My young friend Mike just came back from Iraq for a few weeks well-deserved leave. I got to talk with him for an hour or so, which was a real pleasure. I remember regaling him with tales of my USMC adventures when we first met, several years ago. Then came 9/11. Being 39 at the time, I felt helpless regarding my first instinct, which was to meaningfully fight the terrorists. Mike, almost 20 years my junior, joined the USMC. I never had children, but this young man gave me a sense of pride that I never felt before, and could only describe as paternal. I reassured his father that he enlisted too late to be involved in the Afghanistan campaign. He has, however, ended up guarding our embassy in Iraq.
I got some impressions from our talk, and in general terms, he was skeptical about the Iraqis' ability to "fix up their own places." I take this to be a function of how close he is to the center of the US presence, where Iraqis may expect us to take up the role of the previous Baathist government, which did not encourage private upgrading of property, to say the least.
I'm sending Mike some interview questions that I hope to post. Obviously, I can't reveal anything that might compromise his operational security, but I want to get his impression on the ground, and put it out there. Remember, there are many levels of Iraqi society, and Mike is far removed from the political class, or the emerging "elites" in that country. The people he encounters are the bricks in the foundation of democracy that is hopefully being built over there.
Men like Mike are protecting us by persevering through the tough process going on in Iraq. Pres. Bush's policy has been carried on their backs, and it appears to be successsful on a regional scale. Their sacrifices may have saved a much larger toll of lives if the Middle East had festered longer with Saddam still in power. My prayers are with Mike, who is going back for another tour. I'm proud of him, and wish I could be there too. Watch for his interview in an upcoming post.