The military surge that President Bush ordered 14 months ago in Baghdad has cut down on the violence, but our soldiers are still dying at a rate of one a day. Last year (year of the surge) there were more American deaths than any year of the war.
The surge was to improve security so the politicians could circle their wagons and begin a workable parliament. They have yet to become the leaders the Iraqis deserve. Just as the Iraqi troops are not able to sustain security, the prime minister and tribal sheiks cannot agree which road to take.
From the corruption of our procurement procedures and the “no bid” contracts to Iraq’s inability to work together, this war has become the most embarrassing years our country has ever experienced.
Two years back it was revealed that thousands of weapons and spare parts we provided Iraqi security forces cannot be accounted for. It does not take a genius to see the Pentagon is unwittingly arming both sides for the continuing civil war between the Sunni and Shia extremists.
We Western peoples do not come close to understanding or appreciating many aspects of life beyond our borders. People in the Middle East look at the United States as an extremely young addition to the history of the world. I have had Chinese friends say the same thing, adding that our democratic endeavor has, so far, been a good experiment.
The unprovoked invasion of Iraq five years ago appears to be at a standstill; stalled like a leaky canoe in an East Texas swamp. Finding a way out of the fiasco is proving to be more difficult than going in. We must be as careful getting it over with as we were careless starting it.
There is one thing that is certain: maintaining the present situation is not an option. Apparently it is all that the White House and Congress plan to do. The last chapters of this saga may be worse than anything we have seen so far. Something has got to give.
“If only our European allies would help,” comes the refrain from our State Department. The Europeans have had their fill of 100-year wars. (Helen Thomas of Hearst Newspapers reported when John McCain was told President Bush had indicated the possibility of U.S. forces staying in Iraq for 50 years, McCain responded: “Make it a hundred.”)
Even though it was long ago–about 1336-1453–the Hundred Years’ War between France and England has not receded from European memory. Add to that two world wars in the 20th century (1914-1945). Europeans can see where continued propping up Iraq could easily overflow into their backyard. The former Yugoslavia spent the 1990s in ethnic cleansing and are at it again. The U.S.-backed Kosovo (Muslims) seceding last month from Russian-backed Serbia (Orthodox Catholics) is a powder keg just waiting to explode.
Thomas E. Ricks, Washington Post writer and author of Fiasco and A Soldier’s Duty, receives many letters from military families. One told of having loved ones in Iraq since 2003: “Nobody mentions the fact that less than one percent of this country’s population has been fighting a Groundhog Day war over and over again, and it has taken a terrible toll on our fighting men and women that we’ll be feeling for decades…. When McCain talks about a hundred-year war and Bush talks about ‘winning’ and ‘supporting the troops’, don’t they know that these troops can’t go on like this much longer? Whether the ‘surge’ is working is irrelevant if my family has to still be sending our young men to Iraq five or 10 years from now.”
No one expresses the stress of the war like the families who have loved ones involved in it. Americans were never asked to be a part of this war: no rationed items; new cars come off the assembly line instead of war machines; no entertainment is curtailed; no taxes raised to pay the huge debt of war. “Just go shopping,” the man in the White House said. Numbers of servicemen who were promised they would become citizens if they joined up, now wait years to get their citizenship papers.
Of all the questions, none are as important as these: When will the war stop? When will peace be given a chance?
Britt Towery is a former teacher, missionary and pastor who lives in San Angelo, Texas. His columns appear in the San Angelo Standard-Times and Brownwood Bulletin.