In March of 2003, the United States led a multinational force whose goal was to overthrow the regime of Saddam Hussein and eliminate that country's WMD stockpiles and programs. On May 1 of 2003, George Bush stood on the deck of USS Abraham Lincoln and declared the end of "major combat" with a banner loudly proclaiming "Mission Accomplished" in the background. A brutal dictatorial regime had been toppled and no significant quantities of WMD had been located. The war was, for all intents and purposes, over.
On June 2nd, with the war won and our troops having accomplished their mission, Iraq began to fall apart.
About 1,000 ex-soldiers from the disbanded Iraqi army gather to protest the disbanding outside the CPA's Baghdad headquarters. An internal CPA memo documents the event, focusing on the coverage the protest garners from the Arab television news networks Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya. "There have been some public statements by some former MOD (Ministry of Defense) members that they will resolve to suicide attacks if their grievances are not addressed," the memo reads. "Other protesters have continued to state that they will organize armed units to fight against the CPA and occupation." "The entire Iraqi people is a time bomb that will blow up in the Americans' face if they don't end their occupation," says one protest leader after meeting with CPA officials. Another protester declares, "All of us will become suicide bombers. I will turn my six daughters into bombs to kill the Americans." Paul Bremer responds, "We're not going to be blackmailed into producing programs because of threats of terrorism." He further notes that the protests are the first time in decades anyone has dared to do such outside of Hussein's presidential palace. Isn't that a sign of progress? he asks. (Bob Woodward)
It was at this time that Bush changed the mission of our troops and snatched the victory that they had achieved away from them. Instead of the clearly defined goals of deposing Saddam and cleaning up the WMD, Bush gave the military new ambiguous goals that can only be described as nation building. He also made these new goals extraordinarily difficult to accomplish by adopting a policy that promoted Shiite revenge on the entire Sunni population of Iraq. Hundreds of thousands of ordinary Sunnis were stripped of their positions in the military and government and thrown out of work into an economy with massive unemployment that had been ruined by nearly 25 years of continuous warfare.
Literally overnight, the Iraqi government had completely collapsed. Because of the sweeping deBaathification program, Iraqi government ministries stood empty unable to perform their functions. The US military was cast into an unfamiliar role that they hadn't trained for and weren't prepared for. They were now the sole authority in the country of 26 million people and became responsible for virtually every aspect of Iraqi life.
Four years later, we are no closer to succeeding in this new nation building mission than we were four years ago. All of the "milestones" lauded by the Bush administration while citing "progress" in this mission haven't had any impact on the violence and instability tearing the country apart. The first election, the second election, the first government, the second government, the third government, the interim constitution, and the permanent constitution have all deepened and exacerbated the rifts within Iraqi society rather than healing them. Billions of dollars and thousands of our heroes have been sacrificed to this effort and there is clearly no end in sight. How many more billions will it take? How many more heroes must be sacrificed? Is it even possible to build a nation in a land where the people's loyalties are first to their religion, their sect or their tribe?
The Iraq War should have been over for our troops in 2003. Only blundering incompetence and constantly shifting goals have denied our troops the victory parade they richly deserve. We removed the evil dictator and gave the Iraqis a chance for a better life. It's up to them now to seize that opportunity. It's time to start bringing the troops home.
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