President Obama, in an address to the nation yesterday evening from the Oval Office, announced that Operation Iraqi Freedom has ended, celebrating the close of American combat operations in Iraq. The war with Iraq was, in my opinion, one of the most misguided decisions of the Bush administration. It was a preemptive attack against a nation under the guise of being retribution for the September 11, 2001 attack by Al Qaeda. The justifications for war were that the country was creating weapons of mass destruction for use against the United States and that it was harboring and training Al Qaeda terrorists. Weapons of mass destruction were never found (a fact later lampooned by President Bush himself), and in fact the evidence for their existence was later revealed to be largely fabricated. Nor was there any substantial evidence of Al Qaeda in Iraq until after the United States began military operations there. The war began on March 20, 2003 and has plagued both of our nations since then.
I’m still not sure what the real reasons were for war. The first Gulf War took place only in the air; there was no ground invasion. Iraq pulled out of territory that it had illegally occupied and the war ended. However, at some point Saddam Hussein ordered an assassination attempt on Mr. H. W. Bush. Some speculate that Mr. Bush, the younger, wanted some degree of vengeance for the assassination attempt on his father. It’s also possible that the United States sought to build a pro-West democracy from which it could have better access to oil reserves.
Whatever the reasons, real or perceived, it marked a real change in how the world perceived the United States, or, certainly how I perceived the United States. We shifted away from being a nation of peace and principles; we were no longer the “good guy.” To my knowledge, we had never been a nation of preemptive attacks, other than participating in international peacekeeping forces. However, not only did we go to war against Iraq without having been attacked or threatened by the nation, but we did so without the approval from the United Nations. When a resolution was brought forth for United Nations approval of U.S. military action in Iraq, it was denied. Said U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan in 2004, “I have indicated it was not in conformity with the U.N. Charter. From our point of view, from the charter point of view, it was illegal.” It seemed as though the United States had become so self-important that the principles of the United Nations–which the United States in large part created following World War II–didn’t really apply to us. This sentiment was publicly stated by John Bolton on February 3, 1994, who angrily declared in a statement that “the United States makes the U.N. work when it wants to work. And that is exactly the way it should be because the only question–the only question–for the United States is what is in our national interests. And if you don’t like that, I’m sorry, but that is the fact.” Bolton was Mr. Bush’s short-lived nominee for ambassador to the U.N. Fortunately he was not confirmed by Congress, but that men with such views were being put in such key positions disturbed me.
It felt as though America was going down a dangerous path: that of resting on the laurels of the international superiority we enjoyed post-World War II while all other nations, particularly China, were rising in economic strength. Without recognizing the growing necessity to participate in a global economy, our math and science competitiveness and quality of life would simply decline comparative to the rest of the world–and we wouldn’t even realize it. Iraq felt like an expression of that attitude: burning bridges we might one day need to cross by flailing our if-you’re-not-with-us-you’re-with-the-terrorists “exclusive rightness” around without recognizing that the rest of the world isn’t necessarily on “America time” any longer, or that there’s much more to international relations than military might.
I’d like to think that there’s been real progress to restore America to her principles over the last few years. Ending combat operations in Iraq is a responsible step to making that happen. I’m also pleased that the United States has agreed to continue its investment in Iraq. With luck, such investment will avoid a similar power vacuum that led to extremist rule in Afghanistan following the Soviet war during the 1980’s. But on a more humanistic note, the war ruined the lives of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and nearly turned a third world country into a fourth world country. We owe the people of Iraq the responsibility of supporting it in rebuilding its infrastructure.
I hope that we don’t take two steps backward in the coming midterm elections. But even if that pendulum does swing back the other direction for a time, I take comfort in the fact that all countries across the globe, including the United States, are in general moving in a prosperous direction, and that such unifying tools as the Internet and better education are shrinking and in some cases eliminating the intolerance that comes from arrogance and ignorance. On the whole, those who are pushing ahead to create a better world are winning over those who seek to hold things back, clinging desperately to greed and obsolete ideals.