Iraq at five years -- and counting

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Tomorrow is the fifth anniversary of the Iraq war. For Americans, especially those who have lost loved ones, it will be another sad milestone pointing to this nation's greatest foreign policy and military debacle.

For Iraqis, it will be one more day filled with infamy. Five years after a White House media consultant came up with the term to describe the obliteration of one of the world's oldest civilizations, "shock and awe" has become the existential shorthand for the daily reality of ordinary Iraqis.

Since the first American missiles slammed into Saddam's palaces on March 19, 2003, there have been 1,826 days of infamy -- and that's not counting the decade of international sanctions that proceeded the war and the U.S. occupation.

The Iraq war itself -- a misnomer if ever there was one -- was over in less than a month.

Saddam Hussein's Republican Guard never showed up for the long promised "mother of all battles," so the American military had a false sense of accomplishment by toppling the regime so quickly.

Today, U.S. forces are attempting to be honest brokers in the middle of a civil war we don't understand and never anticipated.

Sen. John McCain has already given American voters dollops of his patented "straight talk" on the issue.

The Republican presidential nominee said the United States may have to remain an occupying force in Iraq for another century or so, or however long it takes to get a Western-oriented liberal democracy up and running in a land that used to give King Nebuchadnezzar fits and nightmares.

While it's tempting to laud a member of the president's party for making the effort to actually think ahead when it comes to war and occupation, Mr. McCain subscribes to the same fatalism that stranded the world's greatest military in Babylonia in the first place.

Only the truly mad, the perverse and the morally obtuse would argue that the invasion and occupation of Iraq five years ago was anything but an unnecessary and destabilizing military adventure.

What we now know would have been knowable then if the mainstream media had not succumbed to the politics of fear. Those who questioned the Bush administration's logic for war were marginalized and mocked as hopelessly "unpatriotic" and borderline seditious.

None of the voices of those who marched in every major American city that winter mattered.

Those who had serious doubts that a second war against Saddam would go as "gloriously" as the first were seen as figures to be pitied.

History was passing war skeptics and "dead-enders" by in its rush to erect utopias and Jeffersonian democracies where tyrannies once thrived.

So, Americans swallowed whole the sugarplum fantasies of an administration that had no real plan about how to proceed after toppling a tyrant.

After the initial euphoria by the media and the administration died down, the unsettling truth about our Iraq adventure began to sink in. "Shock and awe" took on new connotations.

Shock and awe over our superior military might became speechlessness over the tens of thousands of Iraqis killed since the bombs began falling.

The deterioration of the Iraqi economy and the degradation of the country's infrastructure after years of sanctions aimed at toppling Saddam's regime was another example of shock and awe.

The insurgency and the violence that fuels the average Iraqi's sense of cultural and political loss is another way of experiencing shock and awe.

Our tendency as Americans is to view the war solely through our eyes. For those who lack an empathetic imagination, seeing the war through the eyes of Iraqis who have lost loved ones to bombs, kidnappers, ethnic marauders and other forces that have reduced life in that country to a Hobbesian ordeal is too much of a stretch.

To insist that the "surge" is working is to discount the experience of those who continue to die by the dozens every day in Iraq.

It is true that U.S. soldier deaths are down, but what happens when we tote up the daily casualty figures for Iraqis? Shouldn't their health and safety figure in the equation of success and failure?

The surge may be working for us as an occupying army, but is it working for the Iraqis?

Yesterday, a female suicide bomber killed 39 Shiite worshippers and wounded 54 in Karbala at the same time Sen. McCain and Vice President Dick Cheney were making the rounds in Baghdad.

Mr. Cheney celebrated America's anniversary in Iraq by repeating the gospel of the Bush administration: "It would be a mistake now to be so eager to draw down the force that we risk putting the outcome in jeopardy. And I don't think we'll do that."

Mr. McCain was flanked by Sens. Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham, two colleagues who support his vision of a century-long crusade in Iraq. With five years down and 95 to go, the three senators continue whistling while strolling quickly past Iraq's ever-proliferating graveyards.


Tony Norman can be reached at tnorman@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1631.


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