The 10th anniversary of the Iraq war occurred earlier this month. The war started on March 20, 2003, with an aerial “Shock and Awe” attack intended to kill Saddam Hussein, and then the ground and air war followed shortly thereafter. Within three weeks Baghdad fell; the toppling of the statue of Saddam signaled the end of his regime.
By May 1, 2003, President George W. Bush declared that major combat operations were over. At that time, the number of U.S. deaths was less than 50. However, a lengthy and bloody phase to the fighting followed over the next several years in which the number of American deaths would climb to over 4,000, and the number of wounded would be in excess of 30,000. The last combat troops were pulled from Iraq by Dec. 30, 2011.
On these points, there is little argument. But on almost every other point relating to this conflict — its causes, how it was conducted and the results 10 years later — significant arguments can be made. Did Bush and his aides mislead the American people about the threat of weapons of mass destruction or did they act in good faith on the information available to them? Did the U.S. military and civilian leadership who assumed control of Iraq err in how they administered the country? Are the outcomes in terms of the current elected Iraqi leadership even close to the democracy envisioned at the onset of hostilities?
On the negative side, Iraq is struggling to pull together as a country. Arab Sunnis still vote for Sunnis, Shiites vote for Shiites and Kurds vote for Kurds. Charges of abuse of power surface regularly. Insurgents, both domestic and foreign, still cause misery with suicide bombs. Whole neighborhoods, formerly mixed among ethnic and confessional groups, have undergone ethnic cleansing. Iraqi Christians are fleeing Baghdad and Mosul whenever possible. The power grid is irregular, even in the stifling heat of summer. Iraq is no longer a certain counter-balance to Iran. Those so inclined could look to the Saddam era as the good old time.
On the positive side, truly free parliamentary elections have been held twice, with a large majority of voters participating in the elections. While parliament is only marginally effective — sort of like the U.S. Congress — most disagreements are being resolved through negotiation, not fighting. Both print and electronic media have a degree of freedom that they could only have dreamed about under Saddam. The day of building lavish palaces for Saddam and his friends is over. The Saddam era prisons and torture facilities are now derelict, or have been turned into museums. The Kurds, oppressed so savagely by Saddam, are turning their autonomous region into a peaceful and prosperous region they term “the other Iraq.” Certainly, there is good news for those who seek it.
On this 10th anniversary of the war, what ought we to do? First and foremost we need to thank and honor those brave Americans who accepted the command to serve in the armed forces in Iraq. Whether career service men and women, or those called up in National Guard or Reserve units, the vast majority of these people represented the U.S. in ways that would make us proud.
Beyond this, we ought to be vigilant to calls for the employment of U.S. forces in conflicts around the world. Can we be sure that the sacrifice of even one life is in America’s best interest?
If we do this, then we honor those who gave their lives and their health in this conflict.
Americans must be vigilant to calls for the employment of U.S. forces in conflicts around the world.