By William Pfaff

Ten years ago, invading American troops were moving through stifling dust storms towards Baghdad from Basra, Iraq's second-largest city, which British forces were fighting to secure.

Baghdad's outskirts were reached on April 3, and the Baghdad airport taken on April 9. The George W. Bush adventure to create what Washington's neo-conservatives called the New Middle East was well launched. Today it has proven a fiasco, all the lives wasted.

American troops have been ordered out of Iraq by the American-sponsored Nuri Kamal al-Maliki government, and Iraq continues to experience grave sectarian and ethnic conflict. The new American secretary of state, John Kerry, has just been in Baghdad to demand that Iraq cease allowing Iranian aircraft to use the country's air space to supply Syrian troops fighting the civil uprising in their country. According to The New York Times, after a "spirited" discussion between the Iraqi prime minister and Mr. Kerry, "there was no tangible sign that the Iraqis would alter their position."

Meanwhile, President Barack Obama was in Israel, where he reiterated to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu America's unhesitating support for Israel in any war with Iran. More lives to be wasted.

There is no sign anywhere of a New Middle East. There are only intimations of more American-supported war to come, likely to involve Iran, Iraq, Syria or Lebanon -- as well as continued war, in and after 2014, in Afghanistan.

The article below, in a longer version, was distributed on March 20, 2003. I repeat it here as a meditation, originally concerning the professional troops committed to the invasion, but now an homage to all those killed on all sides in Iraq, all of them innocent or inadvertent sacrifices by nations, religions and the pride of the powerful, to that insatiable Moloch, History.

"The professional soldier's role, one of the most ancient in human society, is like no other because it is inherently and voluntarily a tragic role, an undertaking to offer one's life, and to assume the right to take the lives of others. The latter, morally speaking, is probably the graver undertaking. The intelligent soldier recognizes that the two undertakings are connected. His warrant to kill is integrally related to his willingness to die.

"A former commander of the U.N. Protection Force in Bosnia, Phillipe Morillon, has remarked on the moral anomaly of the modern American military preoccupation with 'zero casualties.' He asks, 'how can you have soldiers who are ready to kill, who are not ready to die?'

"That long relationship left me bemused by the nature of the soldier's vocation, which ordinarily is to serve anonymously. The act of enlistment removes the choice of the cause for which the soldier is sent to fight. To die as a deliberately elected risk in the service of values consciously chosen is one thing. The soldier is trained to serve national objectives or policies that he may not understand or to which he may be hostile.

"The professional soldier finds honor in what may be called the absurdity of this situation. The 19th-century poet and professional soldier Alfred de Vigny wrote of the soldier as 'scapegoat' for a public 'to whom, and in whose stead, he is daily sacrificed.'

"A form of moral stoicism is thus required of soldiers, ordinarily evoked by refocusing loyalty upon the unit and on comrades. This is notable, for example, in the French Foreign Legion, whose soldiers are trained to give their loyalty not to France but to the legion. The state secures itself by means that are not always moral. Yet the security of the state is a moral objective, and indeed its primordial political obligation. The agents of the state, particularly its military services, are caught between.

"This is why Vigny also wrote that the soldier is both executioner and victim. The army is a machine to kill but 'is, too, a machine capable of suffering.' What it does in the service of the state is at potentially fatal cost to its members.

"Because it is a company of those prepared to die, it possesses the moral authority to set terms and a limit on the claims of the state. This, Vigny concludes, is the 'grandeur' of the soldier's 'servitude.' One is uncomfortable with a war instigated and directed by the military virgins who head the Bush administration -- who would not understand any of this."

The Honorable Absurdity of a Soldier's Role - United States Current Events