Sunday, October 23, 2011

Smart End to a Dumb War

This week Barack Obama answered a question David Petraeus posed eight years ago. A division commander as the Iraq invasion began in 2003, the General was troubled about what a young Illinois legislator would call a dumb war, asking “Tell me how this ends.”

Over 4400 American lives and more than a trillion dollars later, President Obama has replied to Petraeus by withdrawing all troops from Iraq by year’s end.

In his Weekly Address, the President notes, “As we remove the last of our troops from Iraq, we’re beginning to bring our troops home from Afghanistan...(W)hen I took office, roughly 180,000 troops were deployed in these wars. By the end of this year that number will be cut in half, and an increasing number of our troops will continue to come home.”

So ends the most needless war in American history, not with a bang of victory, but a whimper of hope that what the U.S. leaves behind will honor all those lost lives and the damaged souls who came back with psychic scars. Even as we leave, sectarian strife is stirring again.

Like a footnote to all this folly, Condoleeza Rice’s memoir emerges to narrate the 2006 turmoil in the Bush Administration when Iraq seemed to be breaking apart.

“So what’s your plan, Condi?” Bush asked at one point. “We’ll just let them kill each other, and we’ll stand by and try to pick up the pieces?”

Angered by the accusation, she responded that “if they want to have a civil war we’re going to have to let them.”

All along, the former Secretary of States recounts, Vice President Dick Cheney (whose staff was “very much of one ultra-hawkish mind”) and Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld (who resigned after the 2006 election) kept pushing for deeper involvement in Iraq.

The ultimate irony of this tragic war is that Petraeus himself helped provide a less-than-humiliating end with the Surge. A combination of anti-insurgent strategy and a buying-off of Sunni leaders in the Awakening, the General, by now in military charge, pacified the country enough so that the U.S. did not have to leave Iraq as ignominiously as we did Vietnam by flying diplomats off an embassy roof.

Decades later, Vietnam is no threat to the U.S. Will Iraq be as tranquil after the passage of that much time?

Yet for now, most of our troops there will be heading home for the holidays as Barack Obama smartly ends what he once called a dumb war.

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