An end to the Iraq War and apologies from those who once supported it will not bring back the thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis whose lives have been unnecessarily lost. Despite this fact, genuine apologies help clear the conscience, so here is mine.
President Obama announced on Friday, Oct. 22 that all American troops—with the exception of 150 to safeguard our embassy—will be out of Iraq and stateside by Christmas. The wise decision to withdraw the troops and wind down this war was a courageous call by the president, whom this column has excoriated for clinging to the ruinous Bush policies of "staying the course."
Obama’s announcement last Friday moved me greatly. You see, back on March 20, 2003 when President George W. Bush launched the Iraq War, I was firmly in agreement with the goals that Bush, Dick Cheney, Richard Perle, and Tony Blair artfully laid out. Iraq—I thought eight years ago—was a war of necessity. Saddam Hussein, we were told, possessed nuclear weapons capable of inflicting damage on our people and our allies.
They said he possessed poison gas, biological weapons, and was partly responsible for the tragedy of September 11, 2001. The Bush administration told the U.S. Senate on the eve of their vote authorizing military action against Iraq in Oct. 2002 that Saddam’s weapons were capable of striking the eastern seaboard of the United States. We had to stop him before another attack on American soil, and thus the administration was given a blank check. I, along with a majority of Americans at the time, accepted the false narrative and went along.
Soon after the American tanks rolled into Iraq, the count of dead and wounded American soldiers increased, casualties among innocent Iraqi civilians soared, and the extreme strain on our national treasure became evident. Bush’s case for war crumbled under the awesome weight of the truth. The weapons of mass destruction, the nukes, the poison gas, the link between Saddam’s Iraq and 9-11 were immense lies. They were convenient contrivances exploited by a war-hungry and logic-impaired presidency, controlled like a puppet by the military industrial complex that a genuine hero named Eisenhower warned us about in 1961.
Scores of Americans were duped into supporting a war that did not serve our national interest, helped bankrupt the nation, and weakened our own position in the world. Using a deceptive political marketing model, the Bush folks twisted the truth in order to capitalize on the fact that Americans were willing to rush into a costly war in Iraq. In an April 2002 CBS poll, 73 percent said they would approve of U.S. military action against nations believed to be harboring terrorists. 94 percent told an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll the same month that the war on terror thus far had been successful.
The stage was set for the Bush administration to market the need for an unprovoked, unnecessary war to a public which was already highly supportive of military action against states believed to sponsor terror. The caveat was that this had to be done in a way which advanced the narrative of Iraq being the "front line" in the Global War on Terrorism in order for the public to go along for the ride. Just a month into the war in April 2003, 75 percent told the ABC/Washington Post poll that they approved of Bush’s handling of Iraq. By April 2004 that number had dipped to 45 percent and then down to 37 percent by April 2006. The low point came in April 2007 as just 29 percent approved of the government’s handling of the war.
These numbers never rebounded. The Republicans soon lost their long-coveted national security gap over the Democrats in 2008 as 47 percent said they’d sooner trust the Democrats to handle the Iraq War as compared to 38 percent for the Republicans (according to a February 2008 Pew Poll). That same month, a USA Today/Gallup Poll found that an astonishing 60 percent were demanding a clear timetable for withdrawal. Fast forward to 2011 when 66 percent in a CNN poll said they now opposed the Iraq War.
Most shockingly, an October 2011 Pew Survey found that "only about 34 percent of veterans have considered the Iraq-Afghanistan war as worth fighting and the rest all considered that the war was not worth fighting at all." As the fiction and fabrications that led the country into the Iraq War crystallized, so did opposition from the public and now from those who bravely did the fighting.
Those of us who came to our senses and joined in opposing the war did so at different times. For me it was in the fall of 2005 when we could somehow afford our efforts in Iraq while neglecting to relieve and rebuild for those whose lives and communities were ravaged by Hurricane Katrina. As a supporter of this war at the outset, I personally experienced a great sense of relief while listening to Obama’s Friday speech; however, I also felt a very deep sense of personal guilt.
Those who supported the Iraq War at the start must live with the fact that on one of the most critical issues of our time, we had it wrong.
When the country needed us to speak up against the consolidation of power in the executive branch, the wasteful spending, the loss of American and Iraqi civilian life, and the depredation of our national reputation, we were not there. I will always be disappointed in myself for failing to realize the senselessness of my initial position on Iraq, but I will forever be most disappointed in the Bush administration and the feckless pols who continued supporting this monstrosity with each passing year.
Nine years after the Congress passed the Joint Resolution to Authorize the Use of United States Armed Forces Against Iraq, eight years after combat began, and almost five years after Saddam Hussein’s death we can look at this war in only one reasonable way: an absolute failure that has reduced America’s standing in the world as a source of good, hobbled our national budget, and altered the way foreign policy is address for the foreseeable future.
The results are clear and unfortunate. The neoconservative folly in Iraq concludes with 4,479 Americans dead, 32,200 Americans wounded, and a $800 billion hole (and still growing) blown out of our national budget. Civilian losses in Iraq are beyond computation, but estimates from IraqBodyCount.org range between 103,558 and 112,724 documented civilian deaths since the start of the war. These numbers are shocking and disgraceful given that this entire project was crafted and perpetuated on a set of calculated falsehoods.
I will forever be disappointed in myself for not sooner urging an end to this catastrophic war. My head was planted in the sand for over two years before I realized we were on the wrong course. For that I apologize to my country and countrymen. I now await a similar act of contrition from people with names like Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and congressional and Defense Department officials responsible for this war. They will always have blood on their hands, but apologies—no matter how late in coming—help clear the conscience.