Friday, February 25, 2005

Stand and Fight

David Ignatius writes an excellent piece in today’s Washington Post, “Our guys stayed and fought.

He looks at the relationship between Iraqi General Adnan Thabit, the leader of the Special Police Commandos, and Colonel James Coffman, a US Army Special Forces officer.

The quality of personal relationships at the lowest levels determines the lasting success of almost any undertaking, and Ignatius’ article illustrates specifically how these relationships will make the crucial difference in Iraq.

Leaders are vitally important there, and they must succeed in two main areas in order to be successful. Their plans and orders must be sound, and their relationships with subordinates must set the example for how their subordinates treat those under their charge.

These two leadership characteristics are applicable throughout the entire chain of command, from private to general, and significant lack in either area at any level will doom the operation to failure.

In this light, the importance of the American Soldier becomes obvious. Perfect plans and an ideal chain of command will fail if individual Soldiers do not treat Iraqis with respect. This situation is highly unlikely, because Soldiers tend to follow the example of those appointed over them, but it shows the importance of cultivating a society where individuals have an innate respect for life.

Over an extended period of time, Colonel Coffman convinced General Adnan of his respect and good intentions. He did not try to convince Adnan to change his mind about the American occupation, just about himself:

Despite the initial rebuff, Coffman kept returning each afternoon to pay his respects to Gen. Adnan. The two soldiers gradually became friendly, and Coffman began providing supplies and some training help.

The ensuing relationship is extraordinary, and its results have bolstered our efforts substantially.

Ignatius also provides a quote from Adnan that illustrates what I have long felt and recently experienced: Iraqis are ordinary people. Their culture is different from ours, and like any foreign culture, it is impossible for an outsider to truly understand it. However, the sectarian divides, which seem so impassable from our side of the globe, are not universally accepted, and citizens who desire personal freedom and a quiet life will overcome them.

"I don't care who's Shia, who's Sunni. I want only a good soldier who will fight for his country. I don't want anyone to ask that question, Sunni or Shia. We are all officers."

Ignatius’ closing paragraphs again point to how a personal relationship enabled success on the battlefield:

The Iraqi general looks over at his American adviser and says he's a brave soldier. "In the Mosul battle, he stood shoulder to shoulder with my men." It's obvious he could not pay a higher compliment.

Relationships like this one take time to cultivate, but they are the only way to achieve lasting change.