Today the war in Iraq is ending. After nearly nine years our long national nightmare in Iraq is almost over. This day may not have come were it not for the years of work by all of the millions of Americans who volunteered, protested, lobbied, organized, donated, wept, prayed and voted for an end to this war. The American people have ended the war in Iraq through our democracy's flawed but still great ability to correct itself.
The movement to stop the war started before the war began. Those were grim times for dissension in America in 2002 only a short time after the horrible tragedy of September 11th. The people who stood up to voice their opposition were doing so out of courage and commitment. Many had their patriotism or character smeared in newspapers, on TV and in the halls of Congress. The adage that "patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel," resonates through the Iraq war.
And from those humble beginnings the movement to end the war grew over several years to become a chorus of millions who changed the political landscape and kept fighting until all of our troops came home. The anti-war movement became the anti-war public. By my last count, more than 50 members of Congress and senators lost their jobs in 2006 and 2008 to an anti-war opponent.
Along the way this movement organized hundreds of thousands of people at vigils, protests, marches, sit-ins and more. Tens of thousands of American were politicized -- learning their organizing skills while opposing the war. The movement built its own apparatus for politics, media, messaging and organizing.
This is the same movement that elected a president who opposed the start of the war and promised to end the war. This week President Obama has kept his promise to end the war in Iraq. He did not do it alone -- the movement that mobilized the public was at his side.
I don't praise the president as an act of partisan loyalty. There is plenty more for progressives to demand from this administration. But with the weight of foreign policy elites and establishment opinion pushing the president to stay in Iraq indefinitely, President Obama rejected a permanent occupation. As we saw over the last several weeks, Republican presidential candidates would prefer we stayed in Iraq forever.
There have already been voluminous tomes written about the war in Iraq, the occupation and George W. Bush. America was lied to by the Bush administration and when the lies were exposed they tried to rewrite history with more lies. But in the end the anti-war public rejected Bush and the lies.
That movement to end the war offers us important lessons we must never forget. Here are just a few.
- Always, always work to prevent wars. War is an absolutely horrible thing. More than 4,500 Americans were killed in Iraq. And probably tens if not hundreds of thousands of Iraqis lost their lives. The financial costs of the war will run into the trillions of dollars when all the expenses of deserved care for veterans is accounted for in coming decades. The loss of prestige for the United States and our values cannot be underestimated even as it is under repair.
America is weary of war and this war has been a psychic trauma on the United States that has shaken core beliefs of many. Now that it is over we must work to end other wars and start nation building here at home.
I started my anti-war activism as a volunteer. Eventually with MoveOn.org I helped organize to end the war focusing on accountability for politicians who supported the war. There are so many people that I worked with over the years who I hope will feel some amount of pride in their work to end the war -- it worked. As these things go, that work will soon be forgotten by history but the fact that millions of Americans joined together for change will not be forgotten. In the end, you ended the war in Iraq.