Sunday, October 3, 2010

Chapter 21: Iraq

Recently, the president of the United States declared an end to combat operations in Iraq. He did so in a subdued message in which the words "win" and "victory" were never uttered. This is, of course, in sharp contrast to what his predecessor did, strutting around an aircraft carrier in a flight suit, declaring "Mission Accomplished!" smack dab in the middle of the war. I feel it's partly because of this memory that Obama called an official end to Iraq with all the enthusiasm of a 7-Eleven overnight cashier.

I find it interesting that Iraq ended with a whimper, because I remember the passion and pageantry. George Bush marketed Iraq as an exciting war. Something straight out of a Hollywood movie. Fox News showed flotillas of humvees driving magnificently across the desert. Every newspaper had to have a human interest story about the soldiers going off to fight for their country. If you supported Iraq you were a real man, and if you opposed you were a faggot/liberal/terrorist. Every newspaper salivated as the countdown to war began, even though one front page story about the WMDs not existing could have straight stopped the bombs. The protests, the largest anti-war demos the planet ever saw, only added to the pageantry. Nowadays, George Bush seems to be viewed as a lovable doofus who "did his best." Even his fuck-ups are considered endearingly incompetent. In 2003, he was the most hated man in the world. People across the globe despised his arrogance, ignorance and bullying. They wanted him dead. Bush was looking at the kind of hate usually reserved for the Hitlers and Napoleons, and he embraced his role of don't-give-a-fuck cowboy to the hilt.

Iraq incited extreme passions. I was in the Allegheny County Jail the night it began, and watching the Pittsburgh police yell about their patriotic duty while punching women in the face only proved this. The passions died. All the Support the Troops rallies and flag-waving settled with news of multiple deployments, withheld veterans' benefits and PTSD. The fair-weather fans of the war stopped pretending like they cared about the troops altogether. Iraq stopped being sexy. On it dragged, costing billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of lives, until we finally built and unstable democracy on a ruined nation.

A friend of mine once told me that America uses an outmoded form of imperialism. We hem and haw and shock and awe and dropped bombs on anything with a shadow, and we've managed to bomb ourselves into a recession. All the Fallujah firefights and Abu Ghraib rapes have done nothing for our 10% unemployment rate. Entities like the WTO or the European Union gain power through money. They lend the money and thus get to tell their debtors what to do. We kill a ton of people and have to sit around miserable for years while enemy insurgents take shots at us. At least Iraq is somewhat over, unlike our embarrassment in Afghanistan. Is this the way every Amereican war will end? A stretch of restless years in which soldiers lose their morals, purpose and sanity, followed by an end without victory? No tickertape parade? No kisses in Times Square?

There was no other way it could have ended, of course. But the conclusion of the conflict is in such sharp contrast to the start that I had to take notice. It will be interesting to see how the history books treat Iraq. I have a feeling it will be skimmed over, just another footnote in the eternal skirmish betwwen East and West, note even as noteworthy as Vietnam. In 2012, Obama will try to rally his progressive base by saying he ended Iraq, one of the few campaign promises he kept. Some will note it for the cynical political move it was; most will not care about the name "Iraq" either way.

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