Long before President Bush committed this nation to war in Iraq, this website in its former life as thenorthstarnetwork.com, opposed a U.S. invasion of Iraq. Our reasons were fairly simple. We opposed an unprovoked attack against a sovereign nation and did not believe Mr. Bush’s claim that Saddam Hussein was behind the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks against the United States nor was connected to Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda. We held our ground, despite being roundly criticized during appearances on political talk shows for being “unpatriotic,” and maintaining our opposition to the war when President Bush stood under that now infamous “Mission Accomplished” banner on the deck of the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln.
It is why we are pleased that President Obama has announced his intention to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq in 19 months. It is not the pullout we would have preferred but it is the pullout we will accept. It is true that Mr. Obama’s plan does not meet the timetable he committed to as a candidate. It is also true that a significant number of troops will remain in Iraq until ground forces are removed. The plan, put forth by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and endorsed by the President, does not meet political expediency but President Obama insists that it will be sufficient to end our engagement in Iraq. For the sake of the soldiers on the ground, and their families back home, we hope and pray that the President is right.
By all accounts, our engagement in Iraq was a tragic mistake, borne of the arrogance of power and the deceit of the powerful. While we spent billions of dollars on this boondoggle, and lost thousands of soldiers and tens of thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians, we have very little to show for the investment in flesh and blood that we have made. Yes, Saddam Hussein was captured and hanged, along with his Baath Party lieutenants, and the surge has eased the insurgent violence. Still, the primary justification for the war, justice for the nation’s suffering from the attacks on the World Trade Center, Pentagon and the flight that was downed in Pennsylvania, was never satisfied. The man most responsible for 9/11 remains free.
We are hopeful that as we exit Iraq, we will, at the same time, do whatever is necessary to bring to justice those responsible for the 2001 terrorist attacks. It will require an increase in troop presence in Afghanistan, and no doubt, lives will be lost in the battle, but is an offensive that, unlike invading Iraq, is justified and can be defended without shame. Our nation needs to do whatever it takes to curb terrorism. We must engage not so much in a “war on terrorism” but an ongoing offensive against extremism, whether it comes in the form of a physical attack, inflammatory rhetoric or symbolism. Our nation must do whatever is necessary to use its presence and belief in the rule of law to set an example in the international community that will be emulated.
We know this plan could change if there is a flare up in Iraq. For instance, troop levels could be increased if it appears the region, already fragile, begins to unravel once it is clear the United States has ended its engagement. We hope that does not happen. However, if it does we would expect Secretary Gates to devise a plan that protected our troops, assesses the degree to which our soldiers can be pulled out, and makes the ultimate withdrawal a priority.
Until the day the last active duty soldier leaves Iraq, we will be vigilant in our call for President Obama to keep his word. In the meantime, we applaud the President’s reversal of the Bush administration’s prohibition against the photographing of coffins of soldiers killed in the war, upon the return of their remains to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. We opposed the policy then and welcome its termination now. The brave men and women who have sacrificed their lives for this country should not return in death hidden from public view. They deserve to be honored in a dignified way in full view of a nation that died to defend.