Today is Thursday December 15, 2011. At 5:00 AM eastern time in the city of Baghdad the United States military command lowered its colors and officially brought to a close the military operations in Iraq. After 8 years, 8 months and 25 days the war in Iraq is over. What began with “Shock and Awe” on March 20, 2003 ended this morning with a somber ceremony at the Baghdad airport.
Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, presided over the ceremony. He praised the troops for their efforts and their sacrifice. He said that they were leaving behind a stable, sovereign country led by a democratically elected government.
The President addressed the troops at Fort Bragg. Their unit, the 82nd, was the first unit in and the last combat unit to leave the Iraqi theater. For almost 9 years each and every one of them knew someone who stood in harm’s way. The President, on behalf of a grateful nation, welcomed them home.
Back home the critics wasted no time blasting the President’s decision to withdraw the combat troops. Senator John McCain took his familiar position at the head of the war hawks, stating that the President’s decision to withdraw was based more on his election timetable than the conditions on the ground. Critics fear that the country is too unstable and too susceptible to Iranian influence. They fear that our lack of military presence will cost us all that we have gained. Their concerns are valid.
The fact is that the Iraqi government and the country are in a very precarious position, and things are not as rosy there as our government might have us believe. Unemployment is high. Raw sewage still runs through the streets of Baghdad and most areas have electricity for only a few hours a day. We have trained over 700,000 Iraqi security forces but the police force is poorly trained and ill equipped. Sectarian violence and civil war are a very real possibility. The democratically elected government that we are so proud of is populated by a number of sectarian factions; the most prominent of which is extremely hostile to our interests. And the Iranian influence that critics fear will surface is already there. Fifteen flights a day travel from Baghdad to Iran…more than any other country by far. And if you hail a taxi you will almost certainly find yourself driven by an Iranian driver.
The critics say that these facts are evidence that we are leaving too soon. But they cannot say with certainty that the conditions will be any different if we leave next year or five or ten years from now.
There are those that believe that we should maintain a permanent military presence in the Middle East. Led by McCain, Lindsey Graham and Jon Kyle, they believe that we should invade Syria, bomb the nuclear facilities in Iran and remove the Palestinian threat to Israel. They portray those who follow their lead as patriots and those who disagree as weak and lacking love of country. These people recklessly spout their venom with little understanding of the toll that this unnecessary war has had on our society.
For while the future of Iraq is by no means certain there is one thing that seems quite clear. No matter what course history has in store for Iraq it will never be worth the 4,850 dead, 32,000 wounded and over 1 trillion dollars that we invested in that future.