Iraq War’s 10th Anniversary Is Barely Noted in Washington
By PETER BAKER
Published: March 19, 2013
WASHINGTON — A decade after the night that American bombs first rained down on Baghdad, the president joked about wearing a green tie for a belated St. Patrick’s Day celebration. Congress noisily focused on whether spending cuts would force the cancellation of the White House Easter egg roll. Cable news debated whether a show about young women has too much sex in it.
But on one topic, there was a conspiracy of silence: Republicans and Democrats agreed that they did not really want to talk about the Iraq war.
The 10-year anniversary of the American invasion came and went on Tuesday with barely passing notice in a town once consumed by it. Neither party had much interest in revisiting what succeeded and what failed, who was right and who was wrong. The bipartisan consensus underscored the broader national mood: after 10 years, America seems happy to wash its hands of Iraq.
Never mind that Iraq remains in perilous shape, free ofSaddam Hussein and growing economically, but still afflicted by spasms of violence and struggling to move beyond autocratic government. With American troops now gone, the war has receded from the capital conversation and the national consciousness, replaced by worries about spending, taxes, debt and jobs. Whether the United States won or lost, or achieved something messy in between, seems at this point a stale debate.
President Obama, who rose to political heights on the strength of his opposition to the war, made no mention of it in appearances on Tuesday. Instead, he issued a writtenstatement saluting “the courage and resolve” of the 1.5 million Americans who served during eight years in Iraq and honoring the memory of the nearly 4,500 Americans “who made the ultimate sacrifice.”
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who as a Republican senator broke with his party over the war, a move that complicated his recent confirmation hearings, likewise stuck to a written statement praising the troops and urging Americans to “remember these quiet heroes this week.”
Those on the other side of the debates likewise paid little notice. Former President George W. Bush, former Vice President Dick Cheney and many other authors of the war made no public comments. Former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld sent a message via Twitter: “10 yrs ago began the long, difficult work of liberating 25 mil Iraqis. All who played a role in history deserve our respect & appreciation.”
Although some foreign policy and news organizations held forums or produced retrospectives in recent days, the floors of Congress did not ring out with speeches expounding on the lessons of Iraq.
“This is a little like the crazy uncle in the attic that nobody wants to talk about,” said John Nagl, a retired Army lieutenant colonel who served in Iraq and is now a fellow at the Center for a New American Security in Washington. “But we need to because we put him there.”
Critics like Mr. Nagl argue that the anniversary should serve as a reminder about what he sees as the mistake of starting the war. “It would be a shame if we did not pause and think hard about this as a nation,” he said. “We paid an enormous price as a nation. The Iraqis have paid a huge price. The region is destabilized.”
Some war supporters disagreed. “President Bush made the right decision on removing the Iraqi regime from power,” said Douglas J. Feith, a former under secretary of defense. Where America went wrong, he said, was “when we transformed ourselves from liberators to occupiers.”
Meghan O’Sullivan, a former deputy national security adviser to Mr. Bush, said that some lessons could be drawn, but that it was too soon for final judgments. “Many issues that will be key to answering the question of was it worth it still hang in the balance,” she said.
Public attitudes toward the war have hardened 10 years later. Fifty-four percent of Americans interviewed by CBS News in a poll released Tuesday said the United States should have stayed out of Iraq, while 38 percent said it did the right thing. Fifty percent said the United States did not succeed in achieving its objectives, while 41 percent said it did.
The White House found itself in the awkward position of standing by Mr. Obama’s opposition to the war but offering an optimistic prognosis for Iraq — and even giving a grudging nod to Mr. Bush for removing a dictator from power.
“Ridding the world of Saddam Hussein was a welcome development for the world and for Iraq,” Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, said at his daily briefing. “The president believes that Iraq has the potential for a better future today because of the remarkable sacrifice and service of American men and women in uniform as well as civilian American men and women who served in Iraq.”
Asked if that better future owed in part to the decision to invade, Mr. Carney said Mr. Hussein was removed by the military sent by Mr. Bush.
“And to the extent that credit is due, credit is due to him for that,” Mr. Carney said. “That does not change, I think, assessments made by this president as a candidate or by many others on this day, 10 years after, about the judgments made to go to war in Iraq.”
Courtesy of New York Times March 19, 2013