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Byron Williams Headshot

After Seven Years, We Still Don't Know the Truth

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As President Obama addressed the nation for the second time from the Oval Office--the not so subtle message of its importance--he did so without the fanfare that for many came to symbolize the Iraq invasion and occupation: Mission Accomplished.

The president is well within his right to tout the fulfillment of a campaign promise -- the drawdown of combat forces in Iraq. But the contrarian could rightly state that Iraq is hardly stable, and its potential for further destabilization is greater now that American combat forces have left.

The Iraq enterprise was hardly mission accomplished, a slam-dunk, or for that matter, a victory. There was no smoking gun in the form of a mushroom cloud; there were no stored weapons of mass destruction, or any link between Saddam Hussein's regime and al Qaida.

But the most frequently asked question, according to my non-scientific polling: Was it worth it?

The recent CBS poll, posing the very same question, found 72 percent responded with an unequivocal "no"! But hindsight is a tricky thing.

If only the 72 percent who felt it was not worth it today, felt that way on March 20, 2003 when the invasion and occupation commenced. Back then 71 percent, according to Gallup, approved of President George W. Bush's handling of Iraq.

The 20 percent, who felt that invading Iraq was still worth it, are mostly neoconservatives, who are the remaining vestige of the true believers.

This would certainly describe former Ambassador to the United Nations, Josh Bolton. Its not enough that Bolton et al, were the architects of this untenable quagmire, he recently wrote a piece for the Daily Beast where he essentially advocated staying in Iraq indefinitely.

Bolton and the few remaining supporters of the Iraq policy can maintain their speculations because the reasons for the invasion of Iraq do not have a collective truth. Nor is there the will to seek one, not from the president, Congress, or the public.

"Why did we go into Iraq?" is the unanswerable question better suited for dinner parties, allowing the chattering class on both sides of the political spectrum to offer their musings on the subject as if they were fact.

With the exception that Saddam Hussein was a bad person, every preliminary reason for a preemptive invasion was proven false, more than 4400 Americans have made the ultimate sacrifice, along with countless Iraqis, and it has cost America $750 billion, slightly more than the bailout for banks, insurers and automakers; and we don't know how we got there?

Moreover, a search for a collective truth does not diminish the valiant service of those placed in harm's way. Shouldn't we know if the demonstration of their valor was based on a legitimate threat or were they used as pawns of misdirection whenever questions were raised?
How many times were questions about Iraq policy refuted by suggesting the one asking the question did not support the troops?

But in a search for the truth, Democrats would not come out unscathed. In 2002, just before the Senate was to vote on the resolution to go to war, former Florida senator, Bob Graham, who was then-Senate Intelligence Committee Chair, urged his Democratic colleagues to read the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) before casting their vote.

According to the NIE, the Bush administration was guilty of 935 false statements in the run-up to the war.

How could senators vote in favor of war with that many inconsistencies? The better question might be, how many Democrats actually read the NIE after Graham's behest?

Why did Congress utilize more due diligence investigating former President Clinton's Christmas card list than conducting hearings in the run-up to invading Iraq?

If Iraq was indeed a combination of politics, fear mongering, bad intelligence, group think, and cowardliness, I for one want to know. Don't we owe that much to posterity?

As much as the president wishes to turn the page, there are unread back pages that offer a truth that if not examined, America is destined to tragically repeat.

Iraq is the latest proof that we learned little from our Vietnam experience--a belief in militarism that is greater than our ignorance about the place where we've committed troops.

While most Americans feel qualified to respond to the outcome driven, hindsight induced, "was it worth it" question, seven years after the U.S. invaded Iraq few can answer, void of conjecture, how did we get there?