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Kristol in Time

11:54 AM, Aug 10, 2007 • By MICHAEL GOLDFARB
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If you weren't already aware, the boss recently returned from Iraq where he spent time meeting with American commanders, troops, diplomats, etc., and generally getting a better sense of the situation on the ground there. His latest column for Time is now available and includes his impressions from the trip:

I spent a week in Iraq recently, and here's what impressed me most: the Americans. In particular, the quality and character of the American soldiers and Marines who are fighting there and trying to help rebuild the nation. I don't mean to slight, in some ethnocentric way, the steadfastness and courage of the Iraqi people. But it was meeting and watching the American soldiers at work that I found most interesting.

I've served in government, and I'm familiar with Washington, and I'm not an uncritical cheerleader for the American military. Indeed, I'd say that some of our general officers--until this past year, when General David Petraeus and Lieut. General Ray Odierno took over--haven't particularly distinguished themselves. But the brigade and battalion commanders and the company and platoon leaders I saw in Iraq are really impressive.

Before going to Iraq, I didn't fully appreciate all the things our military leaders are doing there. Obviously, they're fighting--and doing so more discriminately and effectively than they did in 2003 or 2004. But that's just the beginning. Now that Petraeus and Odierno are pursuing a real counterinsurgency strategy, their subordinate commanders and officers are spending a lot of time engaging the local population in security, political and economic efforts. It's clear from the briefings by colonels and lieutenant colonels at various forward operating bases that they have internalized Petraeus' counterinsurgency doctrine. Occasionally you'll hear a leftover Rumsfeld-era talking point about how our job is to get out of the way and transition everything over to the Iraqis as quickly as possible. And I did see a brigade commander who, when asked by an Iraqi shopkeeper why electricity was so sporadic, replied politely that electric power wasn't his job.

But that was the exception. The rule in Iraq is that brigade and battalion commanders--and even captains and lieutenants--are also taking on responsibilities as diplomats, politicians, development consultants, educators. The limited number of American civilians (and the virtual absence of Europeans) has thrown all the responsibility of nation building--more accurately, community building--on the U.S. military. And rather than complain, the soldiers do it willingly and even cheerfully, and with remarkable competence.

Go read the whole thing.