The News & Observer, Raleigh
There are none who long for peace so much as those whose duty is to fight the nation’s wars — wars that we trust our leaders to engage in only as matters of grave necessity, with vital national interests at stake. The costs — in blood, resources, moral standing — are too high to fight on less compelling grounds.
It perhaps never will be possible to make the eight-year war in Iraq somehow fit the definition of a war of necessity as opposed to a war of choice. But at least the U.S. combat role finally has come to a close. And the community of Fort Bragg, along with those at bases such as the Marines’ Camp Lejeune, surely celebrates this season of peace made more meaningful by the return of loved ones, neighbors and friends from that blood-stained land.
President Obama’s trip to Fort Bragg, coming after a visit Monday to the Oval Office by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, helps underscore a point that serves Obama’s political purposes — that he oversaw the orderly, on-schedule termination of the American war effort.
The trip serves another purpose as well. It marks a fitting tribute to the men and women who actually bore the burden of the war in Iraq, thousands of them who deployed from the Army post that has become so central to combat operations in the post-9/11 era, whether in Iraq or Afghanistan.
The president previewed that tribute in remarks at the White House, with al-Maliki at his side. He praised the “nearly 4,500 fallen Americans who gave their last full measure of devotion; tens of thousands of wounded warriors, and so many inspiring military families. … We owe it to every single one of them — we have a moral obligation to all of them — to build a future worthy of their sacrifice.”
Obama was a war opponent when the key decision to invade and to target the regime of dictator Saddam Hussein was made by President George W. Bush. But as commander in chief, whether or not he supported the war from the outset, Obama was stuck with it.
The challenge was to wind the war down in a fashion that gave the U.S. the best chance to salvage something of value from the situation in Iraq as our forces departed, that protected our troops as they withdrew and that allowed a case to be made that those many casualties were not incurred in vain. An agreement negotiated by the Bush and al-Maliki governments provided a timetable, and the Obama team kept to the script.
That script relied heavily on U.S. efforts to bolster democracy in Iraq and position that country’s security forces to forestall another outbreak of the Islamic sectarian violence that claimed so many lives after Saddam was toppled. The threat has been augmented by Islamic radicals who wanted to purge the region of U.S. influence.
If Iraqi democracy does take root, despite the shadow of neighboring Iran, some may conclude that the whole horrendously expensive and painful undertaking did bring a dividend that serves U.S. interests.
Others will note that the foray into Iraq gave Islamic terrorists the breathing room they needed to fortify their presence in Afghanistan — where a drawdown also is in progress while that war’s outcome remains in doubt. The Americans who have fought there — many on multiple tours, as was the case in Iraq — now can hope for their own days of peace and to receive the tributes they too will have earned.