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Ending an Endless War


A Deepening Unease
Feeling Friendless
Hope for Our Troops

The war in Iraq took on a deeper significance for me when I had the opportunity to meet one of our injured soldiers last December. A co-worker’s son, clad in military fatigues and hobbling on crutches, was recovering after a roadside bomb struck his armored vehicle in Sadr City the previous November, wounding his leg.

He was only 20 when I met him, and his eyes—which seldom looked up from the floor—have stayed with me. In that moment, he became the ambassador of everyone fighting in this war: a conflict that has become a study in human tragedy.

When President George W. Bush declared on January 10, 2007, that some 20,000 additional U.S. troops would be deployed to Baghdad, the totality of the war itself—our muddled reasons for engaging, the more than 3,100 Americans and 56,000 Iraqi civilians who have died—is as much a tragic mystery today as it was when it began.


A Deepening Unease

This has never been a popular war. From the beginning, one of its most vocal critics was Pope John Paul II. Always mindful of Christian-Muslim relations, the pope urged the president to forgo an invasion.

The president and his administration didn’t listen. So the pope spoke a little louder.

In an address to members of Telespace, an Italian religious television channel, the pontiff said, “When war, as in these days in Iraq, threatens the fate of humanity, it is ever more urgent to proclaim, with a strong and decisive voice, that only peace is the road to follow to construct a more just and united society. Violence and arms can never resolve the problems of man.”

Pope Benedict XVI furthered the cause by pleading last July for an end to “the blind violence” and calling for world leaders to make a “serious and credible commitment to peace.”

But the current U.S. administration was unyielding. A surge will “show our enemies abroad that we are united in the goal of victory,” said the president in his State of the Union address last January.

Many in this country and abroad felt a deepening unease. The Iraq Study Group, also known as the Baker-Hamilton Commission, was a bipartisan panel of 10 former judges, politicians and executives. This group was appointed by Congress on March 15, 2006, to assess the problems in Iraq. Their 79 recommendations were published online in December of 2006.

The report asserts: “Sustained increases in U.S. troop levels would not solve the fundamental cause of violence in Iraq. A senior American general told us that adding U.S. troops might temporarily help limit violence in a highly localized area. However, the violence would simply rekindle as soon as U.S. forces are moved to another area.

“As another American general told us, if the Iraqi government does not make political progress, ‘all the troops in the world will not provide security.’”

The president, yet again, ignored advice and pressed on. With this move, our country’s stock with the rest of the world plunged lower than his stateside approval ratings.

Feeling Friendless

We were not always this unpopular. The catastrophes of 9/11 brought this country something it has scarcely felt in recent decades: global empathy. When the war started in 2003, however, compassion turned to widespread disapproval. Now we are alienated from many in the international community.

But more important than popularity is that sacrificing additional soldiers for a war that many feel is un-winnable seems desperate and reckless.

Even Great Britain—our principal ally in the war—vowed to reduce its troops this year. Sixteen other countries have already done so.

It is becoming evident that long-term peace in Iraq is hard-won through another country’s military presence. Somehow, Shiites, Kurds and Sunnis must find a way to coexist peacefully. In the search for unity, communication is more effective than force. Phasing out our military in Iraq may compel the country’s warring factions to do just that. Perhaps not.

The most pressing resolution now is to institute an exit strategy. Iraq deserves peace. And the troops deserve a permanent homecoming. Now is the time to give thanks for their safe return, not to mourn the repose of more souls.

Hope for Our Troops

It’s logical to criticize the president and his administration for turning a deaf ear to the concerns of several military generals.

It’s fair to question the president for staunchly defending “the culture of life” and then sending our soldiers into a life-threatening scenario.

It’s realistic to vent frustration over the war in its entirety—a conflict widely viewed as a failed initiative—just as it is acceptable to voice ardent support.

But to be an armchair critic is a freedom that we enjoy, not from the declarations of a president, but from the labors of our soldiers.

And nowhere is the tragedy of war felt more urgently than by the brave and battered men and women who are embedded in a fight they did not start, waging a war for reasons no longer apparent, battling an enemy with no clear face.

To insist upon their safe return is a commendable—and, yes, patriotic— outcry. What better way to support our troops than to speak the words that are so richly deserved and painfully long-overdue: “Welcome home.”—C.H.

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