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Curmudgeon's Corner: The war in Iraq is over but was it really worth it? (OPINION)

December 28, 2011

On December 15th Defense Secretary Leon Panetta presided over a ceremony in which the colors (flag) of the American forces in Iraq were “cased”. The following day the state’s daily newspaper proclaimed “WAR OVER” in huge type on page one.
I wonder how the parents of Army Spc. David E. Hickman, 23, of Greensboro, NC feel. Specialist Hickman died in Baghdad on November 14th of injuries caused by an “IED” -an improvised explosive device. He is the last American to die in the official war in Iraq.
Actually, all of us who have experienced the loss of a loved one in the war in Iraq cannot help but wonder what was accomplished by the sacrifice of their lives. Parents have, I think, the gnawing feeling that maybe we shouldn’t have raised a child to love our country enough to lay down their life for it.
Back when we first invaded Iraq I overheard two women who were watching their grandsons in Wilson Park. One grandmother said that if the draft were reinstated she would take her grandson to Canada. The other responded that if her grandson ever said he wanted to join the military she would “chop his foot off”.
Great, I thought, it’s OK for someone else’s grandchild to serve our country in the military to ensure that yours can live a life of pampered luxury.
Actually, when the command sergeant major, who had served multiple tours in Iraq, folded the flag and Panetta said the war is over, there were still about 4,500 troops in that country. Somewhat ironically, so was our older son Mark, a colonel in the Air Force, who piloted a C-130 into Baghdad to carry a planeload of troops back to Kuwait. His brother Matt was among the earliest soldiers killed in action in the so-called post combat phase of the war.
The last of the soldiers of the 1st Cavalry Division crossed the berm from Iraq into Kuwait in the early morning hours on Monday of this week. The next day President Obama in his role of commander-in-chief along with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff received the cased colors at Joint Base Andrews near D.C. The war that lasted nearly nine years and was almost lost now was truly over.
In addition to the 4,490 men and women who died as a result of the war in Iraq, the Department of Defense listed 32,234 as wounded or injured as of November 23rd. Many of these suffered multiple traumatic amputations, terrible head wounds and horrific burns which would have been fatal in earlier wars up to and including Vietnam. In many ways, their sacrifice is greater that those who now lie buried in cemeteries around the country including the one in Exeter.
Due to the speed with which our wounded are removed from the battlefield and brought to state-of-the-art trauma units and advances in military medicine and medical technology, we now, as a nation, must shoulder the financial burden of their injuries. We should do so willingly and generously.
Also, we cannot know how many thousands of veterans of this first asymmetrical war of the twenty-first century have come home with wounds we cannot see. Some of these psychological injuries and emotional scars may not become apparent for years to come. The effects of exposure to multiple IED blasts are unknown at this time.
In other words, the financial costs of this war on terrorism will be with us for a long, long time.
Which brings us back to the question, “Was anything accomplished by all the deaths and suffering not only of members of the military but also of the Iraqi people, many of whom still question our motives and whether or not they are better off with Saddam Hussein gone”?
There are many Americans, including several Gold Star parents I know, who hold President George W. Bush and his coterie of advisors, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith and Steve Cambone, responsible for starting an unnecessary war based on an unfounded belief that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction that threatened us and our allies –primarily Israel in the Middle East.
In the fifth edition of his book “Why Nations Go to War” published in 1990, John G. Stoessinger, an expert in international politics, asserts that there are general themes resulting from his analysis of several wars of the twentieth century. One of these, he writes, is that “There is remarkable consistency in the self-images of national leaders on the brink of war. Each confidently expects victory after a brief and triumphant campaign.”
Stoessigner continues, “This common belief in a short, decisive war is usually the overflow from a reservoir of self-delusions held by the leadership about both itself and its nation.”
Donald Rumsfeld held the office of secretary of defense in the Gerald Ford administration from 1975-77. George W. Bush tapped him to become the oldest man ever to serve in that office in 2001. After 9/11, Rumsfeld became a favorite of the press corps due to his pithy remarks to reporters.
Rumsfeld took office determined to transform the military with the use of information systems and high-tech weaponry. He particularly disliked the Army, whose leadership, he thought, spent too much time and emphasis on old-style weaponry like field artillery and main battle tanks, both of which Rumsfeld regarded as obsolete on the modern battlefield which would be dominated by smart bombs delivered by airplanes.
When planning for the invasion of Iraq was underway, Army chief of staff Gen. Eric Shinseki who had served in Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as Vietnam, told the Senate Armed Forces Committee that several hundred thousand soldiers would be required in postwar Iraq. Rumsfeld’s No. 1 man Wolfowitz, who never served in the military, scoffed at that assessment. Rumsfled unceremoniously dumped Shinseki shortly thereafter.
So, I blame Donald Rumsfeld and his team for the fiasco Iraq became. I blame Harvard Business School-educated George W. Bush who believed in delegating responsibility for not reining in the Department of Defense and listening more closely to his secretary of state and former chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Colin Powell.
Hopefully, President Obama will not repeat Bush43’s mistakes in Afghanistan where we remain at war after ten years and 1,830 killed and 14,837 wounded.
Conventional military forces cannot defeat guerrillas willing to die for their cause that have the support of a large percentage of the civilian population and sanctuary in a neighboring country where they can rest and be resupplied.

Richard August is a North Kingstown resident and a regular contributor to the Standard Times. His opinions are his own. He can be reached at

Southern Rhode Island Newspapers
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