Iraq evokes ugly memories

Posted: Sunday, September 07, 2003

I doubt I'm the only one haunted by memories watching the nightly news report the deaths of another two or three young Americans killed or maimed in the streets of Iraq.

It's eerily similar to footage appearing on the airwaves nearly 40 years ago as another generation of youngsters paid the ultimate price for the follies of their elders.

I sincerely hope President George W. Bush has launched this nation on a righteous path, as he professes, and that these deaths, in the end, will not have been in vain. The parents and loved ones left behind to grieve deserve no less.

But, I'm neither sanguine about the purity of this administration's intentions nor of the efficacy of its policies. I fear a return of the nightmare that was Vietnam a devastatingly costly little undeclared war driven by weaselly politicians incapable of escaping their pride to extract us from its horrors.

Since President Bush declared an official end to "major fighting" in Iraq on May 1, more American soldiers have died than in the six weeks of "real" combat. The occasional announcement that some high-ranking "card" in the deck of most-wanteds has been captured isn't enough of a trade-off for me.

Where are weapons of mass destruction we were told were the reason for war? Yet to be found, we are told.

Where are the promised cheering throngs ecstatic over the demise of the dictator, their eager faces looking westward for the largess of some latter-day Marshall Plan? I haven't seen them in the crowds of Iraqis lining the streets to listen to the Mullahs demand that the Americans leave their country.

Were we lied to? Or more disturbing, were those who should have had a fairly clear idea in March what we'd be facing in September and told us plainly simply acting without a clue? Worse yet, maybe they didn't care. Try to get a straight answer to that.

There's precedent for such shams. The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution led to a rapid and tragic buildup of American troops in Vietnam in the mid-1960s. Congress passed it in response to an attack on an American vessel that apparently never happened. President Lyndon Johnson and his advisors knew that, but in the tortured geopolitics of the cold war, Vietnam was a domino we couldn't let topple, and they went with the lie.

Most of the more than 50,000 Americans who died in Vietnam died subsequent to its passage, and in the end, we lost.

Are we headed there again? The situations are different. But political quicksand is political quicksand. Clearly, there is will aplenty to keep troops in harm's way while awaiting some undefined favorable outcome to our mostly unspecific goals. My question is whether there will be the intestinal fortitude to leave if those goals become clearly unattainable?

Amid suspect motivations and insufficient justification the war began, and now we're hip deep in a nest of bees where it seems every stinger has a different motivation, but one goal to make this nation hurt. I cannot shake the dj vu.

And what if we should discover some cache of biological weapons or incontrovertible proof Saddam was embarked on a program to build a nuclear bomb? Will that change the reality on the ground in any practical terms?

I don't think so. Not without a great deal more support from the rest of the world that is benefiting whether they want to admit it or not from the removal of a hideous dictatorship.

It is time to announce an exit strategy with as firm a deadline as possible and stick to it. Further, we should demand that other nations send troops to begin replacing Americans as soon as possible.

There was great good done ridding the world of Saddam Hussein this spring. There might have been more good done had we waited perhaps even for a diplomatic solution. But the deed is done, and the point is that it was mostly us, and our British cousins, who faced the sword.

America indeed, the world has much to gain from a peaceful Middle East. But we can't affect that change alone. We've done the world's dirty work. If a stable and democratic Iraq is truly the goal, the world will benefit.

It's time to tell the rest of the world that they'd bloody well better help police the cleanup, because we aren't staying there forever. Tell them this will not be another 10,000-day war at least not with Americans the only ones in the cross hairs.

Hal Spence is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion.

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