Thursday, May 1, 2008

Five Years Later and Still No Mission Accomplished

Five years ago today George W. Bush, in flight suit regalia, flew onto the deck of the U.S.S. Lincoln to let America know that we won the war in Iraq.

His speech with the Navy’s accompanying pomp and circumstance made the peace activists look like wimpy losers once again. The dangers of the war they feared weren’t realized—not even close. The call for cooler heads and world peace as a strategy has been shelved once again.

And boy, didn’t Bush look great in that flight suit!

The jubilation, however, wouldn’t last—either for the Americans or the Iraqis. Soon we saw terrible images of destruction. Fire. Burning jeeps. Black, black smoke. Rubble everywhere. Iraqi men in the streets pounding their chests. Iraqi women and children sitting on the ground crying.

However, it was that eerie pattern of death that developed where an American Marine or a soldier was killed every day. People suspected an organized effort, and Al Queda was the likely culprit. After all, Americans had been trained to the shuttering reminder that terrorism could strike at any time in any place in any way on anyone.

That meant that we were all at risk at home and abroad—and one billion Muslims and Arabs from 22 countries in the Middle East were deemed responsible. Nevertheless, that drip, drip, drip effect of death was unsettling.

“Peace protestors,” as they were called, complained that the declarations of victory had been premature. War supporters countered that war requires sacrifices: some people get hurt; some people get killed. They questioned the peace activists’ patriotism and even accused them of treason.

Fallen troops’ photos appeared in the newspaper with rather lengthy obituaries. The PBS Newshour ended each broadcast with a silent display of photos and names of the dead. Each day Yahoo News announced a new death and tallied the total number of deaths. Now the news from Iraq is buried deep within the paper.

Oddly enough, our military commanders who had feared urban warfare saw it come to pass—and in the stifling heat of the desert. Our troops were exposed to extreme danger every time they patrolled the neighborhoods or drove their trucks on the IED-littered highways. When the killings increased, our troops had to be less trusting of the people they were presumably protecting, which included every man, woman and child.

Then there were the troop rotations and the stop-loss system that would beckon soldiers and Marines to return to Iraq to fight two, three and four tours of duty. New traumas cropped up: PTSD soldiers, wounded soldiers, divorced soldiers, suicidal soldiers.

And those poor National Guard reservists who thought they had signed up to be stateside “weekend warriors.” Suddenly they found themselves stuck in the desert far from home and under fire.

Commander-in-Chief Bush was accused of never attending a soldier’s funeral. He still hasn’t.

As the months rolled into years and the death tolls accumulated, some terrible things happened at home. Some people turned off the war by going into denial and avoiding the news.

Others went into depression because they feared a Bush re-election in 2004 and/or an escalation to more war.

A few Bush supporters got ugly and blamed peace activists for inhibiting progress on the war.

Arabs and Muslims became the source of America’s problems.

Conspiracy theorists surfaced with stories about government subversion during 9/11. (In 2006, polls would show that six out of 10 Americans believed Bush didn’t take the necessary precautions to avoid 9/11. Nine out of 10 soldiers believed Saddam was involved with 9/11.) Worst of all, Democrats who took the majority in both houses on the promise to end the war, are failing on their promise.

Almost immediately people started comparing this war to the Vietnam “quagmire” and some fretted that “We’ll never get out.” Others dreaded a return of the “draft.”

That’s when it became clear that many people were still haunted by the ghosts of 30 years before. Presidential candidate Kerry in 2006 and now McCain in 2008 are recalling their war days in Vietnam as proof that they should be elected commander-in-chief.

Other people, young people, those most at risk at being drafted, tried to deal with the war by ignoring it. Their parents silently held their breaths at the prospect of turning over their son or daughter to the harsh and never-ending conflicts of the Middle East.

Now, five years later our troops are still in Iraq and the death and destruction continues, often in more grisly ways like Fallujah and Abu Ghraib, the displacement of four million and the deaths of one million Iraqis. The great hope that our soldiers would return home after a civilian government took over Iraq on June 30, 2004 vanished.

Now, five years later, it doesn’t look as though the United States will ever get out of Iraq. Worse yet, the Bush administration seems to want to pick a fight with Iran.

Will the next president learn anything from this war?

Will the next president be as insensitive to those hurt in the war as Bush has been?

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