The Iraq War has officially come to an end with the Iraqis celebrating their independence this past Tuesday. “Shock and Awe” has now faded to fizzle and yawn. Americans, satisfied with what can now be characterized as blanket retribution for 9/11, have moved on. In the end we fought two wars simultaneously and overthrew a regime—a ferocious display of might perhaps no other nation could manage without coming apart at the seams.
It was one hell of a war, wasn’t it? Or was it?
There are parts of the world where fresh battle lines are continuously drawn over ancient disputes; the impermanence of Western culture allows us to forgive and forget and heal all wounds but not all of the wounded. But as the scene in Iraq fades to black, American media has lapsed back into reporting woes of the pocketbook, Gary Condit-like coverage of our politicians and news of tragic celebrity deaths. No shark attacks at the moment folks—we do have dolphins in the Long Island Sound.
As far as Iraq is concerned we’re left to simply ponder what the hell just happened. So let’s talk about it. What is ultimately in question will be the fate of the Bush Doctrine, the centerpiece of the Bush administration. Some may remember it simply as the question that flummoxed Sarah Palin during the now-infamous Katie Couric interview. It was a serious question that exposed a seriously unqualified candidate and one that will linger for decades.
Is the Bush Doctrine simply veiled imperialism at its worst or the righteous burden of a superpower? Is the world a better place without Saddam Hussein? Was it even our fight? Would it have made a difference if we uncovered weapons of mass destruction? Was Saddam with access to nuclear weaponry more of a danger than an unstable nuclear Pakistan or an unpredictable nuclear North Korea?
We now know that this was an unnecessary war as it relates to the proposed reasoning for entering into it. But was it necessarily unjust?
There have been some answers along the way and not all of them tragic. As Americans, we learned how to treat returning soldiers with the respect they deserve while maintaining our right to question their mission. We have learned that conventional warfare is over and that working with civilians is more important than leveling their society and dictating terms. We have also learned that those who run the departments that govern the military cannot necessarily run a war. That exercise is better left to the generals.
For better or for worse, the Bush Doctrine gave America something that it has been missing since the Cuban Missile Crisis—a little touch of crazy. This war proved that you can poke the bear one too many times. It showed that we will throw you out of your house, kill you in front of your friends, marry your wife and rename your kids. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, mind you, but it’s a lousy way to win friends and influence people.
It will be years before the Iraq puzzle can be assembled objectively with the wisdom that only time can provide. Yet trying to determine whether a war was a “success” may be impossible. Can the lives of American soldiers or innocent foreign civilians really be quantified? Twenty nine soldiers from Long Island gave their lives to free Iraq and overthrow the Taliban in Afghanistan. Now consider that 397 Long Islanders have lost their lives to heroin in the same time period.
This correlation isn’t meant to minimize the wartime deaths but to challenge whether or not any war can truly be objectively quantified in terms of battles, casualties and borders. Today, heroin flows cheap and easy across the globe due to the overwhelming productivity of poppy fields in destabilized regions such as Afghanistan. Did our myopia in Iraq cause tributaries to pour dangerously in ways we have yet to contemplate? Will they empty into perilous seas that will someday be too difficult to navigate?
Countless questions. Seldom an absolute answer. And what do we ponder instead? What will become of MJ’s estate? Will Paul McCartney finally get the rights back to the Beatles? Will they freeze Michael next to Walt? Did Farrah get a proper send off? And who the hell is going to pitch OxiClean?
Asking questions is a good thing. Let’s just make them the right ones.