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Reflection, Hope and Victory in Iraq

August 2007
By Cmdr. Gregory E. Glaros, USN (Ret.)

A remarkable young Marine officer named Maj. Douglas A. Zembiec was killed in action on May 11, 2007, during his fourth tour in Iraq. What makes his story so compelling is not the fact that he was referred to as the “Lion of Fallujah” as a result of heroic actions during operation Vigilant Resolve in 2004 or as an “unapologetic warrior” featured in a Los Angeles Times interview three years ago. He was remarkable because his life and untimely death are emblematic of the men and women who serve our nation selflessly, without hesitation, quietly volunteering as Maj. Zembiec had done. How can each of us, from the comfort and security of home, meaningfully contribute to the common good of our nation?

While open debate is the foundation of this republic, people must realize that solutions do not come from banter as much as from deeds—actions that directly bring forth victory. Warfare against an ideologically blind, religiously driven and globally networked threat can be waged only by a resolute nation that possesses the will, the proper tools and the supported skills to win. The application of force against diffuse threats such as al-Qaida requires a force capable of constant but rapid change in advance of an adversary’s intent.

If politicians believe that simple withdrawal from Iraq will win them elective office and calm the region, they are very wrong—their tenure will be plagued by violence. Pundits who deny to the public—and themselves—that the threat will not diminish are blind. An isolationist populace that does not realize that our way of life influences the strategic need to secure and stabilize this region is naive.

But, as citizens in a participatory democracy, we all are co-conspirators in the war in Iraq. While the executive branch is accountable for strategic failures, we all are responsible in part for its operational blunders. Over-budget programs and delays in fielding relevant products are equally responsible for operational and tactical failures. Legislators who prefer to bemoan casualties but offer no rational solution retreat not only from the battlefield but also from global leadership. While the nation’s response is operationally resolute, its tactical forces increasingly are ineffective because procurement strategies struggle to respond and legislators cannot decide how to support victory. Each of us must reflect on the roles we play either in securing stability in Iraq and Afghanistan or in assisting in its failures.

For the past four years, as our adversaries have shown their willingness to engage, disrupt, regroup and adapt, the Defense Department has met those challenges head-on. As the threat emerged from and retreated to the most complex urban terrain to mask intent and to evade destruction, our service men and women responded with unrelenting bravery. But as adversaries continue to take advantage of global seams within multicultural societies, they will deny a technologically superior force the ability to detect or discriminate. How can a global menace be defeated when throughout global societies this threat watches intently, studying weakness from tolerant hosts or accepting cultures? These adversaries will continue to craft denial strategies designed to blunt technological superiority and inhibit forces over-reliant on strike, and they will take advantage of electoral posturing from partisan bickering for the sake of political gain.

Maj. Zembiec is representative of the courage and self-sacrifice that all should emulate. To lose a Marine, soldier, sailor or airman is sorrowful, but when a nation loses a leader such as the major, it should bring forth both reflection and pride—not partisan disdain masquerading as remorse or programmatic inertia hiding behind the veil of safety. The major’s devotion gives insight into how each of us can be better public servants, parents, leaders and guardians of our nation’s future. By his example we can only hope to perform more admirably and to give more selflessly to the betterment of a mourning nation.

More than 2,000 years ago, the Athenian leader Pericles gave this funeral oration: “Day by day, fix your eyes upon the greatness of Athens, until you become filled with the love of her; and when you are impressed by the spectacle of her glory, reflect that this empire has been acquired by men who knew their duty and had the courage to do it.”

When men’s and women’s deeds have been brave, these people should continue to be honored by the deeds of those who survive. Modern tactics and technology will not win this war alone, but ancient beliefs in duty, service and courage will be etched not in stone but in the hearts of citizens and leaders. If these deeds are to be worthy of praise, it is because of the sacrifice of servicemen such as Maj. Zembiec who added to our inheritance. Let us not waste his devotion.