It was this date, three years ago, that our war against Iraq entered a new and deadly phase. By launching missiles at a smattering of targets, we hoped to bring the war to an end, even as it began.
Of course, that gambit failed. Saddam mocked us from a hidden bunker, deep within the bowels of some vainglorious palace. But we swept his regime away, with pitiless ease, mostly because this was the martial equivalent of a grown man pounding a grade-school bully into the playground dirt.
That May Day, the President took a glory ride and with the golden sun framing him, with a stark banner strung behind him stating those fateful missionary words, the President declared the Battle of Iraq at an end. The only thing was, even as we celebrated its end, the whole enterprise was taking a malevolent, twisted turn.I know, because I was there in Iraq when everything turned from joy into drudgery. My time in that tragic, cursed land was at once the most exhilarating and exhausting time I’ve ever lived. During the day, we sought to rebuild the country we had so assiduously sought to destroy over the previous decade. And during the night, we fought an enemy cloaked in shadows so thick and impenetrable, that it was easy to mistake foes for friends, and allies for enemies.
But that was then. And by the time, two years ago this week, that I returned, neither I nor my friends were under any impression that our time in Iraq would be brief.
And yet, this war will end; my friends still serving will return. Will we have proved instrumental in that?
My answer is no.
If this war ends this year, or the next, and our friends and families return this summer or the next, it will be despite our efforts, not because of them. If this war ends, it will be because our failures in Iraq have been made manifest.
Everyday brings new word of some atrocity, of fresh carnage in some enclave. How can we claim success in this enterprise when, daily, the evidence of civil war is all around us? And every bombed-out mosque, every roadside bomb, every slain Iraqi and fallen warrior is another indictment of our abject failure.
That is why Americans are turning against this war, in ever increasing numbers. Our marching, our protesting has little impact on this, because we don’t march or protest in order to convince others of the righteousness of our cause; we do it in order to celebrate the righteousness of our cause.
Think about it. If you were trying to convince your next-door neighbor that the Iraq War was wrong, how would you go about it? Would you use the same rhetoric that you see and hear at a typical protest? Or would you try another tack?
All this to say: it’s all well and good to demand an end to the war, and to ask that our loved ones return. But this war will end. Our friends and family will return. And then what?
We need to get beyond the rhetoric of the last three years. We need to start think about the next three years, and the three years after that.