It is noteworthy that the U.S. military's war in Iraq is officially over and that American troops are returning home after 7 ½ bloody years. Mission Accomplished. Major combat operations over. Sounds eerily familiar. The question remains: are we really leaving? And was it worth the bloodshed?
In my books, we're getting while the getting's good, before civil war and all hell breaks loose between Sunnis and Shiites. We're also hightailing it home because 65% of Americans have had it with this war. Barely a scintilla of support remains for a war built on fabrications about Iraq's connection to 9/11 and Saddam Hussein's possession of weapons of mass destruction. The tragedy is that support for the war did not disintegrate years ago because, as a result of those falsehoods, a million or more Iraqis have died violent deaths according to Opinion Research Business poll (August 2007) and four thousand four hundred and sixteen young American men and women perished. Those who survived Operation Iraqi Freedom, and nine out of ten soldiers did thanks to body armor and better-equipped medics, returned as walking wounded and are permanently impaired. Limb-loss occurred twice as often in Iraq as in any conflict of the past century and countless thousands of warriors came home with severe and lasting disabilities, including loss of arms, legs and PTSD.
And their sacrifice was for? According to Republican Senator Lindsay Graham-- a stable and secure democracy in Iraq allied with the United States in its war on terror was worth all the pain, suffering and death. And, he says, having the first democracy in the Middle East nestled between Iran and Syria makes America safer. With all due respect, nothing could be further from the truth. Iraq is neither stable nor secure. Political stalemate has paralyzed Iraq and more than a dozen American troops continue to be killed or wounded there every month. America is certainly not safer with home grown terrorists popping up like weeds; and American Muslims are feeling less safe than ever because of Koran and mosque burnings and the controversy swirling around the Ground Zero Mosque is provoking antipathy between Muslims and Christians. Disturbingly, a renewed crusader weltanschauung is now attributed to Western Christians by those of the Muslim faith.
Perhaps that explains why the photo-op end of combat operations happened with such velocity that it barely graced your tv screen. In fact, Vice President Biden and Defense Secretary Gates' requisite hand shaking and back patting while turning over command to Iraqi Premier Nuri al-Maliki, occurred while Americans were frolicking in the surf during the last days of summer and was quickly washed out of the news cycle within 24 hours, superseded by Middle East Peace talks in Washington. Better to focus the American mind on hope for the future than on a 7 year failure.
Although, the political timing was impeccable. The handover took place just 8 weeks before a US mid-term election in which Congressional Members stand to be routed by a growling electorate ready to ring any Democratic neck. Democrats, looking for any lifeline they can grab onto for political survival, can now remind constituents that the troops will be home for the holidays. In such a grim political cycle such news may be of small help, because the electorate is spitting mad about the jobs picture with14 million Americans unemployed and no jobs in sight. Returning troops will only increase those unemployment figures and the prospect for being hired is bleak.
President Obama said in his Oval office address, it's time to "turn the page" in Iraq; indeed, there's no option but to turn the page because America, as well as the rest of the world, has lost trust in the U.S. government and can no longer compute the false premise on which the war was based with the spilling of their childrens' blood. As the president pronounced the end of combat operations in Iraq, I could not help but wonder, now that the war has officially ended, what do we tell the parents of our remaining troops should any of them perish in a random Al Qaeda attack or as the result of a roadside bomb? Will their children be touted as heroes? Will their home towns fly flags on the day of their funeral? Will thousands come to mourn for them and thank their parents for their ultimate sacrifice now that combat missions have ended? What decorations will those children receive? Will any of them receive full military honors or Purple Hearts if the war is over?
Operation New Dawn, said the Vice President, is "remissioning," that is, the remaining 50,000 U.S. troops will no longer be fighting, but are instead entrusted with training, advising and assisting our Iraqi brethren to run their own security. However, that new mission won't be behind closed doors in some hermetically sealed environment. Rockets and mortars are constantly fired into the Green Zone and the insurgents are threatening to use anthrax on our troops inside the wire. The soldiers we leave behind still have to drive into the cities and countryside every day and into harm's way. Who says IED's will have vanished from the roads? And what happens if American soldiers continue to die in Iraq? Do we go back in full force like the French did in Algeria?
We also leave behind world's largest embassy filled to the brim with non-military contractors and diplomats. The $592 million embassy, with operating costs totaling $1.2 billion a year, occupies 104 acres, the size of approximately 80 football fields. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) criticized the size and cost of the complex. "We have said over and over again that we don't want to be seen as an occupying force in Iraq, but we're building the largest embassy that we have -- probably the largest in the world -- in Baghdad. And it just seems to grow and grow and grow." Granted, the U.S.will no longer be there unilaterally as an invading force, but the Embassy will be populated by 5,000 diplomats and 7,000 private security contractors and military troops who will guard the diplomats. In short, it doesn't sound like we're leaving any time soon.
Bear in mind too, that we are handing over control of Iraq to our "partner." What partner? There is no Iraqi government. So who's in control? Couple the lack of a coherent government with the fact that Iraq is a tinder box fueled by Shiite-Sunni tension and it could explode at anytime, causing further bloodshed, civil war and chaos. The future looks cloudy at best.
Democracy? This is a tribal society where loyalty is shown only to brothers, sisters, fathers, uncles and other members of the tribe. Folks who served in Iraq complained about how Iraqis would sometimes choose to settle some ancient grudge by tricking American military leaders into believing that their tribal enemy was the Al Qeda terrorist they were looking for. As a result, many innocent Iraqis were killed. So now, no one knows who to believe. Also, with US troops out of Iraq watch for extremists to rear their ugly heads hoping to turn Iraq into an Iran-style fundamentalist state. And by the way, while we're drawing down troops, our soldiers are being replaced by highly paid civilian security forces. We're just filling the empty beds with private forces. Blackwater types. And they aren't the good guys. And by the way, the real reason we're still in Iraq and were there in the first place is because Iran and Iraq were challenging our right to be the most dominant power in that part of the world and remember, whoever controls the oil controls the world. Stay tuned.
Kandie Stroud is the president of an international public relations firm based in Washington DC and a Democratic media consultant for the campaigns of presidential candidates as well as for a diverse range of major organizations. She is a former print and broadcast journalist who served as Chief Diplomatic Correspondent for CNN, wrote for the New York Times, Newsweek and Fairchild Publications. She is the author of the best-selling book on the Carter campaign, How Jimmy Won.