So Iraq is falling apart and there are scores of people on every side of the political spectrum who are not at all surprised.
By the time you read this editorial, it may well be that the nation’s largest city, Bagdad, will have fallen to the group known by some as ISIS — the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and to others as ISIL — the Islamic State and the Levant. (The “Levant” refers to a geographic region of the Middle East.)
So far, ISIS or ISIL or whatever you want to call these very well-armed militants, have already taken control of many Iraqi cities such as Mosul and Tikrit. According to one of the most experienced reporters in the region, CNN’s Nic Robertson, the group has but one agenda. “They want to create a caliphate — an Islamic state — across a vast area that includes Syria and Iraq and we are now seeing that agenda in action,” he said in a recent report.
So what about the 4,486 men and women soldiers, Marines, airmen and sailors who lost their lives in the nine-year Iraq War? And what about the hundreds of thousands who were wounded, who lost limbs or sight or even mental stability and the chance at a normal life? What must they be thinking as they watch Iraq fall apart.
At one point we were spending $6 billion to $9 billion a month to allegedly rid the world of Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction — weapons which in fact didn’t exist. We went into Iraq following the horror of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks knowing — knowing — that despite what some politicians said, Iraq had absolutely nothing to do with bringing down the World Trade Center or flying an airplane into the Pentagon. The Secretary of State said prior to the start of the war that we were going into Iraq to make sure those alleged “weapons of mass destruction” didn’t take the form of a “mushroom cloud” over an American city, knowing full well that Iraq didn’t have the ability to make that happen.
So we flew in plane loads of money and flew out plane loads of wounded and killed American service men and women. And now the nation we liberated from a dictator is coming apart at the seams.
Never mind the politics of the situation; never mind who was right and who was wrong and the arguments in Washington now about what should or should not be done. The fact is it was a terribly wrong war and many, many people tried to tell the government exactly that.
Marine General Anthony Zinni said before the 2003 invasion of Iraq that “It’s pretty interesting that all the generals see it the same way (they didn’t want the war) and all the others who have never fired a shot and are hot to go to war. … We are about to do something that will ignite a fuse in this region. … we will rue the day we ever started.”
Retired Army Colonel David Hackworth said before the war began that he hoped “at least a few of our serving top-uniformed leaders — those who are now covertly leaking that the war with Iraq will be an unparalleled disaster — will do what many Vietnam-era generals wish they would have done: Stand tall and publicly tell the American people the truth about another bad war that could well lead to another died-in-vain black wall.”
But we went to war anyway and no one can blame an American military that did what it was told. They followed their orders, killed Iraq’s army and, unfortunately, an unknown number of civilians. They spent nine years there and then were told to leave Iraq to its own devices. Those “devices” haven’t worked.
There’s a young Kentucky man who fought in the war who now looks much older than he should. He was shot by friendly-fire from an Air Force A-10 Warthog while he was in his Army tank. The depleted uranium shell, or part of it, entered his lung and has left him disabled and sick. And like many of his friends, it’s left him more than a little bitter, too.
“After a while there we weren’t fighting to ‘free the Iraqis,’ or find chemical weapons or anything else,” he said recently. “We were fighting for one another; we were fighting to help each other come home. That’s the only thing that made any sense.”
Now ISIS, armed to a large degree with American weapons that were left for the Iraqi Army and security forces — an Army and security force that melted away when the ISIS attacks began — is well on it’s way to creating its desired caliphate.
Starting wars are easy; restoring peace will be more than difficult. That is a problem that Pope Francis and many, many bishops have noted time and time again.
Even before these latest shattering events unfolded in Iraq, Pope Francis spoke out against the “globalization of indifference” toward war that has grown in the hearts of many people around the world, numbing them to the “unspeakable suffering of thousands of refugees, including the elderly and children, who sometimes die of hunger and war-related illnesses.”
The pope praised Catholic charities for “helping all the victims of war without distinction of ethnicity, religion or social group.” But, according to a recent Catholic News Service story, he has pleaded with warring parties in conflicts the world over to put down their weapons and make a commitment to dialogue.
Because as the pope, the bishops and peace-loving people everywhere have said, war is not the answer.