by Victoria A. Brownworth
copyright c 2007 Journal-Register Newspapers, Inc.
The U.S. invaded Iraq on March 20, 2003. According to President Bush, Vice President Cheney, then-Secretary of State Colin Powell and then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, the war was supposed to last a few weeks at most. It would uncover the still-unrevealed weapons of mass destruction that were the stated reason for the invasion, it would topple the regime of Saddam Hussein and it would establish a peaceful democracy in Iraq.
On May 2, 2003, Bush stood on the deck of the carrier USS Lincoln and declared “major combat ended” under a banner asserting “mission accomplished.”
More than four years since that speech, we are still at war and Pentagon sources acknowledge that it would “be unlikely that the U.S. could leave in the next five or even ten years.”
What’s more, the stated objectives remain unmet. There were no WMD. Although Saddam Hussein was not only deposed but executed for war crimes, democracy has not been established and an anarchic civil war based on sectarian strife between Sunni and Shia Muslims is raging out of control, fueled in part by outside agitation–the U.S., the U.K., Syria and Iran.
America has already been in Iraq longer than our nation was involved in World War II. It’s long past time for us to leave. Had the U.S. pulled out when Bush gave his “mission accomplished” speech, the chaos that has overtaken Iraq today might not have occurred.
On July 12th the President reluctantly gave a report on the status of the war. It is not, as most Americans had already deduced, going well. The question is, how much longer will it take to actually force a so-called victory in Iraq? Five years? Ten? Fifty? Forever?
The reality is, we cannot achieve victory in Iraq. Even if it had ever been possible, which is open to debate, it is certainly not possible today nor tomorrow, next year nor next decade. If the U.S. ever had a chance at turning the tide of violence in Iraq and establishing its own counterfeit democracy there, that chance was always elusive. The end game has long been upon us. We have only one option now, and that is to withdraw.
During the presidential campaign in 2000, George Bush was adamant about nation building. He was, he proclaimed, against it.
Yet Bush’s entire tenure as president has been defined by his attempts to restructure and reconfigure the Middle East to his specifications. That has been a woeful and tragic failure in Iraq as well as Afghanistan.
In February, the Democrat-led Congress proffered a bill setting a timetable for troop withdrawal. The Republicans balked at it and the President vetoed it. The Democrat-led Congress then proffered another bill, demanding an update on the war in six months. That report came July 12th.
Mere hours later, the Democrats had already passed a bill calling for total withdrawal of America troops from Iraq. The bill passed by a slim, and regrettably partisan vote–223-201–with a few Republicans defecting to the Democrats’ side.
The bill would summarily end all combat by Americans as of April 30, 2008.
The Senate is expected to pass a similar bill in the next few days, this time with bi-partisan support, as two Republican Senators, Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Gordon Smith (R-OR) have signed on as co-sponsors. Both Snowe and Smith previously rejected Democrats’ calls for troop withdrawal.
Nevertheless, President Bush, has stated unequivocally that he will veto any bill that sets a time-table for withdrawal of troops.
And so we have stalemate to go with the end-game in Iraq.
How, then, do we exit Iraq?
Among the current crop of presidential contenders, every Democrat has called for troop withdrawal as has one Republican. But the tone of the other Republican candidates, particularly front-runners Rudy Giuliani, Fred Thompson and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), has been declaratively pro-war. Giuliani and McCain assert that failure in Iraq means failure in fighting the war on terror. Yet all intelligence sources worldwide have reached the same conclusion: the war on Iraq has exponentially increased terrorism worldwide.
The war on Iraq was, for example, the rationale given by the architects of the terrorist bombings in London on July 7, 2005 which killed 52 people and severely injured–mostly through amputations, third-degree burns and blindness–hundreds more.
Last week, the CIA stated that al-Qeada has renewed itself to pre-9/11 strengths. Yet for the entirety of the war on Iraq, Americans have been told by the Bush Administration that al-Qeada was being defeated.
