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Saturday, January 19 , 2019, 4:59 pm | Fair 67º


Ron Fink: Iraq — A War Lost by Public Demand

There have been a lot of questions concerning whether the decision to invade Iraq was right or wrong. It is important to note that hindsight is always laser sharp.

Former President George Bush has publicly acknowledged that the information used by the international community, the administration and Congress to justify the war was flawed. In November 2010, The Guardian reported that when asked by the Times whether a chemical weapons cache might yet be uncovered, he said: "I don't know. I doubt it … I was surprised when he didn't have them. That's the key point. Everybody thought he (Saddam Hussein) had them."

Most politicians, both Democrats and Republicans, who supported the war now agree that they wouldn’t have agreed to the invasion either if they knew what they know now — but they didn’t know it then so the fight was on.

It was an honest mistake by politicians who were acting in good faith, many of whom are now trying to distance themselves from this war for political gain. And who is to say that given the same set of circumstances this mistake could be made again?

So why after all of that death and destruction did we pull out?

As the mission evolved and Hussein was removed from power, the killing continued with cowardly ambushes that killed hundreds of American men and women and an untold number of innocent Iraqis. The killing still goes on today. Some say it’s even worse, but American lives are not being lost.

The public saw images on TV every day of the result of terrorist bombings and saw their youth lying in puddles of blood. Missing from most of the coverage was any meaningful reports of the positive accomplishments of our troops. You see, it isn’t quite as newsworthy to show the opening of a school as it is an explosion.

It doesn’t help when the media print endless pictures of the death and destruction. Most people don’t have the stomach for this type of evening “entertainment,” and 24-hour wall-to-wall commentary by journalists who are second-guessing battlefield commanders is counterproductive.

Once again, hindsight is helpful. I think the assumption was that the Iraqi people would embrace the Americans and life would quickly stabilize once Hussein was no longer in power. Today we know that it took a decade of hard work, so called nation building, to achieve some sort of normalcy in the country.

Much good had been done. Iraqis held free elections, schools and infrastructure were improved, young women were treated more fairly and the country was fairly stable. Iraqis had begun to trust that Americans had their back as they rebuilt their country.

But after more than a decade of war, the American public was weary and a bright young politician promising “hope and change” campaigned on a promise to get our people out of Iraq and he delivered on his promise, but failed to foresee the negative impact of his actions.

But by withdrawing from Iraq, all of that blood and sweat of the Americans who were wounded or lost limbs or their lives has been squandered, the sacrifice of the military was disrespected by the new, inexperienced commander-in-chief, and America’s position in the region and the whole world has been seriously weakened by his actions.

No longer will those we seek to help be able to rely on us to stay the course and fulfill our commitments when a new president takes power.

The current state of affairs in Iraq is total chaos. Women are being raped, dehumanized, maimed and killed just because they are women; children are being killed randomly; Christians are being slaughtered and the men are being burned in the public square by terrorists who had once been in submission. Not to mention the destruction of historical monuments of the rich history of the region.

Almost all of the gains have now been lost or, more correctly, thrown away by President Barack Obama.

To reverse this trend would cost more American lives; to allow it to continue is inhumane. You can be assured that the political will of candidates and elected leaders will be tested as the situation escalates.

So, once again hindsight plays a role. What could be done better?

First and foremost is leaders need reliable intelligence information to support a decision to go to war. In most places where the administration and Congress might be inclined to take drastic action, really solid assessments are difficult because of the secrecy of closed societies.

Next, know your enemy. Countries where generations of people have been ruled by dictatorships that control everything their subjects do, hear or see can be extremely difficult to change.  Imagine trying to change to culture of North Koreans who have been taught from birth to worship their country's leader and have no access to the outside world.

Lastly, if you must commit the country to a war set clear goals, remain committed to those goals and clearly communicate to the nation what the risks of going in to battle are.

Large-scale American involvement in Iraq has ended, but the war goes on.

— Ron Fink, a Lompoc resident since 1975, is retired from the aerospace industry and has been active with Lompoc municipal government commissions and committee since 1992, including 12 years on the Lompoc Planning Commission. He is also a voting member of the Santa Barbara County Taxpayers Association. Contact him at [email protected]. The opinions expressed are his own.

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