The slogan on the aircraft carrier was wrong. It should have read, “The War Is Over,” and not “Mission Accomplished.” And President Bush should have emerged from his arrival jet not in a flight suit but in civilian dress.
The conundrum is underscored by Shelby Steele’s “White Guilt and the Western Past” article in a recent Wall Street Journal. An excellent exegesis of the current American cultural ambivalence toward minority peoples and attitudes, but misplaced, it can be argued, when applied to Iraq. The Iraq “war” was prosecuted to the fullest: the Iraqi Army was defeated, and subsequently disbanded. The “leader” of these enemy forces was snagged from his underground hiding place and placed on interminable trial.
“Certainly since Vietnam, America has increasingly practiced a policy of minimalism and restraint in war,” writes Steele. “And now this unacknowledged policy, which always makes a space for the enemy, has us in another long and rather passionless war against a weak enemy.” Stop calling the current condition in Iraq a war. Stop the President and his Secretary of Defense from continuing to call for a continuation of the “war in Iraq.” It’s over. We won. By any measure of conflict. What we are now engaged in is the confusion of a postliminium made impossible by the very nature of the defeated. It was not, is not, a nation. It is the invention of a long-past British Empire, a tri-partite amalgam whose pieces are not acquainted with nationhood and whose allegiances are sectarian, if any.
Would a nation countenance the daily massacre of scores of its citizenry, inspired by sectarian malice, without a whimper? Would a nation confound its re-emergence in petty quarrels based loosely on which imams are to be obeyed? Would a nation kill scores of its own people while only occasionally slaying a battle-dressed member of a winning army? The answers expose the better explanation for American presence in Iraq, a phrase we are now hearing more often: “nation-building.” How to build a nation now, when decades ago an imperialist friend of ours did it simply by drawing a line on a map? Can nationhood be imposed, or is it home grown?
Expunge that phrase, “we’re sticking until the war is won.” It has been won. Go back to the aircraft carrier under a proper banner. Mourn and honor those who lost life and limb winning a war. Honor them more by acknowledging that the mission to be accomplished now is not ours — it is theirs.