Ten years ago today the first “shock and awe” troops hit the ground in Iraq. It’s hard to believe that it has been a decade since we blundered into the Middle East in the name of righteous indignation and ran smack into chaos, death and ultimately, ourselves. To say that we haven’t been the same since would, I think, be an understatement.
The tale of our Iraqi adventure is one of failure on multiple levels. Our leadership, including the legislative and executive branches, plus both political parties failed us miserably. The media failed us. We failed each other. And we all ... all failed our brothers and sisters in uniform. That was the greatest failure of all. They took up arms and placed themselves at risk of death and dismemberment because we asked them to. They were pawns in a reckless, unprovoked, preemptive invasion of a sovereign nation that was the result of unchecked hubris. They — and we — were told that Iraq was responsible for the loss of thousands of American lives. That was a lie. Not a mistake, mind you – but a dangerous lie. We then sacrificed them — thousands of them — on the altar of duty, honor and country. They were brave. We were gullible. The result was tragedy. It is one of the most shameful periods in American history, yet it continues still. One wonders if this perpetual state of war will ever end.
It all began, of course, with the destruction of the twin towers. I don’t know anyone for whom this catastrophe was not a defining moment. It shocked, angered and appalled us. It also removed us from of our cocoon of complacency. In the aftermath, we would no longer feel impregnable. We would no longer feel safe.
The impulse to extract revenge is a natural enough one, I suppose. The trouble with it is that it’s rarely worth the price. If nothing else, we’ve surely learned that over the past nine years. Or have we?
The motives behind the Iraqi invasion remain murky to this very day. The current boilerplate answer from former Bush administration members adds up to: we attacked them because they might have attacked us one day. At the time, the Cheney/Bush/Rumsfeld triumvirate pushed the story — the false story — that Iraq was responsible for 9/11 and was very near developing nuclear capability. False intelligence was compiled, and false information was disseminated in order to ramp up support for the invasion. As propaganda campaigns go, this one was a doozy. Those who questioned it were labeled unpatriotic and un-American. As a result, few did. Our communal, burning desire to punish those responsible for 9/11 stripped us of our reason and our ability to question. Even most progressives fell in step in the inexorable march to war. The price paid by all was terrible indeed.
In the run-up, the invasion itself was packaged and sold to a willing public like breakfast cereal. We would capture and kill Saddam Hussein. We would be welcomed by the Iraqi people as liberators. Hardly a shot would be fired. Our forces would be home within weeks. On May 1, 2003, President Bush donned a flight suit, stood on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln where a banner overhead declared “Mission Accomplished!” The irony of this mock victory-lap would eventually be lost in the din of improvised explosive device detonations. The fact that Saddam — as odious as he was — had nothing to do with 9/11 would be lost as well.
Ten years later, over 100,000 Iraqis are dead. Four thousand four hundred-eighty-eight Americans returned home in flag-draped coffins. Estimates of the injured run into the hundreds of thousands. The number of displaced Iraqis is inestimable. Aside from the toll of death and injury, thousands of American families have paid a horrific price for this folly. Substance abuse, the incidence of broken families and suicide among our veterans has soared. We’ve mostly ignored it – and them.
We have spent upwards of $800 billion on the Iraq war. Few would now argue that it was spent wisely. I have heard a great deal of bluster about ill-considered government expenditures over the last four years. But I don’t remember hearing a peep from those same sources over the obscene amounts of money we burned through in Iraq during the Bush years.
Have we learned anything? Truthfully, I don’t know, but I’m not optimistic. It is being noised about that Iran is on the verge of nuclear weaponry. Some advocate American intrusion. There are those who favor military intervention in Syria.
But unless or until war is seen as a horrifying last resort and not some jingoistic national badge of honor, the permanent state of war may be just that.
Bud Wright is a published author and Pasquotank County resident.