On Quitting

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June 20, 2014 by civilvision

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On Quitting

by Tim Kirk

The United States is struggling with the consequences of quitting in Iraq.  It should come as no surprise that American politicians are blaming each other or their Iraqi counterparts for the failure to reach an agreement that would have kept U.S. forces in the region beyond 2011.  Hindsight now reveals that this failure created conditions now exploited by extremist tyrants who seek to establish narrow political goals along sectarian or religious lines.  These fascist groups exploit ethnic and tribal divides in the region’s social fabric to elevate the conflict and broaden their influence.  They seek a showdown in the form of a “World War M” that pits Muslim proxies representing Sunni and Shia sects, each thinly veiled agents of national policies.  The strategic lesson for us to consider from the outsider perspective is how the Iraq War Exit Strategy of 2011 has given way to an imperative to quickly design an Iraq War Re-Entry Strategy of 2014.

While some hashtag diplomats might favor the #BringBackOurDirtyTyrants showdown as a contest in which warlord stability might return, it is important that strategists not succumb to lazy or expeditious thinking.  The truth is that meaningful rule of law, public order and a durable peace take a great deal of time and even more patience.  From a U.S. perspective, consider the remarkable successes where nation-building in Germany, Japan, Kosovo, and South Korea yielded leading societies and economies of the 21st Century.  However, also consider that the collective total number of years spent in these international coalition diplomatic and military efforts is around 220 years and running.  Pacification and social enrichment are not achieved overnight, or even overdecade, especially when conducted in the midst of brutal enemies with predation motives.

The problem with quitting is always the same.  Quitting satisfies urges, alleviates discomfort, and sometimes gives the appearance of relief from criticism or stress.  Yet the endgame reveals unforeseen costs and even shame as the project once started is left incomplete, in tatters, with little hope of remedy.  The reason America and the West should care about this is found in David Lloyd George’s axiom, “There is nothing so fatal to character as half-finished tasks.”  America has a problem with its national character.  Those fatal wounds are from a variety of sources, but an America forced to watch Iraq burn under extremist forces is a nation acutely aware of the hot sting of shame.  As painful as it may be to watch Ramadi, Tikrit, Mosul or even Baghdad fall to the black flag, a similar fall in Afghanistan would be even more devastating.

I once asked a wise Afghan leader what it would take for our side to win in Afghanistan.  He quickly replied that it was easy for America to win.  “We just need Americans to start acting like Americans again,” he told me.  I spent a lot of time reflecting on that, and considered whether that point had any merit, and if so, what it meant exactly.  Years later, I came across U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt’s radio address to the nation on the eve of the Normandy invasion.  The words there immediately revealed to me what my friend must have meant.  They were not words of quitting.  They were not half-hearted words.  They did not reflect ideals that looked to the affirmation or actions of others.  They were resolute and uncompromising.  They were words that said “finish the job”.  They were words that America will never, ever hear from a President today or in the foreseeable future.  In fact, they are the words of a prayer to God given by the Democratic President of the United States who thought it appropriate to lead the nation in prayer over the radio.

Consider these words:

“In this poignant hour, I ask you to join with me in prayer: Almighty God, our sons, pride of our nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity. Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith. They will need Thy blessings. Their road will be long and hard. For the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces. Success may not come with rushing speed, but we shall return again and again; and we know that by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph. They will be sore tried, by night and by day, without rest — until the victory is won. The darkness will be rent by noise and flame. Men’s souls will be shaken with the violences of war. For these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace. They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. They fight to let justice arise, and tolerance and goodwill among all Thy people. They yearn but for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home. Some will never return. Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom. And for us at home — fathers, mothers, children, wives, sisters, and brothers of brave men overseas, whose thoughts and prayers are ever with them — help us, Almighty God, to rededicate ourselves in renewed faith in Thee in this hour of great sacrifice. Many people have urged that I call the nation into a single day of special prayer. But because the road is long and the desire is great, I ask that our people devote themselves in a continuance of prayer. As we rise to each new day, and again when each day is spent, let words of prayer be on our lips, invoking Thy help to our efforts. Give us strength, too — strength in our daily tasks, to redouble the contributions we make in the physical and the material support of our armed forces. And let our hearts be stout, to wait out the long travail, to bear sorrows that may come, to impart our courage unto our sons wheresoever they may be. And, O Lord, give us faith. Give us faith in Thee; faith in our sons; faith in each other; faith in our united crusade. Let not the keeness of our spirit ever be dulled. Let not the impacts of temporary events, of temporal matters of but fleeting moment — let not these deter us in our unconquerable purpose. With Thy blessing, we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy. Help us to conquer the apostles of greed and racial arrogances. Lead us to the saving of our country, and with our sister nations into a world unity that will spell a sure peace — a peace invulnerable to the schemings of unworthy men. And a peace that will let all of men live in freedom, reaping the just rewards of their honest toil. Thy will be done, Almighty God.”***

Yes, that was a Democratic President who understood what it meant to be an American.  Even if one prefers to leave the supernatural out of the discussion, the severe determination is sobering.  Personally, when I read this I feel a bit guilty that I only served for 2 years in uniform deployed to the war out of a 21-year career.  I’m left feeling like I should have done more whenever I consider what the warriors of Normandy did with their service.  But what of our cause?  Is it of a high enough caliber to demand such commitment from our generation?

Our enemy’s forces are no less unholy.  Our enemies are still the apostles of greed and racial arrogances.  Unworthy men still scheme, and world peace has never been more vulnerable to their designs.  While FDR called for all men to live in freedom with just rewards, we seem content to simply enjoy our own freedom at the local level as long as our attendance at the kids’ soccer games isn’t jeopardized.  Our purpose is demonstrably conquerable.  The Greatest Generation would certainly be ashamed to see our faith so weak and our heads turned so quickly by the impacts of temporary events.  We could perhaps be forgiven these shortfalls if we had not given up on the concept of prayer as a vital national resource.

My wise Afghan friend was right.  To achieve effective peace and lasting benefits, we need Americans to act like Americans again.  We need to wake up to the consequences of quitting, and get back to finishing the damn job the right way rather than the expedient way.  The nation’s character has never been more compromised, and it is up to us to remedy the situation before we pass on to the next generation fatal illness called “quitting”.


Tim Kirk is the Executive Director of Civil Vision International

*** 6 June 1944 radio address by Franklin D. Roosevelt

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