Obama Wasting Troops’ Sacrifice

This week’s column borrows from the closing comments of former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, in his speech to the Marine Corps Association July 18, 2007, as reported by American Forces Press Service the next day, and quoted in his book, Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War. Please bear with me; I hesitate to use such a long quote, but in this case it is necessary to make my point.

“On one wall of my conference room there is a large, framed photo of a Marine company commander taken during the first battle of Fallujah, in April 2004. He’s speaking into a radio handset while giving directions to his men as combat rages just blocks away.

“During that Fallujah battle, Captain Douglas Zembiec and some men from his Echo Company were on a rooftop drawing rocket-propelled grenades from all directions. They tried to radio a tank crew for support but couldn’t get through. Zembiec raced out onto the street through withering fire, climbed onto the tank, and directed the gunner where to shoot.

“After the battle, he said that his Marines had ‘fought like lions,’ and he was soon himself dubbed ‘the Lion of Fallujah.’ He was an unabashed and unashamed warrior, telling one reporter that ‘killing is not wrong if it’s for a purpose, if it’s to keep your nation free or to protect your buddy.’

“After returning from Iraq, Doug was promoted and given a desk job at the Pentagon. He chafed at the assignment, volunteered to deploy again, and was sent back to Iraq earlier this year. This time, he would not return – to his country or to his wife, Pamela, and his 1-year old daughter.

“In May, the Lion of Fallujah was laid to rest at Arlington (National Cemetery) and memorialized at his alma mater in Annapolis. The crowd of more than 1,000 included many enlisted Marines from his beloved Echo Company. An officer there told a reporter: ‘Your men have to follow your orders; they don’t have to go to your funeral.’

“Every evening, I write notes to the families of young Americans like Doug Zembiec. For you and for me they are not names on a press release or numbers updated on a web page, they are our country’s sons and daughters. They are in a tradition of service that includes you and your forebears going back to the earliest days of the republic.

“God bless you, the Marine Corps, the men and women of our armed forces, and the country we have all sworn to defend.”

What doesn’t come through in the above quote is the secretary’s emotion, which very nearly kept him from completing his speech. Yes, Fallujah will be added to the glorious lore of the Corps right along with the Halls of Montezuma, Iwo Jima and Khe Sanh. But what won’t be added is the hollowness of the victory and the waste of American lives like those of Maj. Doug Zembiec and the scores of “our country’s sons and daughters” sacrificed in Iraq and Afghanistan for naught.

Even now, al-Qaida is resurgent in Fallujah and all of Anbar Province in Iraq, and Karzai is negotiating with the Taliban for a power-sharing agreement in Afghanistan, in both cases, all because of our premature withdrawals from both countries.

We have a commander-in-chief who seems to have no stomach for victory, who puts immediate political expedience above the longer-term strategy of consolidating our victories, and he has no apparent qualms about leaving the Iraqis and the Afghans to the wolves of al-Qaida and the Taliban.

Or as Secretary Gates puts it, after working closely with the president for several years, there is an “absence of conviction of the importance of victory.”

And without victory, it is all a waste. Thank you, Mr. President.