... absolutely nothin', ya'll! (Edwin Starr, 1970). That is, except for gaining independence, freeing the slaves, saving the union, stopping Hitler, and a few other minor things.
I've been blogging for over a year and have studiously avoided blogging anything about the war in Iraq. I know it's an issue that provokes a great deal of passion, and I would never want to offend anybody. Let me preface my comments by saying that I don't think everybody who is in favor of staying in Iraq is a baby-killer or warmonger, nor do I think that those who oppose it are unpatriotic traitors or any other such straw man argument. Good people can disagree on this. But here's what I think, on this , the 5-year anniversary of "mission accomplished."
I was in favor of invading Iraq. I thought, based on the information that we had then, that Iraq under Saddam Hussein represented a potential threat as a state sponsor of terrorism who had once had and used chemical weapons and was currently in a long-standing violation of the cease-fire at the end of the Gulf War. I don't feel duped by the Bush Administration about that... I feel like the CIA, the British, the IAEA, Colin Powell, Hillary Clinton, and a large majority of the congress and the American people believed that on good faith. When we didn't find large stockpiles of WMD in Iraq, I believed (and still do) that Saddam probably had used the long period between our initial deadlines and our arrival to get rid of whatever he did at one time have, possibly to Syria. I also never faulted the Bush Administration for "going it alone" when the UN Security Council refused to give a specific authorization for invasion... the French and Russians, with their vetoes (as happened all the time during the cold war--the UN being worthless is nothing new), overrode a clear majority of the security council, and I always belived that both the presence of the "coalition of the willing" and the admittedly weakly-worded resolution 1441 that promised unspecified "consequences" was cover enough.
Of course, the toppling of Saddam took about three weeks and minimal loss of blood and treasure. Bush was greeted with the infamous "mission accomplished" banner on board the aircraft carrier, and "major operations" were over. Despite the embarassment of not uncovering any huge cache of WMD's, I felt like we had done a good thing. Saddam and his murderous, torturing regime were out of power, his sadistic sons were dead, and the rape rooms and torture chambers were out of business. When the Iraqis held their elections, I felt further vindicated.
Then came the long slog to put humpty dumpty back together again. Despite my approval of the initial invasion, I am the first to admit that there was a long period during which our reconstruction strategy was quite flawed. The sectarian fighting (bordering on civil war) and the importation of foreign terrorists calling themselves AQI (Al Quaeda in Iraq) threatened to overwhelm our efforts to build a stable Iraq, and the Iraqis didn't seem to be doing enough quickly enough to warrant our loss of life. It was tempting during that time to "declare a victory" and get the heck out. Many folks who had been against the invasion from the start were ablet to say "told you so." As one who had supported the invasion, I felt then (and feel now) that I was stuck with what Colin Powell called the "Pottery Barn" theory--you break it, you buy it. We had birthed this mess, and had an obligation not to abandon those tens of millions of Iraqis to their fate. Besides that, I felt (and still feel) that the idea that we would somehow be better off had we never gone was simply not true. Had we never gone in, Saddam would still be running the same evil, totalitarian, and potentially dangerous regime. But it was a lonely place to make a stand.
Then came David Petreaus and "the surge." I was, of course, hopeful that it would work, but I was skeptical. Then, miraculously, casualties came down, and things began to get better. I have a friend who is serving in Baghdad who emails me regularly, and there is no doubt from his letters that things are much, much better. Far from perfect, of course. But I think Harry Reid's oft-repeated quote of "this war is lost" was more than a little premature. What's more, we now have this AQI group repeatedly calling Iraq the central battleground of the worldwide jihad. Even if we brought that group into the area by our own poor choice in going in, that's where they are now. And it looks to me like we're beating them.
That's why I oppose a precipitous withdrawal from the region. Some troops are already home, others are on their way, and I hope more will follow as the generals on the ground decide it is safe. But I envision an immediate pullout ending with the equivalent of helicopters lifting off the roof of the US embassy in Saigon in 1975. And let's not forget that following that evacuation, there were the boat people, the refugees, the re-education camps, the killing fields in Pol Pot's neighboring Cambodia. I feel the US was at least partially responsible for those things then, and would not want to do the same thing now. (As an aside, I don't think it would have been necessary to go 100% back into Vietnam in 1975... aid to the south and air power might could have done the trick.) I think that a withdrawal followed by chaos in Iraq would be viewed (and correctly) as a retreat, and as weakness that would embolden those who hate us.
However, I would be very, very happy to see the whole thing over as soon as possible. The sooner, the better. But the part I want to see over is 100,000+ troops on long-term deployments taking regular casualties. It wouldn't bother me at all to have 30-50,000 troops stationed there as a regular duty station, without a full war footing. After all, we've got bases in Germany, Japan, South Korea, even the infamous Guantanamo Bay (a relic of the Spanish-American War of 110 years ago). All of those are after-effects of wars we WON. And some (like Korea) are still in harm's way. Notice that we don't have a base in Vietnam... because we lost that one.
Anyway, I guess that makes me "pro-war." Or at least "anti-withdrawal." It's one more reason (along with my personal key issue of being pro-life) that I can support John McCain in spite of my numerous other issues with him. Please notice before you drop flaming vitriol in the comment section that I have tried very hard not to disparage those who feel differently, only to walk through what I personally believe out here in public.