It was August 2, 1990, and Saddam Hussein, formerly Washington's man in Baghdad and its ally against fundamentalist Iran, had just sent his troops across the border into oil-rich Kuwait. It would prove a turning point in American Middle East policy. Six days later, a brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division was dispatched to Saudi Arabia as the vanguard of what the U.S. Army termed "the largest deployment of American troops since Vietnam." The rest of the division would soon follow as part of Operation Desert Storm, which was supposed to drive Saddam's troops from Kuwait and fell the Iraqi autocrat. The division's battle cry: "The road home... is through Baghdad!"
In fact, while paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne penetrated deep into Iraq in the 100-day campaign that followed, no American soldier would make it to the Iraqi capital -- not that time around, anyway. After the quick triumph of the Gulf War, the Airborne's paratroops instead returned to Ft. Bragg, North Carolina. And that, it seemed, was the end of the matter, victory parades and all. Naturally, the soldiers using that battle cry did not have the advantage of history. They had no way of knowing that it would have been more accurate to chant something like: "The road home always leads back to Baghdad!" After all, when the First Gulf War ended in the crushing defeat of Saddam's forces and he nonetheless remained in power, the stage was set for the invasion that began Iraq War 2.0 a dozen years later. Perhaps you still remember that particular "mission accomplished" moment.
In the course of that invasion, the 82nd Airborne would conduct "sustained combat operations throughout Iraq." Once the occupation of the country began, paratroopers from the division would return to Iraq in August 2003 to, as an Army website puts it, "continue command and control over combat operations in and around Baghdad." In other words, they were tasked with repressing the insurgency that had broken out after the Bush administration disbanded the Iraqi military and banned Saddam's Baath Party, putting so many armed and trained Iraqis out on the streets, jobless and angry. As it happened, parts of the 82nd would redeploy to Iraq again and again until, in 2011, its 2nd Brigade Combat Team was "the last brigade combat team to pull out of Iraq and successfully relinquished responsibility [for] Anbar Province to the Iraqi government." Then, homeward they went (yet again) and that, of course, should have been that.
But that, as Dr. Seuss might have written, wasn't the end of it; oh no, it wasn't the end. Just this week, with Iraq War 3.0 (and Syria War 1.0) underway, it was announced that the 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 82nd Airborne, 1,000 paratroopers, was being dispatched to -- you guessed it -- Iraq to train up the woeful, partially collapsed, previously American-trained and -armed (to the tune of $25 billion) Iraqi Army. By now, it should be evident that there's a pattern here for those who care to notice. And with this in mind, in "War Is the New Normal" TomDispatch has called back to the colors a site regular, retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel William Astore, to explore the strange repetitiveness of American war-making in these years. Like the 82nd Airborne, he's been on this "road home" before.