Modern wars may resist definitions of ‘victory’ of ‘defeat’ and they’ll also resist terms like ‘beginning’ and ‘end’ but today was a long overdue milestone with the official withdrawal of the last combat brigade from Iraq. I’m hoping history refers to this as the ‘Money Pit War’ or perhaps the ‘Distraction War’ (Any other suggestions out there?) but I’m sure it’ll follow the trend of amazingly unimaginative names we’ve been giving conflicts for the past 100 years or so and have some sort of B-movie quality like ‘Gulf War 2’ (Gulf War 3D by James Cameron coming next summer!).
Seven years and five months after the U.S.-led invasion, the last American combat brigade was leaving Iraq, well ahead of President Barack Obama’s Aug. 31 deadline for ending U.S. combat operations there.
And so, what do we have to show for our efforts in Iraq? Well, Saddam and his thuggish regime are gone, that’s a positive. Violence continues (admittedly, not at the pace of 2004-2007 but levels that are high by anyone’s standards) and five months after an election, there’s still no Iraqi government in place (those would be negatives).
Long term stability remains in question. We basically may have just gotten things to a point where we’ll be able to wash out hands of the matter if it all falls apart in a couple of years (see: 1972-1975 – S.E. Asia).
I remain dubious that Iraq will now be a long term fast friend of the U.S. and one has to wonder what, exactly, is our return on investment here. We used up a lot of resources in terms of soft and hard power and what exactly did we get for it? If you look at the situation from an idealist perspective, did we bring about a net decrease in human suffering or a net increase in the livelihood of the people there? I’m just not convinced we did.
Even worse, I don’t think Iraq is going to teach us much. Sure, for awhile we’ll get more isolationist but despite the fall in support for the war over time, I think two factors are going to keep any lessons learned from sinking in to the American psyche:
- You’ve still got a vocal group of people who are going to claim that Iraq was a successful mission that we needed to do. They’re going to push that message hard. Hey, they got Nixon to look like a wise statesman and continue to try to turn Vietnam into a victory.
- I just don’t think the war penetrated into the lives of many Americans. Such a small number of people participated, the conflict was just a bunch of talking heads on TV. Is there any sense among the public that we need to avoid war in the future? That we need to look for alternative ways to address conflict? Given the resurgence of talk about attacking Iran, one assumes not.
And so, I say ‘good riddance’ to Operation Iraqi Freedom. If we aren’t going to learn the lessons from it at least we can stop paying the price of it.