Ten years ago I was on the other side of the world. I was deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. We had just begun the war in Iraq. It is an experience I will take with me all of my life. I met and served with some incredible men and women.
Ten years later, most Americans say when questioned about it that they wished we had not gone to war in Iraq, or at least done it differently. The real truth is just about what happened should have been the expected result. Our military was an overwhelming favorite against the Iraqi armed services. But we were attacking a country that we knew relatively little about (I always love the country song that came out back then where the singer confesses, “I’m not sure I know the difference between Iraq and Iran.”) That was true for most Americans.
But we had recently been attacked in a way our country had not since the 1940s. Nations and terrorists could then and can now acquire weapons that make even the atomic weapons of WW2 pale in comparison. We felt we had to do something. Most of us then, apparently wrongly, thought Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and we feared either he, or a terrorist he would sponsor, would use them against us. And so, we attacked.
As citizens of a democracy (especially moral citizens), we have to reckon what followed. Richard Perle, a key member of the Bush/Cheney team opinions in today’s USA Today that it was not wrong to attack and take out Hessein and his regime. The only thing wrong was occupying a country we didn’t understand. But that argument falls apart to me once we ask ourselves, “Yes, and what would have happened next?” More than likely, the Iranians would have moved in to prevent chaos from engulfing their neighbor and we today might have an even more powerful opponent than we do in the Middle East. Once we attacked, it was (and is) our responsibility to make it better. I see the occupation and the sectarian violence that followed as inevitable once we attacked. It also pretty much was a given that we would not come out as heroes in the process.
I think the thing we have to take away from the Iraq war, even down to a personal level, is to be very careful on the decisions we make when we are hurting or we are angry. I suspect today we would be more thoughtful before jumping into a war on the other side of the globe. But then again, if you hear some folks talk about North Korea today, maybe we wouldn’t be.
As a chaplain, I was and am there to support our warfighters. If the powers that be determine that another conflict is needed, I will again stand ready to serve. I go to support our armed service members that go into harm’s way when our nation calls. But I hope every American realizes that in the end, we are all “the powers that be.” If we don’t ask hard questions, maybe especially at hard times, we are failing our responsibility as a citizen of this great nation. In the meantime, we cannot change history and it is my hope that we do not “write off” Iraq (or Afghanistan) and move on. I hope we continue to help the fledgling democracies that wouldn’t be there if it weren’t for us. And maybe, if we continue our support, history will look at as a little differently.
As Christians, let us pray for the people of Iraq, even for our enemies, and pray for the day where war will be no more. Let us remember there are many who still are sacrificing to keep us safe. And as Americans let us continue to support all the veterans who have put themselves in harm’s way when they have been asked in the last 10 years.
What do you think?
Until next time,