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Robert Creamer

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The Iraq War Is Over... Lesson for Progressives: Yes We Can.

Posted: 12/14/11 10:32 AM ET

Sometime in the next 15 days, the last American troops will leave Iraq -- and the War that began almost nine years ago will finally come to an end.

Today, President Obama addresses some of those returning troops at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The big difference between those troops and many others who have returned from the War in Iraq, is that none of them will be deployed on yet another tour to Mosul or Kirkuk or Baghdad -- or any of the other Iraqi cities that became so familiar to Americans over the last decade.

The end of the War in Iraq is a major event in American history, since in many ways, that War was the defining historic event for an entire generation of Americans.

There are those who would minimize the importance of the final withdrawal of our troops from Iraq by pointing to the unfinished business of the War in Afghanistan, or the use of civilian contractors. Those are important issues, but they should not diminish the extraordinary significance of the fact that the Iraq War has come to an end.

Most importantly, Progressives -- and all of those who fought for a decade to prevent and then to end the Iraq War -- should take a moment to celebrate the fact that they have won a critical, historic battle.

There is a lot of cynicism in America -- a sense that it doesn't matter what you do -- that ordinary people can't really have an impact on the big decisions and big institutions of our society. The end of the War in Iraq shows that the cynics are wrong.

What began in 2002 as an effort to avert the war in Iraq, grew to a chorus of millions who changed the political landscape and who kept fighting until all of our troops came home. That movement elected a president who promised to end the war -- a president who this week has kept that promise.

In September 2002 -- a year after 9/11 -- President George Bush began what he and his aides called a "marketing program" to convince Americans that our country should invade Iraq. That campaign ultimately included some of the most egregious lies ever told by an American president.

Bush told Americans that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. His Secretary of State warned that we could not wait for a "smoking gun" to prove these allegations, because it might prove to be a "mushroom cloud."

Bush and his vice president, Dick Cheney, argued that Iraq was the central front in the "War on Terror" -- even though there was never one shred of evidence that Iraq supported the 9/11 terrorists or had anything whatsoever to do with Al Qaeda. Bush and Cheney actually said -- with a straight face -- that "If we weren't fighting them in Iraq, we could be fighting them in the United States."

Much of the nation -- newly traumatized by the 9/11 attacks -- supported the president. And of course, who could imagine that a president would simply fabricate the rationale for a war?

Just a month after Bush launched his campaign to get support for war with Iraq, State Senator Barack Obama was invited to speak to a rally in Chicago's Federal Building Plaza. There he stated firmly and unequivocally his opposition to the invasion of Iraq. At the time, that position was unpopular -- particularly for a politician with ambitions for higher office. But the organizers of the rally did not have to coax Obama to take his tough stand. Obama was eager to be part of the nascent movement that opposed the potential War in Iraq.

When he ran for United States Senate two years later, Obama continued his strong opposition to the Iraq War. And there can be little doubt that he became the Democratic nominee for President in 2008 in large measure because of his consistent, principled opposition to the War.

In his campaign for president, Barack Obama promised to end the War in Iraq. Now he has kept that promise.

When he took office there were nearly 150,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. Within the next two weeks there will be none.

The Republicans that started the War -- Neo-cons like Dick Cheney, former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice -- as well as the major Republican Presidential candidates -- have all spoken out against the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. They have made clear that they would never have signed the Status of Forces Agreement with the Iraqi government that set up a time-table for withdrawal, had they not intended to change it.

Obama's Republican opponent, John McCain, has been particularly outspoken in his opposition. McCain, after all, once said that he had no objection to American troops remaining in Iraq for a hundred years.

It is virtually certain that had John McCain become president, our War in Iraq would have continued for years to come. After all, one of the major Neo-Con goals for the war was a permanent base of operations in Iraq.

But President Obama and the movement against the Iraq War have decisively won the battle for public opinion. Last month's ABC/Washington Post poll found that 78% of Americans support Obama's decision to leave Iraq at the end of the year.

In the end, Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stieglitz believes the War will have cost America over $3 trillion -- including the cost of rehabilitation and care for the tens of thousands of soldiers who were wounded in Iraq.

Whatever the final figure, most Americans have a profound belief that it is time to use the funds we save by ending the Iraq War to rebuild America and the American economy.

Every dollar that went to fight the Iraq War was a dollar that did not go to repair a highway, build a mass transit system, educate a child or invest in new sources of energy.

Everyday Americans, and economists of every stripe, understand clearly that one of the principal forces that converted the budget surpluses of the Clinton Administration into the largest deficit in American history was Bush's decision to launch extravagantly expensive wars at the same time he cut taxes for the wealthy.

And everyday people understand that the end of the War in Iraq -- and ultimately the end of our engagement in Afghanistan -- will, contrary to Republican doctrine, strengthen America.

The War in Iraq was used by terrorists worldwide to stoke hatred for our country and to recruit young people to their ranks. It sapped our country of trillions of dollars, stretched our military to the breaking point, caused popular support for America to plummet around the globe and dealt a powerful blow to America's moral authority.

Most Americans realize that the decision to launch the War in Iraq was one of the biggest foreign policy disasters in modern American history.

But there is also a deep well of respect and support for the million men and women -- both military and civilian -- whose sacrifice allowed a hopeful outcome to be salvaged from a disastrous series of decisions by the Bush Administration.

Progressives must be resolute in preventing Republicans from using cuts in the benefits or care for returning warriors to pay for their tax breaks for millionaires.

And Progressives should do something else as well. While we recognize there is much to be done -- let's take a moment to celebrate an historic success. The end of the Iraq War demonstrates that "Yes We Can!" is more than a campaign slogan. It reminds us once again that everyday people can successfully organize to change history.

Robert Creamer is a long-time political organizer and strategist, and author of the book: Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win, available on Amazon.com. He is a partner in Democracy Partners and a Senior Strategist for Americans United for Change. Follow him on Twitter @rbcreamer.

 
 
 

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