"We misjudged then — and we have since — the geopolitical intentions of our adversaries … and we exaggerated the dangers to the United States of their actions."
Robert McNamara, Secretary of Defense during the Vietnam War
The Green Team is invited into a large conference room at FOB Paliwoda.
We didn't know this used to be Baath party headquarters.
It is now the conference room of the senior Army officer responsible for the security of the entire Balad area.
He enters the room and you know he is in charge. You know this is the man.
I won't name names for sake of security.
This officer proceeds to give us a briefing on what the military has been doing in Iraq since the fall of Saddam.
He speaks with the power and conviction of a man that knows his territory.
He is responsible for security in the entire Balad region. Which includes Joint Base Balad. The commanders at JBB have to consult him on issues there because he is the sheriff in these here parts. He is Boss Hogg, and I mean that in a good way.
He gives us a Powerpoint presentation to try and educate us on the complexities of Iraqi society and the what we are dealing with.
As an interested observer of things in Iraq, I have read alot of stuff. I think I have a clue.
I don't know shit.
When the pressure cap of Saddam was removed, the nature of Iraq was let loose.
He explained that it is way more complex than Sunni versus Shia. Which, by the way, makes my head hurt still to remember why they hate each other. And, he confirms, you cannot tell them apart visually. They look alike, dress alike, sometimes marry each other. They are visually the same. Internally, they are as different as night and day.
But beyond that, he explained that Iraqi society is ruled by 17 major tribes. Tribes are totally loyal to themsleves and their selfish objectives. And, there are at least 30 other smaller tribes that have their issues.
The tribes don't care about Iraq. They care about themselves.
I had never heard or read this before. I had thought we were caught in a crossfire between Sunni and Shia. Instead, I learn, we are in a crossfire between at least 47 tribes battling for power. With Sunni and Shia overlays. With Iranian and Syrian outside influencers and fighters in Iraq. And AQI (military for al Quaeda) thrown in for good measure.
Oh, and don't forget, the super Shiite Moqtuada al Sad'r. Fiery mullah who lives in Iran most of the time, but leads the most powerful political and military force in Iraq. His army is referred to as JAM.
Confused? Me too.
But not this officer.
He has it mapped out. He knows the leaders of each tribe. The sheiks. The mullahs. The city councils. The mayors. The Iraqi Army and Iraqi national police.
He and his troops are making progress. They have shown the locals that the way forward is economic, not war.
This region of Iraq produces most of the food in the country. Tomatoes are one of the lead products. Balad had a large tomato canning factory before it was ruined in the war. They have now reopened it.
The tomato farmers now have a place to sell their produce. The canner has a steady supply and can employ locals with steady jobs.
This is what our military is doing. Yes, they fight when necessary. But they are doing state department work to prevent violence and promote a sustainable life in Iraq.
At the end of the briefing, we get a chance to ask a few questions.
The Iranians are busy screwing around with Iraq. AQI is weakened, but not forever. He is worried about their ability to reload.
The one clear thing we hear is that he is concerned about the politically driven deadline for the US leaving.
The Iraqi local leaders are pleading with him for the US not to leave. They say they are not ready.
After all, it has been only 4 years since the fall of Saddam. This isn't going to work like Iowa overnight.
The briefing breaks up.
The Green Team starts to put the body armor and helmets back on.
Before we can, this officer appears in full battle rattle.
He is headed out.
He goes out at least 6 days a week to meet with the locals and get the temperature of what's going on. He attends city council meetings. He meets with tribal leaders.
He gets information on where the outside bad guys are and what they are up to.
He is a hero in every sense.
And, he doesn't want to leave now. Yes, he misses his family. Yes, he wants his men and women out of harms way.
But, he has worked so hard to understand the fabric of Iraqi society. And he and his troops are having positive impact.
He is afraid it is all going to go up in smoke if we pull out as prescribed.
Godspeed, sir. And, may our elected officials come listen to you.
God help us if men like you are not listened to.