Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Musings About Iraq

Aug. 31 is not only my birthday, but this year it also marked the official end of combat operations in Iraq. For all intents and purposes, Operation: Iraqi Freedom is over. With President Obama's Oval Office address Tuesday night, there are 50,000 troops left in Iraq, serving primarily in an advisory capacity, and the national war focus now shifts back to Afghanistan.

But to what end?

You may recall that I now have my doubts with regards to the war in Afghanistan (read about them here), but it wasn't always that way. I supported the war in Afghanistan when it first started, because that was where those who perpetrated the 9/11 attacks were hiding, and we had to take swift and decisive action in light of those atrocities.

But the war in Iraq was different; it just felt wrong from the onset. The Bush Administration tried to tell us that Iraq and al Qaeda were linked. They weren't. The administration then tried to tell us Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. They didn't.

(As an aside: for a truly eye-opening account of the thinking behind the start of the war in Iraq, pick up the book What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception by former Bush press secretary Scott McClellan. Well worth the time, and you can probably find it cheap at most bookstores.)

Once those reasons were (finally) discredited, the Bush Administration decided to make the argument for building Iraq into a democratic nation, one that would repel terrorist organizations and discredit their narrow ideologies. It likely would've just made Iraq a target for future terrorist attacks, like America and other democratic nations have been, but hey -- no one from the last administration ever asked me.

Don't even get me started on justifying the war based on the idea that Saddam Hussein was gaming the United Nations' oil-for-food program ...

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One of the most under-reported problems inherent within the war in Iraq was the fact that the combat mission diverted attention, focus and resources away from the effort in Afghanistan. Until recently, Afghanistan has been largely regarded as the good war -- the war we had to start after al Qaeda killed over 30,000 of our citizens.

Iraq was always a dividing issue, even before the Bush Administration's reasons for starting that war were proven false. Part of the reason we have yet to find Osama bin Laden and truly bring those responsible for 9/11 to justice is because our military resources and attention has been split for the last seven and a half years. Without the diversion in Iraq, the war in Afghanistan might not have just been more successful, it might be over.

Instead, we still have 50,000 troops in Iraq (at least until 2011) and thousands more being pumped into Afghanistan to do ... what? Nation-building, like we've been doing in Iraq? I thought the idea of Afghanistan was to bring down bin Laden. If that's still the case, high-ranking officials now say he's in Pakistan.

Only we can't go to war with Pakistan. Well, not officially, anyway.

President Obama deserves credit for making good on his campaign promise to bring the war in Iraq to a responsible end. He campaigned on the idea that Iraq was a needless war and we were better served focusing on Afghanistan.

Well, he got it half right. Iraq was a needless war. Because of the Bush Administration's decision to invade Iraq, we have roughly 4,400 American soldiers who died fighting a needless war. Because we invaded Iraq, we still have not brought down Osama bin Laden and dealt a death blow to al Qaeda.

Because of our decision to invade Iraq, our economic woes look even worse, billions and billions of dollars we don't have going to defense contracts and weapons for fighting a war we had no business starting -- on top of the billions of dollars we were spending in turning the good war in Afghanistan into a quagmire of confusion and stalemates.

Credit also goes to President George W. Bush, who in the last month of his presidency began arranging for the withdrawal of combat troops. President Bush drafted the Aug. 31, 2010 withdrawal date in conjunction with the Iraqi government; President Obama merely adhered to the proposal.

Still, it was a campaign promise fulfilled. In a political climate highlighted by a boisterous, ill-informed minority party and a liberal base that's largely disappointed with what President Obama has accomplished so far, that's not nothing.

Now, about Afghanistan ...

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