WASHINGTON, DC—As combined American forces celebrate two consecutive football wins against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish while simultaneously marking the loss of the 3,150th soldier to hostile action in Iraq, many are left wondering if the United States military is in fact focusing its energies on the correct opponent.
"There is no doubt that Navy's recent 46-44 defeat of a motivated, entrenched Notre Dame team after a long drawn-out battle was a masterpiece of leadership, strategy, tactics, and bravery in the finest tradition of the service," said Grant Hughson, an editor at Jane's Sporting News. "And the total Air Force 41-24 domination of the Irish, accomplished by bringing to bear the sort of overwhelming force against which no opponent can retaliate, was a textbook execution of the doctrines of that particular branch of the American armed forces. Meanwhile, however, they seem to be making little or no headway in Iraq."
As the troop surge in Iraq draws to a close, sectarian and insurgent activity seems to have slowed to a near-standstill. However, with the 2007 death toll exceeding 850, more U.S. troops have been lost this year than in any other since major combat operations began, throwing the military's first victory over Notre Dame since 1963 into stark contrast.
"Strange how history repeats itself," Navy historian and football commentator John Feinstein said after the Air Force victory was reported alongside the news that the U.S. was preparing to reduce their commitment in Iraq by at least one battalion. "I don't think anyone who saw it will deny that Roger Staubach's '63 victory over the Golden Domers was inspiring, but I'd bet any money that at the time the Pentagon would've traded it for a victory in Vietnam."
Reactions to the armed forces' lopsided record of domestic and overseas success has been mixed, with many fans of the military pointing out that, while both football and war can be brutal, bloody, and final, the outcomes of combat may take decades to become clear.
"It's important to realize that our young men have been fighting pitched battles against religious fanatics who have been brainwashed into a culture that seeks to destroy all other ways of life," Air Force head coach Troy Calhoun said Monday. "That's just the way Notre Dame football is, the way it's always been. You can't reason with people like that. You destroy them as completely, remorselessly, and quickly as you can."
"Naturally, the young men of our service academy will find the situation infinitely more complex when they're deployed to Iraq," Navy head coach Paul Johnson added. "Compare football to war all you want, but unlike when you go into South Bend, winning in Baghdad means winning the hearts and minds of the people, not pursuing some sort of scorched-earth policy."
Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq and architect of the military's much-criticized current counterinsurgency strategy, offered no comment on whether or not the U.S. was any closer to following up its victories against Notre Dame with one or more much-needed victories in Iraq. However, the West Point graduate did express his disgust with the recent "friendly fire" incident in which the Air Force Falcons shelled the Army Black Knights 30-10 and voiced his support for installing some variation of the option in order to increase the Army's offensive capabilities.