So now that we’re out, what did we accomplish?
Historians may someday conclude that the most curious incident of Barack Obama’s presidency occurred in October 2011. When Obama announced that the last of our troops would be withdrawn from Iraq by year’s end, the news was almost lost amid the tsunami of economic news and metronomic campaign debates. There were no great outpourings of emotion, ringing speeches, or UN hyperbole. The moment was, like Sherlock Holmes’ observation of the dog in the night-time, curious because of the silence that surrounded it.
Why would the most controversial war since Vietnam end without as much controversy as when it began? The reason is that that America tuned out the Iraq war years ago. The horrific Sunni vs. Shia violence that overwhelmed Iraq after the Samarra mosque bombing in February 2006 was quelled by General Petraeus’s troop surge. When the violence subsided to Iraq’s new normal, so did the controversy. From late 2008, America has been interested in almost nothing but economic news. And, from 2009, we’ve had a president who kept the willing media focused on everything other than the war.
Too little political attention has been paid to the war in general and Iraq in particular. To the extent that Americans debated the war at all, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan—and the deaths of Osama bin Laden and Anwar al-Awlaki—were isolated events, worlds away from the economic crisis that diverted our attention from everything else.
We know, from the memoirs of George W. Bush, Richard Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Tony Blair, and George Tenet, the reasons for the decision to launch the U.S. invasion of Iraq. They’ve also tried to explain the choice of a post-war occupation and nation-building effort that commenced there and in Afghanistan. That wisdom (or lack of it) cannot be measured at this moment in time.
Too many books have already been written on whether we “won” or “lost” the war in Iraq. That question is unresolved because of President Bush’s failure—and that of his successor—to define correctly the war that began on 9/11. (There is a strong argument that it began long before 9/11, with bin Laden’s fatwa against America in 1996, or as far back as 1979 with the advent of the Iranian kakistocracy.) Neither Bush nor Obama had the wisdom to define it correctly as a war with the nations that sponsor terrorism and the hegemonic ideology of Islam that propels them. That war could not have been won within the borders of Iraq, though it may have been lost.
We know what it has cost us. At this writing, we’ve spent 4,287 American lives. Last summer, the Congressional Budget Office estimated the cost of the war at that date was about $709 billion. (The Congressional Research Service set the cost higher at $748 billion.)
President Bush said (and wrote in his memoir) that our goal was a unified, democratic Iraq that could govern itself, sustain itself, defend itself, and serve as an ally in the “War on Terror.” As we shall see, it’s apparent that no part of this goal has been achieved, and that the progress made toward them is fleeting.
SO WHAT HAVE we accomplished in iraq? Are these accomplishments worth the sacrifices we—or, more accurately, our military—have made?
It appears that our principal accomplishment in Iraq is that we have given the Iraqi people their freedom. It is theirs to use as they see fit. Have we? And is it?
For decades before 2003, Iraq had been ruled by a Baathist dictator who had tortured and murdered his people, sometimes en masse, even with chemical weapons. Saddam was Sunni, and oppressed the Shia relentlessly. Some of their most prominent clerics allied themselves with Iran, overcoming the Arab-Persian enmity solely to seek succor from Saddam’s repression.
Iraqi Kurds were relatively rich, their northern homeland containing some of the nation’s biggest oil fields. But their border with Turkey was often aflame with cross-border military action by Kurdish terrorists known as the PKK and Turkey’s actions against them.
From these facts we should have understood that Iraq was not a nation. Its citizens had no unifying loyalty to an Iraqi state. They were not bound by a common purpose to a common good. Iraq and Afghanistan were nations in name only before we invaded them, and are not nations now. In neither state is there a strong nationalist spirit that overcomes tribal and religious rivalries.
We invaded Afghanistan quickly after 9/11, and chased the Taliban out of Kabul in short order. But it was a very shallow and inconclusive victory. President Bush, as his memoir says, believed we had a moral obligation to leave “something better” behind there than the primitive dictatorship we drove out. Unless we captured or killed bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Omar—both hard, elusive targets—a “victory” in Afghanistan to adequately avenge the 9/11 attacks had no tangible goal.
Over this loomed Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Since the 1991 Gulf War, Saddam had consistently defied one UN Security Council resolution after another. His military forces challenged the “no-fly zone” (enforced by U.S. and British aircraft) often, resulting in increased tension and occasional firefights when our air forces—or those of the British—fired at Iraqi anti-aircraft missile sites in response to Iraqi action targeting or actually shooting at them.
Saddam played his role to the letter, defying the U.N., playing host to some of the most notorious terrorists such as Abu Nidal and—as we later discovered—al Qaeda’s Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The game he played—refusing to cooperate with UN weapons inspectors to conceal from his loyalists that he lacked the weapons he was thought to have—was ultimately his undoing.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
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The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
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