Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Review of “Chasing Ghosts” by Paul Rieckhoff

I read “Chasing Ghosts” because my friend, Nate Fick, suggested that it would be helpful in understanding some of what our soldiers have faced in Iraq. Nate is himself the author of a highly acclaimed account of the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, “One Bullet Away.” Fick has this to say about “Chasing Ghosts”:

“Paul Rieckhoff is a citizen in the classical sense. He went to war when his nation called, but his service didn’t end when he came home. Paul poured his hard-won wisdom into changing the public dialogue about Iraq . . . and it’s working. He’s a patriot, a warrior, an organizer, and a leader. Paul’s an inspiration, and you cannot put this book down without realizing that guy us like him are changing Iraq, and America too.”

Rieckhoff served as a Lieutenant and Infantry platoon leader with the National Guard in Iraq, overseeing a team of 38 men. After spending a year in one of the toughest areas of Baghdad, he returned to the U.S. committed to sharing with the American public his criticisms of the policies that led to the war and its execution. “Chasing Ghosts” is one of the first books written by a soldier who served in Iraq that openly criticized the Commander in Chief.

When the author returned from Iraq, he banded together with other veterans who were disconcerted with the effects of the policies that they had come to believe were ill-conceived. He founded an organization that he called Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA). He made numerous attempts to influence the discourse about the war among the presidential candidates during the 2004 election, and ended up quite frustrated with the lack of responsiveness on the parts of John Kerry and John McCain, in particular.

Rieckhoff’s disillusion with the President and with the political process is expressed clearly late in the book in a chapter entitled “The Sensible War Movement”:

“The generation of politicians currently in power failed America’s veterans – and the American people – in 2004. They refused to hear us, and treated us as outsiders. They continue to do so.

But we won’t be outsiders much longer. Iraq is the mot important issue facing this nation. The Iraq war has been riddled with serious problems. The war on terrorism is creating more terrorists every day. The America I fought for is not safer now than before . . .

America will start to draw troop numbers down in Iraq in the next three years. It won’t be because the political situation stabilizes in Iraq. And it won’t be because domestic political pressure increases on President Bush (although it will). It will be because the bottom will start to drop out of America’s military. Give the current size of the military and the extent of this country’s global military commitments, the present operational tempo is unsustainable. It’s simple supply and demand. We must either increase the supply of military personnel, or decrease the demand for them. The president can’t have it both ways.

And yet nobody has come up with a viable alternative. The Democrats scream about Bringing Troops Home Now, and the Republicans strike back, calling the Dems unpatriotic and weak. They’re both wrong. Staying the course has reached the point of diminishing returns, and bring ‘em home now is not only naïve – it’s also possibly the cruelest and easiest way to screw up Iraq more than we already have. Although the rationale for war was flawed, and George Bush was not fucking right, America is stuck in Iraq without an easy exit. Americans need to realize that there are no easy solutions. There are no silver bullets. It we stay it will be bad; if we leave it will be bad.” (Pages 307-8)

That is about as clearly as I have heard the dilemma stated. As our two major political parties wrap up the process of nominating McCain and Obama and gear up for the general election, it would behoove the American people to demand straight talk on Iraq – and not be willing to settle for simplistic solutions and sound bites. And while they are at it, our two presidential candidates owe it to those who have fought – and to their families - to articulate a clear platform on how our veterans will be treated as they seek to re-enter the mainstream of the society they traveled around the world to protect.


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