WASHINGTON -- It might have been just a good dream, but I'm sure I heard that the president got (what is for him) "mad" and told the charitably described Iraqi "government" something about having all American troops leave Iraq by the end of the year! The story also seemed to involve "status of forces" agreements, which means that American troops can never be submitted to judgment under foreign judges or claimants.
But I'm not certain, because just as I thought I heard this dramatic bit of news on TV, it was past, and Herman Cain and his problems came on. And on. The next day's papers were barren of news on Iraq, but filled with Cain and his alleged sexual harassment. (Abel was nowhere to be seen, either.)
Now, any normal country, having dived so precipitously into a strange place such as Iraq, without any knowledge or appreciation of the land or its odd and cruel habits, would surely lead off the next day's news -- and days thereafter, if only in honor of the 4,500 or so Americans and 100,000 Iraqis who have died there -- with a follow-up to the troops-coming-home story. But, no, we had more important things to focus on -- we had Herman Cain.
Any other country, having gone through the fighting hell of the last 10 years in Iraq and Afghanistan, would have had their best minds focusing on the why and the how (we know the where) of President Obama's sudden and unexpected announcement. Leaving a country we waged war against, with so little ceremony, deserves hard analysis.
There was some talk about leaving a few American military in Iraq -- it seems to me the number was about 150, but the truth is I never really heard it repeated after that first report about Obama getting mad. Supposedly their job would be to train the Iraqi military. Since so many of "our" Iraqi and Afghan fighters have turned against us, even to the point of killing our men, this idea can only be described as a double-edged sword.
But we will soon know all, for the calendar never stops for any man. December will come, the men and women will leave; January will come, almost all will be home; and then we will need to worry about the 32,000 severely injured Americans from the Iraq war, most of whom will be in the care of the state.
Interesting, how the idiot savants in charge of our economics never seem to figure this amount into the fiscal budget, much less the moral and human budget. Joseph Stiglitz, the brilliant Nobel laureate economist, stated in the very beginning of the war that it, plus the care for injured veterans, would cost America in the trillions of dollars and would mean taking care of veterans with severe wounds all their lives.
Meanwhile, the stupid neocons, whose war it so proudly was, consistently said that the war would pay for itself out of Iraqi oil revenues. The human part of the war equation never seemed to enter their minds.
It occurs to me at this point to compare Vietnam with Iraq. And when I do, most of what I see are differences.
Our soldiers in Vietnam were conscripted; they uniformly hated the war, as I found out when I traveled there as a correspondent. When they came home, they were jeered, not cheered, and had to live with a sense of angry shame. Endless scores of writers and analysts jumped into their memories of the war and analyzed it to death.
Our soldiers in Iraq were all volunteers; from what we can tell so far, they are proud of their service and have, at least to date, bought into the Bush administration's general narrative on the war. They have come home with honor, cheered as "America's warriors"; their biggest problem at home, if they are able-bodied, is a lack of jobs; and to date, few writers and analysts have studied the war and its designers with any depth.
But what will come next for the U.S. military is hard to say. There is a strange growl of anger and discontent that one occasionally hears about the war behind the curtains, and one wonders if it will ever burst forth. One sees the lack of press coverage of virtually anything serious, like the war, and wonders how we will ever emerge from our present national funk without a more intellectual and moral discussion of where we've been.
Fotunately, the Obama administration has begun to show us the way the future could be. The Libyan story is one example, showing how the United States can "lead from behind," or in effect lay out the pattern for success by using the French-led NATO effort to clear the skies above the cities and towns of Libya. This is similar to the equally successful NATO bombing attacks on Serbia in the late 1990s in order to free Kosovo from Serbian oppression.
And if I am not mistaken, this kind of thinking is behind the recent Pentagon decision to send American advisers to aid Uganda in the fight to defeat Joseph Kony, the mad, perverted mass murderer, and his euphemistically named "Lord's Resistance Army," which kidnaps children from villages and forces them to kill their parents.
The future will not be kind to us if we do not absorb the past. At the moment, we know more about Herman Cain than about the realities of Iraq.
- Herman Cain