Questions linger despite end to combat operations in Iraq

A convoy of Strykers leaves for Kuwait in the early hours of August 16, 2010.
REUTERS/U.S. Army/Sgt. Kimberly Johnson
A convoy of Strykers leaves for Kuwait in the early hours of August 16, 2010.

WASHINGTON — St. Paul native Wes Davey was writing letters opposing the Iraq war before it even started.

Yet there he stood on the sands of Kuwait in May of 2003, some four days into the U.S. invasion of Iraq, ready to cross the border. He was a psychological operations guy — psy-ops for short — one of many responsible for psyching out the enemy while winning the hearts and minds of civilians in a country that at that very moment was on the receiving end of all the “shock and awe” the U.S. Military could throw their way.

Combat operations in Iraq officially ended this week, with President Obama announcing the change from the Oval Office Tuesday as Vice President Biden participated in change-of-mission ceremonies in Iraq. Some 50,000 troops will remain to provide security and train the Iraqi army and police forces, but Iraq will now have primary control of its own security.

And as that phase of this war ends, the question turns to lessons learned — and ultimately if the sacrifices made in blood and money were worth it. Davey says no.

Asked now why the anti-war activist went to battle, Davey simply replies, “I had soldiers to lead and I led them.”

The surge and the political fallout
That progress has been made in Iraq since the war began is undeniable. Baghdad fell in a matter of weeks. Saddam Hussein was tried and hanged for crimes against his own country. His sons, who allegedly ran his internal terror operation, were shot dead.

But after all that progress, in 2005 and 2006 commanders on the ground felt the war slipping away. There were too few troops, they said, and sectarian violence was on the rise.

So in early 2007, President Bush proposed a drastic increase in the amount of troops on the ground. It was to be called the “New Way Forward,” though it came to be known as the “surge.” Democrats in Congress vociferously opposed the plan (the House passed a non-binding resolution against it) but decided not to block funding for the additional troops.

Now more than three years later, the surge is nearly universally hailed on Capitol Hill as a success. Violence had decreased in Iraq. American troops have now been reduced to 50,000 and are on track to meet President Obama’s goal to leave by the middle of 2011.

“Today is a historic day for our troops and their families, including those famed Minnesota ‘Red Bulls’ who served so courageously during their unprecedented combat tour in Iraq,” said Rep. John Kline, a Republican member of the House Armed Services Committee who served in the Marine Corps for 25 years.

But Republicans aren’t letting Democrats forget that many of them opposed the surge before being for it.

U.S. soldiers at Camp Virginia in Kuwait listen to instructions as they wait for their flight back to the U.S.
REUTERS/Stephanie McGehee
U.S. soldiers at Camp Virginia in Kuwait listen to instructions as they wait for their flight back to the U.S.

Senate Republicans released a list of quotes from Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and vulnerable senators from Harry Reid in Nevada to Russ Feingold in Wisconsin all opposing the measure back in 2007.

Kline’s statement following Obama’s speech last week noted Obama’s reversal.

“I am pleased the president listened to the commanders on the ground rather than maintain his previously vocal opposition to the troop surge. It is our sons and daughters in uniform who deserve credit for their success in ensuring the protection of our immediate and long-term national security.”

Progressives question worth of the war
Yet progressives like Rep. Keith Ellison go back farther — to 2003 and when the war was being debated in the first place.

Republicans, he says, would like to talk as if the war began in 2007 rather than 2003.

“It’s important to learn the lessons of Iraq. We should never forget that we got in there on false pretences,” Ellison said, citing yellowcake from Niger and weapons of mass destruction that were never found and 9/11-Iraq links that could never be proven.

Davey says he has trouble reconciling the war with the cost in human lives, both in terms of American soldiers and Iraqi civilians dead. He noted that the cost of caring for wounded veterans — including those with post traumatic stress disorder – is “just going to be staggering.”

“No one condones what Saddam Hussein did,” Davey said. “I just don’t see what has been gained by doing this.”

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Comments (6)

  1. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 09/07/2010 - 07:55 am.

    It’s one thing to be a sober, reluctant warrior. Most members of the the armed forces are. But it’s quite another to be an anti-war activist serving in combat. Mr. Davey should have never been allowed to serve in that position.

    We had a guy like that in my unit who suddenly decided he was a consciensus objector. He was given the job as the chaplain’s assistant for the rest of his tour. He wasn’t allowed to affect the already fragile psyches of other young men.

    Given the record number of soldier suicides and cases of PTSD that are most likely the result of being subjected to anti-war messages coming from their leaders in the field, the army should seriously re-think the policy of allowing people like Davey to serve in leadership positions in combat.

  2. Submitted by myles spicer on 09/07/2010 - 08:47 am.

    “Questions linger?”

