This past weekend I watched the continual loop of Saddam Hussein's hanging and I immediately flashed back to the night three years ago when I learned about his capture while serving in the Army's 1st Armored Division and living in one of his former palaces. There was a sense of celebration as we watched the video on CNN of Paul Bremer announcing to the crowd of media in the Green Zone only a few short miles away across the Tigris that "we got him!"
Now, three years later, as I watch Saddam plunge through the trap door do I remember the thoughts that came shortly after his capture -"what next?"
Our soldiers on patrol felt that the unrest we faced in December of 2003 was beginning to boil over and soon we faced an all out insurgency from ranks of Moqtada al-Sadr's militias. It was only days after Saddam's capture that we lost two more soldiers to one the infamous Improvised Explosive Devices, roadside bombs! We began to ask the question - "what next?"
As Saddam swung from the gallows, the American deaths in Iraq surpassed 3,000. Over 2,500 of those deaths have come since Saddam's capture in December of 2003. We are also quickly approaching another milestone in the war - nearly 50,000 soldiers have been medically evacuated for being wounded, injured, or ill. The cost of this war continues to grow and the question still lingers -"what next?"
Today the Angus Reid Global Monitor released a poll that '90% of Iraqis think the situation in their country was better before the U.S.-led invasion. In Washington, there are discussions and study groups that continue to develop suggestions, but nothing we still have not made any decisions. The Iraqi and American people want to know - "what next?"
There is no sense of urgency here in Washington to develop a strategy. The President will not be "rushed" into a decision, and Congress shut down for the holidays knowing that many were packing up their desks for good. One Colonel told me that he attended a State Department meeting where the Chair decided to reconvene the discussion in two weeks. He wanted to stand on his chair and scream, "Do you realize that in two weeks more than 20 soldiers may die?" This Colonel knows that these tough decisions have to be made before more of our soldiers die in Baghdad. The Colonel wants to know - "what next?"
Current discussions in Washington revolve around the expansion of this war and sending tens of thousands of more troops onto the streets of Baghdad to quell the current civil war. I have a friend who is currently commanding a company of troops in Ramadi and he is longing for a strategy. His soldiers drive around on patrols day and night waiting to be attacked so they can focus their energies on the enemy, but they have no mission. The Captain commanding troops on the ground wants to know - "what next?"
Violence in Iraq is at an all time high and over the last three months the number of American troop casualties in Iraq has increased to three a day - the highest total in two years. In December 111 soldiers gave their lives while waiting to find out what's next. It is time for this new Congress to fulfill the promises they made during this past election that was so commonly referred to as "a referendum on the war in Iraq". It is time for our leaders to make the tough decisions that have to be made.
Saddam is dead. We have a new Congress. Ok. What's next?