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.
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.”