    Not really — Iraq is far from becoming the “democracy” envisioned and promised by Bush, then Obama. Sectarian violence is ever present, and deeply seated by centuries of dispute. Yes, Saddam is gone, but at a cost too great. A common measure of success is ROI (return on investment). We spent tens of billions on rebuilding Iraq after smashing the hell out of it, while our own infrastructure is in decay.

    But if Iraq is not the success we hoped for based on an ROI, Afghanastan is even worse. This will be an even greater failure simply because of the corrupt government we are propping up (vistages of South Vietnam.

    In three words: what a waste!

  3. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 09/07/2010 - 09:39 am.

    To borrow a line from a favorite old movie, The Iraq war was… “A strange game. The only winning move [was] not to play.”

    What the Cheney/Bush regime accomplished in pursuing their personal vendetta against Saddam Hussein, prove how macho and tough they were (i.e. that they weren’t really cowardly wimps for talking tough and supporting the Vietnam war but opting out of actually fighting it) and pursuing their desire to have their cronies own the distribution rights to Iraqi oil has brought the citizens of the US ABSOLUTELY NOTHING USEFUL.

    In fact, what we have now, in place of an admittedly horrible dictator who, nevertheless, provided a stable government for his nation – a government which was predictable enough for the citizens of Iraq to stay out of its way and out of trouble if they chose to do so and a nation which was a strong enemy of and a strong deterrent to the plans of the Shiite Mullahs of Iran,…

    What we have now is a nation where virtually nothing of the infrastructure is dependably intact, where sectarian violence and routine thuggery are so unpredictable that the public can not stay out of the way, no matter how hard they might try, a nation which seems likely to become a satellite state and strong ally of Iran, and a nation in such political disarray that it’s likely the only thing that will settle things down will be the arrival of or arising of a new strong-armed dictator (who would, it seems, be welcomed by Iraq’s citizens if he could restore order).

    The parallel on a personal basis would be if we allowed ourselves to be convinced by a slick, attractive, fast-talking sales person to buy a very expensive and impressive looking new car only to discover that it broke down within the first 10,000 miles and that we have run ourselves into bankruptcy making outrageous car payments and paying for repairs (there was, of course, no warranty – something we failed to notice when we were buying this boondoggle), and that something in the car, itself, has caused serious chronic health issues for ourselves and our family members.

    When the chickens of this gigantic snow job come home to roost, every family in the US will be affected as if they had been the unwise buyers of that car, but the questino remains: will we remember who manufactured that shiny piece of junk in the first place and who sold it to us, hold them responsible and avoid being “snowed” by them in the future, or will we continue to love the car, try desperately to keep it running, drive it proudly and arrogantly, and ignore how much it continues to damage and even destroyed our lives and the lives of those we love?

  4. Submitted by myles spicer on 09/07/2010 - 10:11 am.

    A summary of my feelings about the future of Iraq is summed up in a fantastic Doonesbury cartoon of a few years past.

    An Iraqi soldier and and American soldier are riding in a jeep. The American says:
    “There are insurgents in a house nearby, and we have to go and capture them”

    The Iraqi says: “I know that house…they harmed my family…I will have to kill them all”

    American: “Really, how long ago did that happen?”

    Iraqi: 1291

  5. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 09/07/2010 - 09:14 pm.

    Can you explain to me how, or why, the myth of “all combat troops out of Iraq” is allowed to be perpetuated by the press, much less our senior military leadership?

    Does the public not understand that the secondary mission of our remaining forces is to be prepared to conduct combat operations either to defend themselves or to support Iraqi forces if requested? And when these train and assist “non-combat” units have to engage in, dare I say, combat operations, what will the Administration say then?

    The public wants to think that the soldiers have left Iraq and that the ones left behind won’t be fighting. To put it another way: most of us like our comforting lies.

  6. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 09/08/2010 - 12:26 am.

    Remember the neocons’ Axis of Evil – Iraq, Iran, Syria? Remember the WMD? The phony intelligence Dick Cheney gathered when he set up a secret intel operation out of his office? Few ask if we are now seeing a move toward an invasion of the second member of the Axis.

    There is much talk from Israel and Washington about Iran’s “intentions” to develop nuclear weapons (although at least the word alleged has been used lately by the press).

    Iran does need nuclear energy. It has failed to maintain its refining capacity and must export oil and import refined gasoline, which it sells at a loss to its population. Its current wells will run dry within a few years, but it has not drilled new ones.

    The US’s public scolding and threatening and sanctions do nothing but make Iran more stubbornly insist on its rights as a signatory of the nuclear nonproliferation treaty to develop nuclear power for peaceful means. Its stubbornness leads to yet more sanctions and threats.

    Iran has not invaded another country for three or four hundred years. It is hardly likely to commit suicide now by hitting Israel with an atomic bomb and being instantly showered with dozens of the same weapon in return.

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