Iraq has preoccupied American policy makers for so long and has cast such a giant shadow over everything we do that it has begun to obscure who we are and what we can accomplish . Purposely or inadvertently, we have imbued Iraq with a significance that is all out proportion to its size and its place in the international political and economic community. Iraq is not China, it is not Russia, it is not India. Like Vietnam before it, Iraq has become the new tail that has found a way to wag the great American dog. And we continue to let it happen.
What We Have Accomplished
In our politically inflamed mania to avenge 9/11 we have succeeded only in further reducing our own country and its international image with no recognizable gain. Beyond toppling Saddam Hussein, which is something time may have very well accomplished without our assist, what we have accomplished can only be counted in lives lost among Americans and Iraqis, buildings destroyed, highways obliterated, medical care reduced , education stunted and ideals compromised out of recognition throughout Iraq.
Just looking at the country as it stands now after three years of American presence makes one wonder if the country can really withstand any additional “help” from its American saviors. Every night television news shows reveal new shopping areas, buses, government buildings bombed out to the point that one wonders how there are even any desirable targets remaining. And as a final accomplishment we see two sides of the Iraqi population at considerable odds with one another.
You really don’t have to call it a civil war if you don’t choose to. You can just say it’s a religious minority fighting against a religious majority with both sides using every means available to them. In 1860 in the United States a similar disagreement was called a Civil War but name it or not the results in both cases will be devastatingly the same and enmity will continue between sides in Iraq for a long, painful time to come.
What We Might Have Done It was never divinely ordained that America would have to go in to Iraq and topple Saddam, find the weapons of mass destruction, maintain our leadership in the area, protect our oil interests, or further the cause of fledgling democracies. The decision we made was our own, made without much more than a sideways look at the international community. Our actions taken for the most part with only the support of Great Britain are lamentable not just because of what we have or haven’t done in Iraq, but also because of what our involvement in Iraq has kept us from doing at home.
It is not really necessary to look much further than the disastrous aftermath of Katrina to see what we have traded for our unbelievably unsuccessful involvement in Iraq. The images of the military and civilian casualties in Iraq are but a mirror image of those thousands of Americans waiting to be rescued from stadiums, roof tops and roadsides in New Orleans. One has to acknowledge that the 100,000 troops sent to “fix” things in Iraq could certainly have been far more successfully employed assisting the afflicted in the days, weeks and months after Katrina.
Nor do we need to look for a natural disaster to put light on the misassignment of our strengths and abilities as a nation. We can look at our inner city schools, at the homeless in the streets, at those suffering for lack of appropriate nutrition or health care. In fact there are so many domestic needs that should be addressed that at times it seems impossible that we continue to funnel so much of our wealth, human and material, once again into an area where our presence appears even on good days to be vaguely counterproductive.
But perhaps worst of all is the fact that in our rush to kill the “bad guys” we have simultaneously shoved aside, forgotten or given up on what we once claimed as our precious rights and the rights of others.
It is time to turn ourselves around as a nation, to recall who we are and what we are about and to save ourselves while restoring our image in the world. As they say in some recovery programs, the first step to a cure is admitting that you have a problem. We need to begin with that admission so the healing and rebirth can begin.