The latest polls show that the majority of Americans think the war in Iraq was a failure. This should probably not come as much of a surprise to anyone. Once Bush and company stopped beating the drums of war and actually started one, even the most devoted partisans of his policy could not find the WMDs that were our supposed reason for being there. And despite some deliberate obfuscation by his administration, most Americans eventually came to realize that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11 and was, in fact, one of the most deliberately non-religious governments in the region.
None of the above is in any way a defense of Saddam Hussein, a man pretty much indefensible by any measure of humanity. He was a horrible, sadistic, barely human being. But so are a lot of leaders in this world, from the horror of some African dictators to the scary joke that is Kim Jong-il.
Most Americans eventually started questioning why Bush Junior was so hot to take out this particular dictator as opposed to any other. Historians will be debating that question for a long time to come, from those who believe Junior did it to avenge a threat against his dad to those who think that oil and only oil was the real objective.
What isn’t debatable is that based on the decisions of some old men and women in Washington, a lot of our finest young men and women got sent to a war whose goal was barely comprehensible. But because these young warriors had made a pledge to their country to defend it to the best of their ability when ordered to do so, they went to war and offered all they could to make it successful, even as those old men and women back in DC were stumbling over themselves to define what success would actually look like.
Eventually, as the war went on and on and on, and our economy started tanking big time, the news of the war faded from the front pages of our papers. It was no longer the lead story. The war was replaced by news of Wall Street shenanigans and the fiscal mismanagement that would devastate the financial security of America’s middle and lower classes.
And now the war in Iraq is over. The last combat troops withdrew last week leaving behind only supposedly non-combatant military personnel. Our soldiers are coming home and their return barely rates a blip on our media screens. What began with shock and awe seemingly ends as quietly as a church mouse sneaking out of the vestry before services begin. We left with no clearer idea of why we were there or what we accomplished than we had seven years ago when we arrived.
But this is not the fault of our young men and women who went over there and did their duty with honor and integrity. They deserve better than to come home to dead silence.
In my mind’s eye I can’t help but see the scenes that followed the end of World War II – dancing in the streets, parades, that exuberant sailor sweeping a young lady into a passionate kiss on Broadway. I don’t expect that level of enthusiasm for the ending of this war. But I do expect some level of enthusiasm for the return of our young men and women. I expect we owe them something, anything, to demonstrate that we honor their commitment to their country and the sacrifices they made.
Because let’s face it, the only reason your son or daughter didn’t go to Iraq was because someone else’s son or daughter volunteered to do so. We had no draft in this war because we had a military full of professional people proud to serve their nation.
So please allow me to say, with all humility at the ultimate sacrifice so many of our young people made in Iraq, with all compassion for those who return with wounds that will change their lives forever, and with joy for those who return seemingly intact, welcome home. We’re so very glad to have you back. And so very grateful for what you’ve done – even if we don’t remember to say it as often as we should.