Commentary: Measuring what the Iraq War leaves behind
With war’s end, Iraq’s future will be as shaky as its recent past. While American armed forces are leaving and an official end of mission has been declared by the U.S. Defense Department, only a novice would expect smooth sailing.
Building a peacetime existence is never smooth. It often brings out the ugliest in human nature. We’ve seen that at the end of every war. We’ve already watched it for years in Iraq.
In David Lean’s epic film Lawrence of Arabia, Robert Bolt’s always-relevant screenplay credits Prince Feisal (future king of Iraq) with saying, “Young men make wars, and the virtues of war are the virtues of young men. Courage and hope for the future. Then old men make the peace. And the vices of peace are the vices of old men. Mistrust and caution. It must be so.”
Old men, clinging to old ideas, old feuds, old prejudices and old alliances, have been trying to cobble together something that is better than the Saddam Hussein days. But it is exactly those clinging, treacherous vices that have kept American troops in Iraq so long after Saddam’s inglorious death.
An Iraq without Saddam, a world without Saddam, is certainly an improvement. Whatever the elusive reasons for Congress declaring war on Iraq, the U.S. military worked to take down, rebuild and improve relations where they could. Many paid a high price for that work.
In nearly nine years of war in Iraq, 4,500 U.S. military personnel were killed. Another 32,000 were injured. The United States has spent nearly $1 trillion in this war.
Dozens of young men and women from the Verde Valley signed up during the past eight-plus years for their own personal reasons. Many of them were what the military defines as “high-quality recruits,” or high-scoring high school graduates. Some ended up in Iraq.
That experience shapes them into the people they are when they come back. While folks on the homefront could actually forget we were at war, the restrained influence of the conflict is here to stay. The cultural, political and financial impact on our future is still being measured.
What impact U.S. personnel have had on the Iraqi future is equally incalculable at this point. The situation is still ugly and dangerous, and will be for a long time. The debate over the value of the war will last just as long.
For us, at least, the experience has an “official” end.
Of course, there is still Afghanistan ...
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