A few days ago, I watched a ten-minute video of our bombing of Baghdad, on March 21, 2003 in what we called shock and awe in Operation Iraqi Freedom. The bombing followed an ultimatum from President Bush for Saddam Hussein and his sons to leave Iraq. We watched on television the bombardment of the many palaces of despotic splendor and other government buildings. It was a spectacular light show of military pyrotechnics.
This event was a year and a half after we watched the destruction of the World Trade Towers. We have now spent thirteen years of memorial tributes to the brave fire and rescue people who gave their lives on nine-eleven. We have built a memorial to the thousands who lost their lives in this horrendous act of inhumanity, and continue to read their names written in the black granite on which we document the losses of wars and terrorism.
Standing on the rubble of the Trade Towers, President Bush made an appeal to the resolve of the American people and united our country in a patriotic support for a war on terrorism. Thirteen years later President Obama is appealing to the American people and Congress for support of possible military involvement in Syria to degrade and destroy another Islamic group similar to and more inhumane than those who drove the planes into the towers and the Pentagon.
In our 11 year occupation of Iraq, America has grown weary and disillusioned with the series of events in Iraq and Afghanistan and the loss of life and capital and the untold loss of life of Iraqis and Afghanis beyond the losses that have touched our lives and divided our nation politically. We question the decision to invade a country that had done us no wrong, on a deceptive warning of potential risks of mass destruction. We overthrew a dictator, dismantled an army, shifted the advantage of Sunni and Shiite in a religious war, and found no semblance of victory or establishment of a democracy in a world that we do not understand.
Our moment of shock and awe, followed by a decade of boots-on-the-ground combat, has now brought us another political strategy that we call “degrade and destroy.” This is a combination of diplomatic appeal to the Islamic nations and our Western allies to condemn the new Islamic State terrorists and limited missile attacks to destroy those who rape women, kill children, and behead journalists. Our reluctant Commander in Chief, who opposed the two wars, and made a campaign promise to bring them to an end, struggles with the semantics of a war on terror that has no political, religious, or geographic borders.
We are also hearing the voices of those who believe we solve all of our national security problems militarily. We are hearing the same voices of those who gave us shock and awe who were poised and ready to degrade and destroy President Obama for whatever he might have proposed in his speech.
I looked for a definition of “degrade.” I found it to mean “to reduce in rank or status; to dishonor or disgrace; to reduce in worth or value.” This requires diplomacy and some reasoned humanitarian restraint on the part of the President, the Congress, and the military. For this we need the help of the Islamic countries in the Middle East to show some outrage for those who bring dishonor to their religion, and commit acts of cruelty in the name of their god. The more we can degrade ideologically, the fewer we have to destroy militarily in the name of our God.