Tomorrow marks the 4th anniversary of the U.S. led invasion of Iraq. Four years and two days ago, I was in Haiti of all places, taking part in service project over spring break. I sat huddled around a radio in Phil and Lonnie Murphy's house, with a dozen other students, listening to President Bush address the nation (and in our case, the world). In that address he made it clear, in no uncertain terms, that the United States was ready to invade Iraq in 48 hours unless Saddam Hussein left the country. He didn't. And three days later, while I was tagging along on a medical clinic somewhere in the Plaine de l'Artibonite east of Port-au-Prince, my nation attacked another nation. I missed the whole thing, until the very next day when we stumbled into the Hotel Montana (not kidding, it really exists) and caught the first images via CNN. We were at war.
It was surreal. I remember Phil being very concerned that Muslims worldwide would view the invasion as a holy war -- Christianity against Islam. I remember our group being divided, between our evangelical love of George W. Bush and our reticence to see America at war. Listening to the president on a transistor radio hundreds of miles from home, it almost felt like we were watching the whole thing from the outside. Viewing those first pictures of war four days later didn't do much to bridge the divide. While we were hanging out with orphans and missionary kids and AIDS patients, our country was blowing people up half a world away. On the flight back, we had to adjust to the fact that we were returning to a campus and a nation where we'd be completely out of the loop. We had to adjust to the fact that when we left, Iraq was just another pesky player in the Axis of Evil, but when we returned, we were bombing the shit out of 'em, throttles wide open, all the way to Baghdad.
I remember two conversations in particular between coming home and Bush's speech from the USS Abraham Lincoln in which he declared an "end of major combat." One with a friend of mine who was initially opposed to the invasion, but who couldn't help cheering along with the Iraqis as the tore down big fucking statues of Saddam Hussein. In those moments, he could see the good we were doing, even though he disagreed with the means whereby which we were doing it. And another conversation in the RichLynn library, with another friend who asked me what I thought of it all. And I, choosing my words oh-so-carefully, trying to express how even though I thought our eagerness to invade before all other avenues were exhausted was hubris in the first degree, I couldn't help feeling that the Iraqi people were better off with Saddam out of the way, ready to start a new life and a new country with freedoms they had only dreamed of.
Four years later I'm driving to Wendy's Old Fashioned Hamburgers in Rutland, Vermont when I see a crowd of 30 or 40 people lined up along the highway, protesting that very same war. And it's so confusing. And maddening. Not to mention disheartening. And infuriating. At this point, I don't think most people even understand what the hell is going on in Iraq. The first war we fought was over by the end of 2003. Then the Insurgency -- but since the 2005 elections, even that has become overshadowed by something more insidious. No longer do terrorists, foreign or domestic, account for the majority of violence in Iraq. A recent Pentagon report puts most of the bloodshed firmly in the hands of sectarian violence, that is to say, acts of violence between the Shia majority and the Sunni minority who held power under Saddam. And all that stands between these two groups and all out civil war, the scale of which could lead to genocide not seen since Rwanda, is the U.S. military.
The fact of the matter is, we're no longer fighting for democracy or liberty or oil or freedom from the terrorists. We're holding back a torrent of violence that certain Sunnis and certain Shiites wish to unleash upon each other, regardless of our presence or non-presence. That's not to say that all Iraqis are ready for civil war. Many just want to provide for their families and live in peace. But I'm sure there were plenty of people who felt like that in Virginia and Illinois and Kansas come 1861.
However, once that kind of war starts, it's impossible to avoid picking sides.
So that's that. I have no great love for our current president or his administration. I have no respect for men who lead our nation to war based on fudged data, half-truths and outright lies. But this so-called "surge" is really our last hope. If it doesn't work, expect this country (Democrat and Republican) to resign itself to its fate, and leave the Iraqis to their own devices. But do not, under any circumstances, expect peace to follow. Expect the violence to continue. Expect the death-toll to rise. And expect us to watch in shame and horror, followed by a number of years of second-guessing and misplaced guilt.
What kind of peace is that?
This war was no Vietnam. But expect the aftermath, should we withdraw now, to be just as devastating.
I don't like this war. I don't like how we were mislead in March of 2003. I don't like how it's been handled ever since. I don't like having my high school friends fight it while I hang out with elementary kids in Vermont. I don't like how a generation of our best and brightest are sacrificing their lives for aims that are about as clear as mud. But we're the bull. And we leveled the china shop. And if don't pick up the pieces, who the hell will?