The Iraq war,
we are told, is over. American troops are coming home.
It's been almost 10 years since President George W. Bush
George W. Bushinformed the nation that our military might was on its way
to take down Saddam Hussein, free the Iraqi people and make the world safe from
attack by Saddam's "weapons of mass destruction."
The country, still recovering from the shock of
terrorist attacks in September 2001, lurched into step behind the president's
Not everyone got in line. Indianapolis Congresswoman Julia Carson
Congresswoman Julia Carsonbucked the war-making tide by voting against the
resolution to make war on Iraq.
Thousands of people took to the streets in anti-war protests. But the media,
overheated with war fever, paid little attention.
Soon the Iraq war became like a kind of national
wallpaper. It was there, in the background of our lives, but rarely the focus.
There have been reasons for this.
For one thing, the war has dragged on for almost a
decade, making it one of the longest wars the United States has ever fought.
And the nature of the conflict made it hard to follow.
Apart from the Surge, there were no battles, or "theaters" of
operations, nothing, really, for the folks at home to follow on maps.
Most of the time, it wasn't even clear who the enemy
was. American troops found themselves caught in a web of rival religious sects
and competing tribes, trying to impose order on what appeared to be a civil
It didn't help that it was soon discovered that the weapons of mass destruction
of mass destruction, or WMD as they came to be known, didn't really exist.
This didn't surprise anyone who was paying attention.
Whistleblowers like Scott Ritter, a former U.N. weapons inspector, had been
insisting that Iraq no longer had WMD. And in an op-ed piece called "What
I Didn't Find in Africa," Joseph Wilson
Wilson, a former U.S. ambassador, rebutted President Bush's claim that the
Iraqis were acquiring bomb material from Niger.
But the media discounted this kind of information.
Ritter was considered a crank and Wilson a grandstander. Papers like The New York Times and The Washington Post gobbled what the
Bush Administration fed them.
No one wanted to handle the idea that a president of
the United States would use a bald-faced lie as pretext for doing something as
serious as sending men and women to war.
But that's what happened.
By the time national elections rolled around in 2004,
it was obvious that American troops were in Iraq under false pretenses. You'd
think this would have been enough to lose President Bush the election —
that, surely, if there was one thing Americans of all political persuasions
could agree on, it was to demand basic honesty from their leaders.
Americans chose denial instead. The lie proved to be
too big for people to face it down. Bush won, the war went on.
Indeed, when, in 2005, the Downing Street Memo
Street Memodocumented the fact that the Bush Administration had lied about
its reasons for going to war in Iraq, the news was greeted by a collective
It wasn't that Americans forgave the lie at the heart
of the war in Iraq. It was actually worse than that. We simply gave in to it.
Was this because we felt powerless, cut off from our own government and its
At the very least, we were disconnected from one of
the foundation stones upon which our government stands: the military.
The war in Iraq demonstrated the dark side of our
reliance on a volunteer fighting force. During the Vietnam War
Vietnam War— the last time we had a draft — anyone over the
age of 18 could find himself with a letter from Selective Service, demanding he
show up for a physical in advance of being pressed into uniform. The existence
of the draft did not prevent the war in Vietnam and, as its name suggested, it
was far too selective. With the right connections, it was easy to get a
But the draft created a multi-generational backlash
against the Vietnam War that contributed to mounting pressure to bring troops
Iraq has made it clear that ending the draft let
government policymakers off the hook. The volunteer service has made it easier
to use war as an instrument of foreign policy because it has made war something
that's waged by other people, our professional military.
As long as we had a draft, we had "citizen
soldiers." War was a shared sacrifice affecting you, your friends and
neighbors. Although 1.5 million Americans have served in Iraq, their experience
there has been compartmentalized by their voluntary service. How else can one
explain Americans' passivity, a kind of denial, regarding a war that dragged on
for years, required repeated tours of duty by exhausted service members and,
instead of victory, ended in withdrawal?
It's tempting to ignore that now. The troops are
coming home, and that's enough. But unless we can shake the collective kinds of
denial that sent them to war in the first place, then kept them there, it's a
matter of time before they're sent away again.