My friend is a sergeant first class in the U.S. Army National Guard. He’s looking to retire soon and doesn’t want me to use his name.
He served two tours of duty in Iraq. The first was Operation Desert Storm in 1991. Then second was Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2005.
Both military operations were presided over by commanders in chief with the same surname. One mission was to liberate Kuwait after Iraq invaded it.
Allied forces expelled the Iraqis. President George H.W. Bush confined U.S. military involvement to freeing Kuwait.
His son, President George W. Bush, determined to finish what his father didn’t. He went after the Iraqi regime.
The younger Bush unilaterally led a pre-emptive strike on Baghdad to topple Saddam Hussein. The brutal dictator is gone.
But the weapons of mass destruction the United States ostensibly invaded his country to destroy never materialized. Neither did the roots of representative government some naively expected post-invasion.
Still, American troops spent nearly nine years in Iraq trying to fix what was broken and what fell apart after Saddam was toppled. “We gained so much ground fighting insurgents,” my friend said.
“We did the right thing to bring Iraq peace,” he added. “Many Iraqis wanted our help. Many lived in poverty under a tyrant. We worked hard to train Iraqis to be independent.
“We gave lives for that,” the veteran said. “We can’t abandon what we started. Our government promised support. We don’t want another terrorist state. We don’t want it to all be for nothing.”
“I’m saddened” about Iraq imploding, he reflected, echoing what other Iraq war vets have expressed.
Matt Boisvert, who lost a leg in Iraq in 2004, told a Boston newspaper: “A lot of guys went in and sacrificed a lot over the years, and it’s just kind of sad to see this happening.
“We really carried the load trying to get that country free and get its first election and build up its infrastructure,” Mr. Boisvert said. But was it worth it?
Iraq teeters in chaos. Sectarian slaughter is posted on jihadi Internet forums. Fierce factional fighting is spreading, threatening to sever whatever tentative truce exists between Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds.
With a firm foothold in Syria, Sunni Islamic militants are on a ruthless quest to conquer and control more land. They intend to establish an Islamic state.
They kill in the name of religion. They rule by sharia law. These Sunni jihadis, fighters for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, apparently are too extreme for even al-Qaeda. That terrorist organization cut ties to the group this year. But the insurgents roiling Iraq are not deterred.
They have strategy and social media sophistication. They have seized Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, along with other cities and villages.
The speed of the rampage to Baghdad has paralyzed international leaders. A Middle East tinderbox has been lit and there’s no easy way to extinguish it.
Iran entered the Sunni-Shia fray to support Shia dominance in Iraq. Other regional neighbors, such as Saudi Arabia, can’t abide that dominance. But they don’t want jihadi enclaves next door, either.
Then there’s the United States, whose pre-emptive war on Iraq in 2003 arguably pre-ordained what is happening in that country today.
In a CNN commentary, Aaron David Miller, a Middle East negotiator for Democratic and Republican administrations, writes: “No matter how much progress the U.S. made in Iraq between 2003 and 2011, the dysfunction that now shapes Iraq’s future was driven by factors set into motion by the very act of the invasion, Iraq’s nature, and its location.”
“You break it, you own it,” former Secretary of State Colin Powell predicted. We own these problems.
The U.S embassy in Baghdad is under military protection. Embassy personal have left. Pressure is building for American military intervention.
But not even congressional hawks are calling for troops on the ground — yet. Power and allegiances shift like the sand in Iraq.
Families who buried 4,410 U.S. casualties of the Bush war know that reality too well. As Iraq rapidly deteriorates, do they wonder whether the wrenching sacrifice was worth it?
Or was the hard work that my friend and other veterans did in Iraq, the wounds they suffered, the lives they lost, all for nothing?
Marilou Johanek is a columnist for The Blade.
Contact Blade columnist Marilou Johanek at: firstname.lastname@example.org