McClellan: Was Iraq worth it? - East Valley Tribune: Columnists

McClellan: Was Iraq worth it?

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Mike McClellan is a Gilbert resident and former English teacher at Dobson High School in Mesa.

Posted: Saturday, March 23, 2013 10:11 am | Updated: 5:27 pm, Tue Jun 18, 2013.

Ten years on, what do we have as a result of our involvement in Iraq?

A sort of democracy in that country. And no more Saddam.

But was it worth the toll on our country? And on that one?

Let’s be honest. In the lead up to the war, most of us supported the Bush Administration’s decision.

In the heated aftermath of 9/11, we wanted to strike back. Afghanistan then seemed a success, and we were told that Saddam had a massive cache of weapons of mass destruction. Plus, there were vague hints of Saddam’s involvement with Al Qaida.

So it’s unsurprising that we supported the invasion.

And at first glance, we had the easy victory folks like then-Vice President Dick Cheney predicted.

In fact, in a way, we won the war and lost the peace.

The invasion itself went almost in textbook fashion. Even Saddam seemed to cooperate, as no poisonous gasses or other kinds of weapons like that were loosed on our troops.

The Iraqi forces performed more like paper tigers than a fighting army. And soon enough, the massive statue of Saddam was toppled.

“Mission Accomplished.” The war won.

And soon enough, the peace lost.

Forget, for a moment, that we never did find those weapons of mass destruction. Despite what some might say, America wasn’t alone in believing Iraq had those.

Let’s focus on what happened after the initial battles. To call it incompetence would be to grossly understate what American officials did.

First, they made our brave men and women into a force of nation-builders, something they clearly weren’t trained for. So their efforts, while praiseworthy, often were misdirected.

Second, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and other Bush officials decided that we didn’t need a massive force in post-war Iraq, extending the troops who were there far too much.

Third, we failed to understand history, that somehow we felt the liberation of Iraq would lead to peace between the Sunnis and the Shia. As if centuries of conflict would be ended with the elimination of one grisly dictator.

Fourth, we decided to decimate what was left of the Iraqi army and police force. We removed top leaders and middle managers of both, effectively leaving that country lawless.

Which meant?

Chaos. And into the chaos came the very people who we feared were there (but who apparently were not), Al-Qaida.

That group, along with local insurgents, gave Iraq and American forces years of terror, IED’s and ambushes that led to thousands of deaths, both courageous Americans and innocent Iraqis.

This incompetence led to the surge, the dramatic and sustained troop increase proposed by Sen. McCain, one that, along with a different strategy in approaching every day Iraqis, led to a kind of peace, enough for us to leave that country.

And today?

Trillions spent on the war — trillions that, because President Bush didn’t require a way to pay for the war, have been added to our national debt.

Billions more spent on the wounded troops returning from that war.

Four thousand Americans dead. More than 100,000 Iraqis killed.

More than 30,000 wounded Americans, many of whom continue to suffer back in the U.S. in exchange for a sort of democracy, a tenuous one at best, and the death of a dictator.

If we’re honest with ourselves, we know that we supported the invasion, at least the vast majority of us did.

But if the Bush Administration officials are honest with themselves, they know that post-invasion Iraq was a series of disastrous missteps they were responsible for, missteps that led to the years of death and destruction young Americans and Iraqis faced.

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