The war in Iraq has officially ended.
But the fight for that nation continues, along with a U.S. presence for at least 12 months.
President Obama addressed the nation Tuesday night, but it was no “Mission Accomplished” or even a “victory lap.”
With Americans convinced despot Saddam Hussein was a threat to harbor al-Qaida killers and that he possessed weapons of mass destruction, U.S. forces and allies invaded Iraq in March 2003, quickly dismantling the regime of Saddam, who was later captured, tried in Iraqi court and executed.
The Bush administration’s plan for taking down Saddam was quick and efficient. But the thought that Iraqis would be happy with their freedom and suddenly embrace Western democracy was a serious — and expensive — miscalculation.
When America went into the war in Iraq, we generally accepted the idea that Saddam had dangerous chemical weapons. Hindsight is 20/20, and looking back it’s clear that those weapons either did not exist or had been spent before our troops arrived. It is also possible that Saddam, who survived by ruling with an iron fist, fostered the idea that he had these deadly weapons and could use them anytime he wished as a means to discourage revolt against his regime.
U.S. citizens’ support for our troops has never been questioned, but American support of the Iraq war waned as it stretched on year after year.
When the economy crashed, the overseas combat in Iraq as well as Afghanistan became an afterthought for many Americans, who were worried about keeping a job, a home and food on the table.
Since the war started, we have lost 4,400 of our countrymen and women, and another 32,000 of our troops have been wounded. And while the combat mission in Iraq is over, U.S. troops have been increased in Afghanistan, where the fractured nation has been an ideal woodpile for al-Qaida snakes to infest. Our sons and daughters are still half a world away, risking their lives for those of us here.
And there is no reason to expect the violence in Iraq will stop anytime soon either. Given the instability in the country, the 50,000 troops we still have there as an advisory force, possibly until December 2011, are in danger of adding to the death toll, though we certainly hope the last drop of American blood has already been shed.
Great strides have been made in Iraq, but are they enough to give its people a chance to enjoy the kinds of freedoms we take for granted in the United States?
The Iraqis have conducted their first elections — a tremendous feat that relied on the many Iraqis who braved mortal danger to cast their votes. But so far, those March elections haven’t resulted in a new government being formed. That’s the sort of uncertainty that will encourage thugs who profit from discord to strike violently in an attempt to dismantle the fledgling democracy that yet has shallow roots.
Ten years from now, we will very likely look back at Aug. 31, 2010, as a turning point for the region. The question is whether it will be a change for the better. Did we sow the seeds of a bright new democracy, or will Iraq be a case where a brutal secular dictatorship transmogrifies into a brutal theocratic one?
The glass looking to the future is cloudy. We can only hope that when it clears in time, we will see a brighter picture.
— The Albany Herald