After eight and a half deeply tragic years highlighted by the deaths of nearly 4,800 U.S. and coalition forces, at least 100,000 Iraqis and millions of people displaced, the Iraq war finally is over.
President Obama, on a military and foreign policy roll, today announced a complete drawn-down of U.S. troops at year's end after he failed to reach agreement with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki that would have left a force of 3,000 to 5,000 training troops and some special operations forces in the country.
"After nearly nine years, America’s war in Iraq will be over," the president declared in the White House briefing room shortly before 1 p.m. "Over the next two months, our troops in Iraq, tens of thousands of them, will pack up their gear and board convoys for the journey home."
"The last American soldiers will cross the border out of Iraq with their heads held high, proud of their success, and knowing that the American people stand united in their support for our troops," the president added. "That is how America’s military efforts in Iraq will end."
Obama's lofty words aside, Iraq will inevitably slide into chaos if not another civil war, although the president appeared to leave the door ajar to possible future negotiations over military trainers.
The majority Shiites, minority Sunnis and independence-minded Kurds have been unable -- I would say unwilling in the case of Al-Maliki and the Shiites -- to reach anything even vaguely resembling political and social rapprochement, while the long and malevolent shadow of Iran will insinuate itself ever deeper into Iraq.
Long story short, the president might as well have declared "Mission Not Accomplished" in bringing to an end the fool's mission fueled by neocon hubris that began with a March 2003 invasion on the dubious grounds that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and a fledgling nuclear weapons program, and when those turned out to be bogus, the inane assertion that he was directly involved in the planning and execution of the 9/11 attacks.
By my rough estimate, I have written about 500 posts on Iraq, and it was the war itself that compelled me to begin blogging in November 2005. For the following two years a detailed map of Baghdad and its crazy quilt of neighborhoods hung over my desk so I could quickly identify the location of the latest suicide bombing or attack on American troops. And there were plenty.
I frankly didn't think that I would be writing this post anytime soon, but Obama is determined to reduce the U.S.'s global military commitment and his announcement today was made in that broader context.
The war resulted in exactly the opposite of what the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld axis had predicted.
American troops were not greeted as liberators. The war was not over by Christmas 2003. Not only did democracy not take root, but the American occupation triggered a civil war and the emergence of an Al Qaeda insurgency in a land where Saddam never would have allowed the terrorist group to become established. And an already unstable region was further destabilized, giving the upper hand to Iraq.
Every military strategy was driven not by realities on the ground but by political expedience as dictated by the White House. This resulted in a war that would be fought on the cheap with not nearly enough troops. Generals who disagreed with that shortsighted decision were transferred or sacked.
By 2006, deeply despairing of the manifold failures of his war, President Bush reluctantly agreed to the so-called Surge Strategy engineered by General David Petraeus.
Taking a page from the insurgents themselves, Petraeus engineered a stunning series of military victories based on counterinsurgency tactics that in theory would give the Iraqis enough time to sort out their differences and be able to go it alone. That never happened, the window of opportunity soon slammed shut, and while the bloodshed has abated it has not ended.
By the most conservative estimates, the war cost in excess of $1 trillion, drained precious troops and resources from the right war -- the war in Afghanistan -- for the wrong war, and combined with tax cuts for the rich, ran up the federal budget deficit to dizzying heights and left the U.S. ill prepared to deal with the recession that began in 2008. Today a staggering one-quarter of the record national debt is directly attributable to the war.
Meanwhile, Veterans Administration hospitals and clinics have been flooded with thousands of returning GIs suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, many of them no doubt because their mission in Iraq was never clearly defined.
On the home front, Iraq will not be remember as were Vietnam, Korea and the world wars as the war that shaped a generation.
In fact, to use a phrase I believe I originated and that later turned up as graffiti on the wall of at least one Marine outpost in Iraq, "Americans would rather be shopping at the mall."
Bush's efforts to sanitize the war by never asking for sacrifices on the homefront were helped considerably by a compliant news media. The New York Times' abrogation of its responsibility to find out what really was going on in Iraq ranks, in my view, as its darkest hour along with reporter Judith Miller, who was played like a cheap violin by Vice President Cheney, insisting that WMDs did exist long when it had become obvious that they did not.
It wasn't until five years into the war that the Gray Lady stirred and began to dig into what was going on despite the physical and sexual abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib Prison revealed in April 2004 not by a major newspaper but by 60 Minutes and Seymour Hirsch in The New Yorker, as well as other atrocities reported on by reporters for smaller newspaper embedded with American troops.
Thanks to our commander in chief for another promise kept as a long national nightmare is finally over.
The few reporters and mainstream pundits, as well as bloggers like myself who kept nipping at Bush's heels, can go to bed tonight with a sense of relief. As can the loved ones of the relatively few remaining troops on the ground in Iraq.
I myself plan to first get drunk with my Vietnam War buddies.Photographs (top to bottom) by Chris Hondros/Getty, STR/
Agence France-Presse/Getty, Michael Macor/The Chronicle