Never again should the United States send its military into a pre-emptive war based on faulty intelligence and overheated political rhetoric.
Never again should the United States stain its global reputation as a peacemaker by giving up too quickly on strong diplomatic methods that seek nonviolent solutions.
Never again should the United States hamstring its economy by starting an ill-begotten, eight-year war without having a legitimate way to pay the exorbitant bills.
America mustn’t make these mistakes again.
Any war is a messy entanglement that has winners and losers on both sides. This war is no different. The United States has left Iraq with one of its principle goals accomplished — the toppling of dictator Saddam Hussein. A military effort in Iraq that didn’t remove Hussein’s terror grip from his people would have been a supreme misstep.
To be saluted is the valor of the men and women who wore the nation’s uniform. Countless numbers of them honored this nation by doing their jobs with professionalism and dignity. They should be commended.
Nevertheless, the United States has departed Iraq still carrying the baggage that comes with eight years of military action. How wrong it would be to downplay the human toll: nearly 4,500 Americans died in the war; nearly 32,000 were wounded. The scars of this war, of men and women removed from their loved ones, are seen in families across our nation.
That alone is reason enough to be elated over the U.S. exit last week. There were more than 170,000 U.S. troops in Iraq at the war’s height, but only 4,000 remained in Iraq as of Thursday. Most of those will depart soon, leaving only 200 as advisers to the Iraqi military.
Undoubtedly, we cheer the departure of those soldiers.
Yet, we are moved by the solemnity of last week’s ceremony at the Baghdad airport that signaled the end of America’s official involvement in the war. Leon Panetta, the U.S. Secretary of State, honored America’s military in his remarks but did not mention the Iraqi civilians who had died, an omission that didn’t go unnoticed in Baghdad. That’s understandable, considering that more than 100,000 Iraqi civilians are estimated to have been killed since the war began in 2003.
“To be sure, the cost was high — in blood and treasure for the United States and for the Iraqi people,” Panetta said. “But those lives were not lost in vain — they gave birth to an independent, free and sovereign Iraq.”
The short, 45-minute ceremony was devoid of overt celebration. It was a solemn affair, a remembrance of the sacrifices America’s military families have made in this conflict.
Contrast that with the “other” end of the Iraq War — the trumped-up, made-for-television proclamation that President Bush made in May 2003 while standing on the deck of the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln. “Mission Accomplished,” the banner behind him read.
That event was glitz and military glamour.
Last week’s event was the real deal, a serious, somber marking of America’s involvement in a controversial conflict that killed thousands. There was no glitz — and none was needed. The Iraq War is over, but its toll will remain with us forever.
Iraq By The Numbers — Casualties
• U.S. deaths as of Nov. 30, 2011: 4,485.
• Confirmed U.S. military wounded (hostile) as of Nov. 29, 2011: 31,921.
• Confirmed U.S. military wounded (non-hostile, using medical air transport) as of Oct. 31, 2011: 40,350.
• Deaths of civilian employees of U.S. government contractors as of Sept. 30, 2011: More than 2,097.
• Iraqi deaths as of Nov. 30, 2011 from war-related violence, according to Iraq Body Count: At least 103,775.
• Assassinated Iraqi academics as of Aug. 25, 2011: 464.
• Journalists killed on assignment as of Nov. 30, 2011: 174.
— Associated Press