Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The End of a War –What, No Parades?

President Obama has announced that the war in Iraq has come to an end and all of our troops will soon be home after nearly 9 long years of battle. You would think that such a monumental and historic achievement would have been met with wild spontaneous cheers and partying in the streets. I mean, it was, after all, a war which lasted almost 9 years, cost billions upon billions of dollars, four thousand five hundred American lives and over 30,000 wounded. Over a million Americans have served in Iraq during the course of the war. A war which brought an end to a bloody dictator who killed hundreds of thousands of his own people, waged war on his neighbors and unhesitatingly used chemical weapons on innocent civilians, including women and children. It brought freedom and democracy to over 3 million Iraqi citizens. So where are the celebrations? Where are the ticker-tape parades for our conquering heroes?

Well, I think there are several reasons why we, as a nation, are not jumping for joy. For one thing we are tired. We are war weary -and we still have a very nasty war going on in Afghanistan (a war which many Americans feel should have remained our main focus until it was won before taking on Saddam Hussein). There is also an unspoken sense of guilt because the war in Iraq was exacerbated to no small extent by mistakes made at the time Saddam was defeated.

Iraq was a country where tensions between Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds were always boiling just below the surface, held in check only by the dictator’s iorn-fisted control of every aspect of their lives. The Iraqi population had lived under fear and total domination for over 3 decades. They lived in a system that told them how to live their lives, where to work, where to live, what to celebrate, in many cases even who and when to marry. They had grown used to an ever-present secret police network which was quick to know when the smallest voice of dissidence sounded and was swift to punish, whisking away people suspected of the slightest offense against the state –often to never be heard from again.

That population woke up one morning to find that Saddam was gone –and more importantly to them, so was his entire secret police. No one was there any longer to enforce draconian laws and dominance. There was suddenly no government at all, no cops, no jails -no one to say ‘no’. All of that combined with the fact that the Iraqi Army was not forced to surrender but was instead allowed to simply dissolve and go home –in many cases taking their weapons with them.

A blind man could have seen what was going to happen in that chaotic environment, but, amazingly, we did not. It was simply not anticipated and provisions were not made in advance to provide policing or vital services –like electricity or food and water. The result was massive looting and chaos which quickly evolved into sectarian violence and a bloody multifacited insurgency. The opportunity for our enemies (including al Qaeda and Iran) to take advantage was served up on a silver platter. And they were quickly in the mix making a bad situation even worse. It took us way too long to get control of the situation and bring democracy by first defeating the insurgencies and rebuilding the country’s entire infrastructure.

Now that it has been accomplished we are just plain tired.

Another contributing factor to our lack of celebration was the timing and the way the end of the war was announced. We are in the middle of a bitter political fight and in an election cycle, An election whose outcome will determine how our country moves forward at time of economic crisis and recession with high unemployment, a housing and mortgage calamity snapping at our feet, violence from drug cartels and an immigration debacle on our southern border, an on-going war on terrorism, and the threat posed by Iranian nuclear weapons ambitions.

With all of that as background our President chose not to announce the end of the war as a great accomplishment of the American people but as the fulfillment of his campaign promise. Wow, talk about taking advantage…

When you think about it, it really is no surprise that there is not wild celebration of a hard fought war finally brought to an end. We are tired, bone weary tired. And we have way too many problems needing attention right now. We are just not in the mood to celebrate.

It’s a shame because we have a right to celebrate. As a nation we not only came to the rescue of 3 million enslaved people but we also rebuilt an entire country. Whatever may happen in Iraq now, it is their choice. A free choice made with a democratic government by people who now have jobs, food, shelter, water, schools, hospitals, open markets and most importantly, the freedom to choose their own destiny. All of that courtesy of the American people, bought and paid for with American dollars, American sweat and American lives.

It is true that the Iraqis have paid a high price in all of those things too –but without the patience, commitment and sacrifice of the American people the Iraqis would still be in the quagmire of civil war and chaos. They would have no free choice, no freedom at all.

It is a shame history has found this moment for the end of that long conflict. We should be celebrating even though we are so tired and so involved in problems at home. Our troops deserve parades and parties, not political speeches. We should be spending time patting each other on the back for a job well done.

Live Long and Prosper....

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