If the American presence in Iraq has only served to inflame terrorism worldwide, and if we are unable to secure even the Green Zone in Baghdad, what is our function in Iraq?
Can any American outside the Pentagon explain exactly what American troops are doing in Iraq? I don’t mean metaphorically, I mean *literally.*
What *are* our troops doing in Iraq? Are they out on a front line somewhere killing the so-called insurgents, whoever they are? Are they capturing and securing cities and towns? Or are they just maintaining some semblance of order here and there, training Iraqi soldiers and getting killed and injured by IEDs and RPGs?
Throughout the Vietnam War, the unpopular and unwinnable civil war of my childhood, the evening news was filled with images of battle: soldiers in the jungles, helicopters flying over villages. In fact, the Vietnam War was dubbed “The Living Room War” because those images were widely viewed on the evening news.
There are no such images of this war. Americans–including, apparently, Congress–have been kept in the dark about how this war is being fought.
What we do know, we know from returning soldiers and they give very different reports based on where they have been stationed and what action they have seen.
What we do know is that 38,000 soldiers have been injured in combat and another 19,000 have sustained other injuries in Iraq. More than half of the combat injuries are permanently disabling–amputations, blindness, third-and fourth-degree burns. (It should be noted that the Pentagon does not consider amputation of fingers or toes to be amputations, even if all fingers and toes are amputated.)
In addition, the miliary has dismissed nearly 23,000 soldiers for alleged “personality disorders.” This is, sadly, a scam on the part of the military. Soldiers with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are being discharged for allegedly having pre-existing personality disorders. Yet these men and women have already served in combat and many have received commendations, including Purple Hearts and Silver and Bronze Stars. If they are discharged with a pre-existing personality disorder as opposed to PTSD, they are required to return their re-enlistment bonuses and the military is no longer obligated to pay for their treatment.
Iraq Veterans Against the War and other veterans groups are petitioning Congress to demand an end to this practice.
So: Nearly 60,000 injured, 23,000 discharged with PTSD and another 3,637 dead at press time. That’s an extraordinary number of American casualties for what was supposed to be a “surgical” war.
The military now finds it difficult to recruit while the majority of Americans are against the war. The Army has missed its recruitment goals by nearly ten percent for three months in a row. This means those already fighting the war will have to continue to fight, because there is no one to replace them. Many soldiers, Marines and reservists are now in their third, fourth and fifth rotations, exponentially increasing the probability of their being killed or maimed.
Yet as long as Bush refuses to end the war, it will continue. No one has an actual plan for withdrawal even if they are calling for it: not the Democrats, not the Pentagon and certainly not the Republicans, who took us to war in the first place.
How *do* we leave Iraq? Will Baghdad fall as Saigon did?
We cannot turn back the clock on Iraq, unfortunately.
There has been talk in left-leaning circles of impeaching Bush and Cheney for their lies to Congress and the rest of America about the reasons for the war. But with the margin so slim in Congress and the vast majority of the Republicans still standing firmly behind the President on the war, that is an unlikely scenario.
More than 50,000 Iraqis flee their homes each month in Iraq, due to the war. Nearly three million Iraqis have fled Iraq since the war began. Hundreds of thousands have been killed and injured. Thousands of others have joined in the sectarian violence.
Meanwhile, the majority of Iraqis are forced to live in a state of constant terror as the sectarian violence threatens them everywhere–mosques, marketplaces, schools, in line waiting for bread or jobs. Women and children aren’t safe. No one is safe.
This is the Bush Administration’s legacy in Iraq. It seems obvious to all but the President and his closest advisors that the U.S. is doing more harm than good in Iraq and that no goals are being met by the Iraqi government, despite the troop surge.
Baghdad will likely fall as Saigon did, but keeping American troops in Iraq will not prevent that day from coming, it just forestalls it. President Bush and his Republican cohort refuse to acknowledge the reality of defeat. All that is left, then, is for us to count the dead–ours and Iraq’s–and hope for a Democratic president who will withdraw our troops from Iraq. Otherwise, we will indeed be there forever, and the blood will continue to flow.