NRO contributor Smith "hard-pressed" to find U.S. service members who would say "it's not going well" in Iraq

››› ››› NIKI JAGPAL

In a post on the NRO military blog The Tank, W. Thomas Smith Jr. asserted that he had been to Iraq, spent "[d]ays -- sometimes weeks -- at a time" with units in action, and would be "hard-pressed to find one American Marine or soldier (or a Brit) who would say to me 'it's not going well.' " However, there are several examples of active-duty or retired service members expressing discontent with progress in Iraq through media outlets.

In an October 28 post on National Review Online's (NRO) military blog The Tank, NRO contributor and Family Security Matters contributing editor W. Thomas Smith Jr. asserted that he had been to Iraq, spent "[d]ays -- sometimes weeks -- at a time" with units in action, and would be "hard-pressed to find one American Marine or soldier (or a Brit) who would say to me 'it's not going well.' " However, seven service members finishing tours in Iraq wrote an op-ed published August 19 in The New York Times stating that they were "skeptical of recent press coverage portraying the conflict as increasingly manageable and feel it has neglected the mounting civil, political and social unrest we see every day." Additionally, an October 27 Washington Post article quoted service members who were critical of the Iraq war or skeptical about news of progress in Iraq.

Smith was responding to an appearance by Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) on NBC's Meet the Press earlier that day, during which Dodd stated: "Listen to the ground -- troops on the ground. They will tell you over and over again, despite the fact their willingness to serve, this is not going well at all, and it's affecting us everywhere else in the world, Tim." From the October 28 Meet the Press interview:

DODD: But I came to the conclusion almost a year ago -- in fact, I was here, having just come back from, from Baghdad. We talked at this table. And I met with young soldiers over there who said this is just not working. We need to change this policy. I think we want some decisive action here, we want some clarity on this. We're not getting it. In my view, we should be changing the fundamental policy. That is not to walk away diplomatically from the region. There are many things we can do, Tim, to make a difference. But I think we're, we're deluding ourselves in believing that $10 billion a month, almost 4,000 lives lost, almost 29,000 injured, 80 to 100,000 Iraqis have lost their lives, four million have left the country. Listen to the ground -- troops on the ground. They will tell you over and over again, despite the fact their willingness to serve, this is not going well at all, and it's affecting us everywhere else in the world, Tim.

In contrast to Smith's assertion that he would be "hard-pressed" to find a U.S. or British soldier who would state that "it's not going well" in Iraq, the October 27 Washington Post article included interviews with soldiers from the 1st Infantry Division in southwestern Baghdad. The article stated that when Sgt. Victor Alarcon was "[a]sked if the American endeavor here was worth their sacrifice -- 20 soldiers from the battalion have been killed in Baghdad," Alarcon responded: "I don't think this place is worth another soldier's life." The article also quoted Lt. Col. George A. Glaze saying, "I'm frustrated. After 14 months, I've got a lot of thoughts in my head. Do they fundamentally get giving up individual rights and power for the greater good? ... I'm going to leave here being skeptical of everything." Additionally, the article quoted Staff Sgt. Richard McClary stating that Americans "just know back there what the higher-ups here tell them. But the higher-ups don't go anywhere, and actually they only go to the safe places, places with a little bit of gunfire. ... They don't ever [expletive] see what we see on the ground."

Further, the New York Times op-ed by the service members, who were "at the tail end of a 15-month deployment" in Iraq, stated: "The claim that we are increasingly in control of the battlefields in Iraq is an assessment arrived at through a flawed, American-centered framework. Yes, we are militarily superior, but our successes are offset by failures elsewhere."

Many Iraq veterans have also spoken out against the war. In an October 15 op-ed posted on washingtonpost.com, 12 former Army captains stated: "Five years on, the Iraq war is as undermanned and under-resourced as it was from the start. And, five years on, Iraq is in shambles." Additionally, according to a New York Times article discussing a Times/CBS News national poll conducted in May, "two-thirds" of military members and their immediate family members who responded to the poll "said things were going badly" in Iraq.

According to his biography on NRO, Smith directs the conservative Family Security Foundation's Counterterrorism Research Center; the foundation owns and operates Family Security Matters, an organization that published a list of "The Ten Most Dangerous Organizations in America" on October 25, which named Media Matters for America the most "dangerous" organization.

Smith's work has been published by U.S. News & World Report, as well as Townhall.com.

From Smith's October 28 post on NRO's The Tank, titled "Who is Sen. Chris Dodd Talking To?":

Politicians like Dodd have to constantly remind us that they've been to Iraq, though they never tell us how they are almost always surrounded by an entourage of civilian staffers and military public affairs officers, and escorted to relatively safe sectors of the country. Yet somehow their having been to Iraq means they can make offhand remarks about what the troops are supposedly telling them, and so the American people should believe what they (the politicians) are telling them based on their little week-long fact-finding missions.

But what Dodd said this morning about what the troops are telling him is extremely difficult for me to believe.

I've been to Iraq myself, twice, and with a U.S. Marine infantry battalion task force, a Marine Expeditionary Unit, Marine snipers, fire-team and squad-sized foot patrols, an Army cavalry unit, even British contractors (former Royal Marines, SAS, etc.) in the backcountry, in the tougher neighborhoods, on the dangerous main supply routes. Always operational. Always in action. Days -- sometimes weeks -- at a time with each unit.

And I would be hard-pressed to find one American Marine or soldier (or a Brit) who would say to me "it's not going well," and not because they were spinning anything for me, because they certainly griped about other things. Fact is, the overwhelming majority of the troops know it's going far better than what the papers and politicians like Dodd are reporting.

In fact, a few weeks ago I learned that some of the really brand-new boot Marines are actually frustrated because of a lack of action in places like Ramadi. They enlisted to fight, but perhaps a bit too late. Things are going so well in much of Iraq that the only shots any new U.S. troops are hearing are those on Iraqi Army and police firing ranges.

Why isn't Dodd talking about that?

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