The persistent rewriting of our entry into and exit from Iraq, let alone the merits of the mission, is a cruel pill to swallow for those who fought there.
Just what did eight years of fighting in Iraq really accomplish? For the veteran, the answer clearly rises above the din of public fuss, political filtering and predictions of future.
On the question of Iraq, I am struck by America’s amnesia. There’s a prevalent theory that, like Mussolini, at least Hussein made the trains run on time and we had no business being there.
How soon we choose to forget. Since Saddam’s coming to power in 1979, Iraq attacked every neighboring country save Syria (which fought among the allies against Iraq in the Gulf War). Ponder Saddam’s 1980-88 war with Iran, his brutal conquering of Kuwait in 1990, his subsequent attacks on Saudi Arabia and Israel, his defeat in the Gulf War of 1990-91, his wholesale murder of Iraqi Shias in 1991-92, his decade-long defiance of every international mandate, and finally, his pushing the envelope to the point that most of the world had quite enough of him by 2003.
Such defiance to our national interests stirred America to pass the “Iraqi Liberation Act” that called for his complete removal. It was good national policy when signed by President Clinton in 1998, and it was good policy when we enforced it in 2003. How quickly we forget.
We also forget that coalition forces had a pretty clear mission when we invaded Iraq in 2003: defeat Saddam’s army; overthrow the Baathist regime; kill or capture Saddam; stabilize basic infrastructure; and set conditions for Iraq to govern and secure itself. Iraq veterans will come home knowing they accomplished every single monumental task–in just eight years–despite the prattle from cynics, critics, and even Senate leaders declaring the war lost and unworthy of their sacrifice.
Risking all they had to defend our great country, we now must ask: to what kind of America are these veterans coming home? They might see a nation self-indulgent critics, ever ready to take America down a notch or two in the world. But the veterans have seen the world. They have lived and fought in it. They know what can happen to millions of innocent people with no means to defy tyrants.
Perhaps the best thing America can do to put Iraq into context is simply to listen to our veterans.
What can we learn from them? Perhaps this: a weak America gets us nowhere. We are not a nation of quitters. There are still things worth fighting for.
As our veterans return home, many now struggle to learn how to accept them and how to interact with them. As in times past, they will no doubt come home with a passion to make things better and with defiance toward the national naysayers who nearly shipwrecked their mission and now believe America’s best days are behind her. Or that tyrants, like Saddam Hussein, somehow made the trains run on time.