By the time you read this, America will have entered its fifth year of occupation in Iraq. And for what?
In the last four years of occupation, Iraq has devolved into one of the most violent places on Earth. Some 3,000 or more Iraqi civilians die violent deaths every month, victims of the insurgency and Iraq’s ubiquitous crime. In the last six months alone, almost 1,000 Iraqi policemen have been murdered. At the time of this writing, the total number of American military fatalities stands at 3,210, and the number of America’s military wounded rests at 23, 924. Iraq is a nightmare.
The tragic state of Iraq today is a direct result of the unabashed arrogance and incompetence of this war’s planners. President Bush and his inner circle believed they could wage war on the cheap, and they did so by willfully denying reality. Thanks to documents revealed through the Freedom of Information Act, we now know that in August 2002, the U.S. Central Command’s war plans predicted that only 5,000 U.S. military personnel would be on the ground in Iraq as of last December. In the fact-based world, Iraq saw the presence of 140,000 U.S. troops in December 2006. The administration’s lack of planning has also hindered reconstruction and recovery efforts—the U.S. has yet to disburse several billion dollars already appropriated for aid, and millions and millions of reconstruction dollars have gone missing since the war’s start and remain unaccounted for.
President Bush has responded to the fiasco by authorizing the deployment of more than 20,000 additional troops to Iraq. Even after the surge, however, the number of U.S. troops in Iraq will still be less than the peak levels of troop strength reached at the end of 2005. Even worse, as Middle East expert Juan Cole has pointed out, the recent bombings that targeted hundreds of booksellers, university students and Shi’ite pilgrims have already made a mockery of the administration’s security plan.
Bush and his cronies have much to answer for, but to hang the blame for Iraq around Bush’s neck alone or to write it off as the Republicans’ failed war would be a dangerous mistake. The sad fact is that the majority of Americans supported the invasion of Iraq. A great many people—everyone from comedian Al Franken to Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton—bought into the spin and the jingoism that led us to a foreign desert devoid of weapons of mass destruction and Osama bin Laden.
So what is America to do? Iraq is writhing in the grip of insurgents that have time and again shown no compunction at taking innocent life. This is a great evil. No hope can shine for a stable Iraq, let alone a democratic Iraq, until the insurgency is brought to heel. But to do that at this point would require the presence of half a million troops on the ground. This would require a draft, and even the occupation’s biggest cheerleaders know better than to call for that politically unpalatable option, especially in light of Army surveys released this month that found 73 percent of America’s youth to be “morally, intellectually or physically” ineligible for recruitment, in the words of General William S. Wallace as reported in the Army Times.
The reality is that the United States of America cannot bring peace or stability to Iraq. American troops face death and dismemberment every day for a mission that cannot be accomplished. This too is a great evil, but it is an evil that can be stopped. After four years in Iraq, it is time to bring the members of our armed forces home, heal their wounds, and vow to never again allow the republic to charge so blindly into war.
David T. Roisen will graduate from UVA this May with a degree in Middle East Studies and Foreign Affairs.