Ending Combat without Bravado
On May 1, 2003, more than seven years ago, President George W. Bush landed on an aircraft carrier in the Pacific with much fanfare, wearing the flight suit of a Navy pilot. With the infamous "Mission Accomplished" banner behind him, the President of the United States, in triumphalist tones declared an end to "major combat operations" in Iraq. He commended the military and his war planners for their work in swiftly bringing down the enemy in Iraq, as well as destroying the Taliban in Afghanistan.
President Bush spoke of the noble cause that the Armed Forces had engaged in and commended them for their bold and swift victory (you may remember Donald Rumsfeld announcing the beginning of the war in terms of "shock and awe."
In this battle, we have fought for the cause of liberty and for the peace of the world. Our nation and our coalition are proud of this accomplishment. Yet it is you, the members of the United States military, who achieved it. Your courage, your willingness to face danger for your country and for each other made this day possible. Because of you, our nation is more secure. Because of you, the tyrant has fallen and Iraq is free. Operation Iraqi Freedom was carried out with a combination of precision, speed and boldness the enemy did not expect and the world had not seen before.
From distant bases or ships at sea, we sent planes and missiles that could destroy an enemy division, or strike a single bunker. Marines and soldiers charged to Baghdad across 350 miles of hostile ground, in one of the swiftest advances of heavy arms in history. You have shown the world the skill and might of the American armed forces.
The way forward might be difficult, but the people of Iraq were free from tyranny and Al Qaeda was deprived of its possible source of nuclear weapons (the President seems to have forgotten that a rather unstable Pakistan did have such weapons). He went on to couch this in terms of the War on Terror that began on September 11th, thereby justifying the war in terms of a response to that attack.
But as we know, despite the military prowess of the US Armed Forces and their allies, the President's vision proved to be an illusion. Saddam Husein might have been defeated and executed, and the Taliban might have been driven from power in Afghanistan, but the road to recovery still remains daunting in Iraq, which remains without a government, and as for Afghanistan, it faces a resurgent Taliban, which simply slipped across the border.
So, tonight another President, one who inherited two wars being fought in Muslim lands (even as 20% of Americans mistakenly believe he's Muslim and many more believing that he kowtows to Muslims), will announce the end of US combat operations. 50,000 troops remain in Iraq in training and support positions, much as 35,000 American troops remain in South Korea, nearly sixty years after that conflict ended with what amounts to a lengthy ceasefire. Instead of delivering his message from the flight deck of a carrier, he will speak from the Oval Office. There will be, I'm sure, commendations for the troops, who have been put in harms way. He will note the sacrifices of those who have died in service to their country. But it's unlikely that there will be the bravado that accompanied the last speech. As the President noted earlier today, there will be no victory laps. Of course, it's quite possible that few Americans will pay attention. As one pundit noted earlier today on NPR, for most Americans, the Iraq War, the end to which President Obama originally based his campaign, has been forgotten by many Americans. Afghanistan, a war zone that predates Iraq, and which got lost in the shuffle as we carelessly ventured into Iraq, remains as volatile today as it did nine years ago.
I am glad that combat troops have returned home. I'm just sad that we got caught up in another quagmire. As for the Iraqi's -- they may no longer have Saddam, but they also are without electricity and security. This isn't the vision laid out in that earlier Presidential speech, but its the reality that this current President must wrestle with. In making these observations, I'm not placing blame on the ability of the to perform its job. I don't want to get into a debate about the surge in 2007. I'm lamenting our lack of vision as a nation that we have yet to realize that we cannot impose our will on the world by force.