Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The 10,000

Back in 2001 US Troops in Iraq were down to 50,000. President Obama asked its commanders to ready the final brigades for complete withdrawal in 2011. When General Petraus questioned the timetable, the American public rejected the 'you broke it, you bought it' antique shop rule. The time to say 'Ada'tu tareeqi!' or I'm lost has been replaced by the urge to pack our bags and shout out 'Ma’a salama' or good-bye.

Hopefully no one in the Pentagon thought about issuing the departing soldiers the following phrases 'Araka fi ma ba'd' or 'see you later', just in case the USA decided to preemptively start Iraq War III or The Triquel in order to test the old Fuck It Up Until You Get It Right Syndrome.

That year my British friend returned from Basra, where she had been liaising with the US Army in a diplomatic role for the Foreign Office. I asked her about the security situation and she honestly said, "I don't leave the base, because the insurgents sent their greetings with mortars and missiles. I go to sleep in full body armor."

The situation sounded dangerous and as our troop levels dropped into the low thousands Pentagon strategists computer-tested various scenarios for a safe exit plan and the one name impossible to avoid was Xenophon.

This 5th Century BC Athenian solider/writer participated in an expedition organized by Cyrus the Younger to fight the Pisdians only to discover that the real purpose of the venture was to oust Cyrus' older brother from the Persian throne. The Greeks were angered by this betrayal, but far from home fought at the battle of Cunaxa, at which Cyrus was killed in the slaughter.

The Greek commanders were murdered at a peace conference.

Stranded in Mesopotamia the remaining soldiers called 'The 10,000' banded together under the leadership of Xenophon and others fought their way north through modern-day Iraq to the Black Sea. Afterwards Xenophon wrote ANABASIS, a seven part narrative of their struggle against all odds and the troops cried "thálatta, thálatta", "the sea, the sea!" upon reaching Trabzon or the Turkish city of Trebizond.

I have told every soldier bound for Iraq that I have met, "Head north if the shit goes south."

Hopefully they won't ever have to take my advice.

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