Thursday, December 15, 2011

Slouching Out of Iraq

Our departure, after nine years, almost 4500 deaths and trillions of dollars, comes not with a bang but a whimper of exhaustion and relief.

“Iraq will be tested in the days ahead,” says Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, “by terrorism, and by those who would seek to divide, by economic and social issues, by the demands of democracy itself.”

No senior Iraqi official attends the ceremony of departure, marked by muted wishful thinking that contrasts with U.S. arrival of “shock and awe” to find Saddam Hussein’s phantom nuclear arsenal.

What we leave behind is a dead tyrant and a fractured, fragile nation.

At this moment, it’s fitting to recall what Robert Byrd warned in 2002 before the Senate voted to authorize the invasion:

"We may not always be able to avoid war, particularly if it is thrust upon us, but Congress must not attempt to give away the authority to determine when war is to be declared. We must not allow any president to unleash the dogs of war at his own discretion and or an unlimited period of time.

"Yet that is what we are being asked to do. The judgment of history will not be kind to us if we take this step.”

In 2007, with the war seemingly lost, George W. launched a Surge of more troops and more money, under the counterinsurgency leadership of Gen. David Petraeus, which stabilized Iraq enough to make possible today’s departure if not in victory, at least without dishonor.

Most of us who opposed the war when it started, including Barack Obama, also resisted the Surge, but it worked well enough to make this day possible.

As we leave Iraq, there is enough sadness, guilt and regret to go around, but what’s important to remember is that “wars of choice” are costly in blood, treasure and American morality.

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