On August 26, Al Qaeda in Iraq tried to abduct four American paratroopers on rooftop surveillance in Samarra. The plan seems to have been to hold the soldiers hostage and then behead them just as General David Petraeus was testifying before Congress. Showing an awareness of the American media that many political consultants would envy, al Qaeda hoped that the operation would become an Iraqi Tet, demoralizing Americans on the home front.
Three of the four soldiers al Qaeda tried to abduct were part of a "Reaper" team of the 82nd Airborne. The fourth was a highly skilled sniper. Their mission was to monitor the roads below and prevent al Qaeda from planting IEDs to ambush their fellow members of Charlie Company as they made their way back from a mission.
According to Jeff Emanuel's report of this episode in the November American Spectator, the four men were alone and isolated on their rooftop. They soon found themselves under attack from nearly 40 al Qaeda fighters. Two of the men, team leader Sergeant Josh Morley and Specialist Tracy Willis, didn't survive the attack. The two who did, Specialists Chris Corriveau and Eric Moser, killed between 10 and 15 al Qaeda in a desperate fight over 10 long minutes. At one point, al Qaeda forces tried to grab Sergeant Morley's body as a trophy. At great peril to himself, Specialist Moser didn't let that happen. At the time of his death, Sergeant Morley was anticipating seeing his newborn daughter for the first time. He was 22 years old. His comrade, Tracy Willis, was 21.
Not long after the Reaper team had its deadly engagement in Iraq, the State Department found itself enmeshed in a surprisingly intense internal dust-up. Not enough career diplomats at Foggy Bottom were volunteering to serve in Baghdad. To remedy this situation, the State Department announced its intention to assign some foreign service officers to Baghdad, whether they volunteered or not. This announcement triggered an urgent State Department "town hall" meeting that took place October 31, where one Jack Croddy, a senior foreign service officer, spoke out. "It's one thing if someone believes in what's going on over there and volunteers, but it's another thing to send someone over there on a forced assignment," Croddy carped. "I'm sorry, but basically that's a potential death sentence and you know it. Who will raise our children if we are dead or seriously wounded?"
It is tempting but perhaps unfair to compare Croddy's "death sentence" remark, and his resolve, with the actions of the men of Sergeant Morley's Reaper Team. As the memorial plaques at the State Department attest, a long line of foreign service officers, from the 18th century down to the present day, have given their lives in service to their country. Croddy doesn't speak for them or, we hope, for very many of his colleagues today.
Still: What has happened to any sense of decency and propriety when a senior foreign service officer can say such a thing in public? Or when the State Department countenances a meeting that invites such a public display of petulance? Do the foreign service officers in Washington feel no sense of solidarity, if not with our soldiers, at least with Ambassador Ryan Crocker and their colleagues serving in Baghdad? Serving in Iraq is hazardous duty. It seems that three State Department employees have died there since 2004, among some 1,500 who have served or are now serving in Iraq.
At the same time, more State Department employees have been killed by al Qaeda and allied groups outside Iraq, in East Africa and Jordan and elsewhere, in recent years. Does their sacrifice count for nothing? Is the State Department not also involved in fighting these brutal terrorists? Are timidity and grievance-mongering appropriate for senior U.S. government officials engaged in the conduct of the nation's foreign policy?
It's certainly the prerogative of government employees not to "believe in what's going on over there." But until they resign, they are still supposed to help carry out U.S. government policy. How many other parts of the executive branch don't believe we're at war or are quietly refusing to help the war effort? We know about the CIA leaks that have gushed from Langley the last few years with the express aim of wounding the administration. We also know that parts of the Pentagon want to abandon Iraq so they can return to their preferred terrain of orderly rotations, procuring new hardware, and preparing for World War Whatever with China or some other great power.
History will someday view President Bush's steadfastness in pursuing an unpopular war, and his courage in (finally) finding the right generals and the right strategy, as an admirable example of presidential leadership. The latest numbers out of Iraq have confirmed the extraordinary progress of recent months--the kind of progress that many, not only in the media and Congress, but also in the State Department and the Pentagon, all but insisted was impossible mere months ago.
Still, it's a blemish on the president's record that he has never been able to get the whole government apparatus to pitch in on the war effort, or even to stop certain factions from undermining it. Last week, he complained that "some in Congress are behaving as if America is not at war." He was not wrong, but he bears some responsibility for this state of affairs. His administration was slow to beef up the military after 9/11, unwilling to revamp our intelligence and diplomatic establishments, and loath to give the American people a constructive way to assist the war effort beyond suggesting that they go shopping.
When George W. Bush is no longer a lightning rod, our nation will be grateful for the determination he showed in continuing the fight in Iraq long after most politicians would have declared victory and retreated. But there's no denying that the management record of our first MBA president leaves much to be desired. The Bush administration failed to insist on efforts throughout the government worthy of Sergeant Morley's team and of all our troops in the field.
The next president will inherit a situation in Iraq that will look much more promising than anyone thought possible a year ago. For this, we owe General Petraeus and hiscomrades-in-arms an enormous debt, as we do Ambassador Crocker and his diplomatic team. What the next president owes them is a government that is organized from top to bottom to support their efforts, to win the war in Iraq and beyond.
--William Kristol and Dean Barnett