I’ll never forget where I was when it began. It was March 19, 2003. I had only met Joanna–now my wife–that previous year, and I had just that week moved into a second-floor apartment in Drexel Hill, PA, about 30 minutes outside Philadelphia. It was unseasonably cold, and I was wearing layers while doing work in the second bedroom.
Reports had come across the television of an attack on some compound in the outer reaches of Baghdad. Rumor had it that American stealth fighters might have been targeting Saddam Hussein in an attempt to land a single decapitating blow in advance of the decapitating offensive which, unbeknownst to most everyone, would come less than a day later. Obviously, they didn’t get him. Yet.
The following day, while we later learned that special operations troops were working feverishly behind enemy lines and had been for a while, for most of us it began for real with “Shock & Awe.” As I watched the Baghdad skyline light up live on Fox News Channel, MSNBC and CNN, I recall thinking that I was only 12 years old during the first Gulf War, when television screens tuned to the latter came alive with tracer rounds and studly reporters dramatically reacting to Scud missile attacks. Some of the characters and locations remained the same, but it was immediately clear that a dozen years of technological advances would make the broadcast of the pending conflict a completely different experience.
I’ve never been one for a television in the bedroom–it just doesn’t belong there–so as the wee hours of the morning approached and the static camera shots showing a smouldering Iraqi capital were replaced by incredibly dynamic broadcasts from armored vehicles crossing the desert, I recall falling asleep with pillow and blanket on my sofa, managing a few more prayers for the safety of our bravest men and women as my eyelids grew heavy from a long day of rapt attentiveness.
That was how combat operations in Iraq began. Yesterday, the last of the American combat troops left Iraq and crossed into Kuwait. HotAir‘s Allahpundit pointed out an admittedly fantastic report from NBC Nightly News:
Of course, as Col. Jack Jacobs is quick to remind us, operations in general in Iraq are far from over. 50,000 U.S. troops remain behind. Some will die. The continued reality of a nation burdened by uncertainty and still besieged by violence, however, should not take away from the accomplishments of those brave men and women who, over the past seven-plus years, have displayed unfathomable courage and selflessness and have sacrificed so much. Those men and women left Iraq yesterday and return stateside in the days and weeks to come heroes one and all, and each and every one of us who enjoy our freedom with every passing day owe a tremendous amount to them and their families.
It should be noted, too, that credit should be given where credit is due. This administration and Congress will gloat–ohhhh, will they gloat–but I honestly cannot say that they are truly undeserving in that regard. Sure, without needing much time to think I can probably rattle off a few dozen specific instances over the past seven-plus years when it appeared that those across the political aisle were actively working against the best interest of our fighting men and women overseas. And sure, I bristle at the thought of the kinds of things which were said by many on the left, statements directed at honorable men like Gen. David Petraeus and individual soldiers alike.
However, just as it took a fair amount of intestinal fortitude for former President George W. Bush to recognize the three-year-long stagnation in Iraq and provide Gen. Petraeus with the resources and political capital he needed to implement his counterinsurgency plan, it took a tremendous amount of fortitude for President Barack Obama to sideline his otherwise ample ego enough to accept a reality check and with a few exceptions maintain the strategy he had previously maligned, a strategy implemented by the very predecessor which he blamed for everything from joblessness to tacky window treatments in the White House residence. Standing firm with Gen. Petraeus and, by extension, George W. Bush required a vast departure from the will of his base, and for doing the right thing–for the most part, at least–Obama deserves some credit.
Unfortunately, when it comes to credit, I expect him to take it all in the inevitable upcoming prime time speech, whether it be from the same desk his predecessor sat behind when he launched the first attack or whether it be before a joint session of Congress. Unfortunately, I expect him to avoid the name “Bush” as overtly and obviously as he has avoided the use of words like “victory” or “win” or “triumph” in previous speeches on the subject. The withdrawal of combat troops, he’ll say, does not denote a “mission accomplished” (note the dig at George W. Bush), but nonetheless could not have been accomplished without his specific setting of a withdrawal deadline. That’s how it will go down, my friends, and it’s a shame.
Nevertheless, this should be cause for some cautious celebration. The coming days and weeks are vital, of course, but the sight of combat troops crossing the border into Kuwait for the last time should be enough to make any American proud of a job well done so far.
So much has changed since the war in Iraq began those many years ago. In my own life, I’ve managed to find a wife, have and raise a four-year-old daughter, obtain a law degree at night, and move 700 miles down the Atlantic coast. I cannot help but think of how meager those life changes are, however, when weighed alongside the day-to-day sacrifices made by our soldiers and their families. How many have lost their lives? How many have watched helplessly from afar, putting their lives on the line each day in the dusty streets of urban Iraq while everything unravels at home in their absence? How many have missed the birth of their own children? How many have received that cruel “I’m sorry, but…” letter from their husbands or wives at home? How many awaken each night with nightmares? How many feel misunderstood, trapped, isolated, out of place?
Seven years can feel like a lifetime for any of us. For someone who hopes and prays to make it through the next five blistering minutes of a firefight, seven years must feel like an absolute eternity.
NOTE: If any of you have served in Iraq, and would like to share your perspective through sharing a story or two, please do. I’ve never been in your shoes (I couldn’t possibly fill them) and cannot understand firsthand what you have seen, what you have done, what you have felt. While yesterday’s withdrawal of combat troops was anything but the end of operations in Iraq, it is nonetheless a momentous occasion, and it would serve all of us well to better understand what our veterans experienced there. So please share, if you’d like, and feel free to just put “Iraq Veteran” in for your name, if it makes you feel better.
In the meantime, regardless of whether you feel comfortable sharing, thank you for your service. — Jeff