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
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
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
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
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
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: