue with allies and adversaries, enhanced diplomatic initiatives, assertive military operations, intelligent redeployment tactics, jobs programs for Iraqis, carrots and sticks of many kinds, and any other approaches that might achieve some kinds of success.

But, worrying that our Army and Marines will “lose face” may not be a real military issue or even a psychological issue.

McCain's concerns may be heartfelt and legitimate. But some people also might also believe that the Army and Marine Corps should not be used and our support for them should not be manipulated, even inadvertently by well-meaning patriots, to rescue the failed policies of those in Washington and stay on a faulty course of action.

In fact, the Army and Marines should “lead the way,” as Army Rangers say, in supporting efforts to investigate the deceptive origins of the invasion of Iraq, reports of massive war profiteering and corruption, the incompetence in conducting the occupation of Iraq, the treatment of troops and veterans and many other related aspects that some people say require special investigations and possibly prosecutions.

For most of our Army soldiers and Marines possess the courage, fellowship, decency, honor and competency that the people in Washington who launched this disaster can never hope to achieve.

A “defeat” is owned by these Washington insiders, and they will be defeated.
Our Army and Marine Corps can hold their heads high as American warriors, even as they mourn the deaths of and trauma to their fellow soldiers and Marines, and the gut-wrenching deep sorrow and pain of their families.

And having experienced yet another Vietnam of this era and this generation, they are older and wiser, and more sober and appropriately cynical about Washington.

Yet, with their physical, emotional and spiritual scars from war and bloodshed, they can help our nation move forward toward peace and real leadership in the world.

Theirs is a victory of courage, fellowship and honor that will serve them and our nation well in coming days and years.

They have learned, the hard way, some of what famous Medal of Honor winner Marine Major General Smedley Butler tried to teach us in his 1935 classic book War Is a Racket: War is often a deceptive money-making project that uses the blood of young soldiers and Marines to enhance the profit and power of those who send young men and women to war.

As we all learn this truth, again, victory is ours.

Steve Hammons is a journalist, teacher and government researcher whose two novels – Mission into Light and Light's Hand – tell the story of a U.S. intelligence and joint-service military research team. He can be contacted through his e-mail.

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