The names of the towns tug me back a decade to when we were on the road to liberating them. Fallujah. Mosul. Tikrit. We learned how to pronounce them as our nation learned what was necessary to rescue them from the hands of terrorists.
Iraq was not the source of 9/11, but under the leadership of President Bush, we had chosen to take the war to the most hostile regime in the part of the world that wanted to kill us. Saddam Hussein had slaughtered his own people in addition to launching attacks on U.S. forces in violation of the U.N. agreements following his ejection from Kuwait at our hands. It was a thoroughly appropriate first theater for what would become known as The War on Terror.
Well, write its epitaph. War on Terror, 2003-2014. We are done. We have lost. Iraq is falling before our eyes this week as al Qaeda monsters snatch the cities we shed blood to help. Next door in Afghanistan, the Taliban dances in celebration of America’s retreat. Deserter Bowe Bergdahl will not come home a hero, but his kindred spirits will, the five blood-soaked terrorists we released to garner his freedom.
This is what it feels like to lose. This is what it looks like. This is what it smells like. Its stench should repel every American.
Even among our war-weary citizens, who eventually became the majority, this must be sickening. Even among those who opposed the war from its start, surely their pacifism or Bush hatred or military ambivalence does not stand in the way of a natural human instinct of disillusionment as our nation slinks away from the war zone as our enemies cheer.
President Obama, who fooled some for a while with head fakes like the Afghan surge and a grudging willingness to keep Guantanamo open during his first term, has shown us his soul. He is withdrawing our troops from a war where real progress was under way, in terms of a glimmer of hope for the people of Iraq and Afghanistan— a future guided by stability, honest elections and self-determination for the people.
It would have taken a long time. We needed a President to exert leadership in its purest form— leading a hesitant nation to do the right thing by supporting the war that kept us free from further 9/11s for more than a decade.
Instead, we have a commander-in-chief driven to end the war, but not to win it. And as if that’s not bad enough, he believes his wily charms can snow a nation into thinking he has been a wartime hero:
The day before 9/11’s tenth anniversary, Obama told us: “There should be no doubt— today, America is stronger, and al Qaeda is on the path to defeat.”
In January 2012: “We’ve decimated al Qaeda’s leadership.”
And September 2012: “Al Qaeda is on the path to defeat and bin Laden is dead.” So were four Americans murdered in Benghazi days earlier, necessitating a colossal change of subject with an election mere weeks away.
But two years earlier, Vice President Biden sat down with Larry King on CNN to predict vast glories for the administration’s “handling” of a war that was making progress when they inherited it: “I am very optimistic about Iraq, and it’s going to be one of the great achievements of this administration.” Good call, Joe.
It is years of bad calls that have led to this sad moment, with defeat at hand. And while it is easy to hang this loss around the Obama White House, some of the blame is shouldered by every American failing to maintain focus and will through the most challenging war we have ever fought.
Other wars have had far higher death tolls, but there was a certain clarity to the mission of World War II— beat Hitler and Imperial Japan— and even Vietnam— chase communism from Southeast Asia.
How do you “win” a war on terror? There was never going to be a surrender ceremony aboard an aircraft carrier, with terrorists signing a document assuring a cease-fire. All we could ever hope for is slow, generational change, with Iraq and Afghanistan realizing after a lengthy U.S. presence that we were there to train their own military forces and establish a landscape to permit elections leading to a future far more stable than the cauldrons of violence that had been their fate seemingly forever.
A tall order? Of course. Haven’t we all heard the cries of futility? “Those people don’t know what freedom is and they don’t want it.” “Violence is all they’ve known, they’ll never stop killing each other.”
Those are not unreasonable stances. But they are a give-up, an admission that our only lot is to accept that these Godforsaken wildernesses will always be a breeding ground for terror, and all we can do is hope it does not reach us. “Let them kill each other, and leave us out of it,” goes a common refrain of frustration, wholly ignorant of what will happen if we ever actually do that. Sure, Islamist factions will bludgeon each other, but without any beacon of civilization in their midst, terrorist hordes will take plenty of time-outs to engage in their favored pursuits: killing Americans, Israelis and any Muslims trying to wrestle the faith toward less murderous behaviors.
Of all the things that made 9/11 possible, the foremost was our failure to recognize that war had long been declared against us. After a few years of vigilance, followed by growing fatigue and then wholesale disinterest in seriously fighting terror, the American people have twice elected the President who has given us exactly what we asked for: surrender.
So here it is. How will it work out for us as we see Baghdad fall? How will it feel as we see the forces of evil overrun the turf our sons and daughters fought for and died on? What will fill the remaining years of a presidency that has kept its promise to end a war that is in no way ending in terms of the enemy’s aggressions toward us?
As he prepares to welcome home his favored soldier, that traitorous snake Bowe Bergdahl, President Obama fashioned a quote Wednesday that should be replayed over TV footage of the guttings and beheadings that surely await Iraqis, Afghans and who knows how many Israelis and Americans now that we are quitters: “The world is less violent than it has ever been, it is healthier than it has ever been, it is more tolerant than it has ever been.”
Ah, yes, always the tolerance. The man is nothing if not tolerant. Tolerant of illegal immigrants, tolerant of those seeking to change the definition of marriage, tolerant of any one of a number of assaults on the Constitution.
But the tolerance of America’s most dangerous enemies— evidenced by our current surrender and the piecemeal release of terrorists from Gitmo— this is a tolerance likely to carry a death toll.
How many Americans will die because we did not have the stomach to sufficiently battle our enemy? And by “we,” I mean the collective American public. Because if we had maintained the spine to stay on a war footing with an enemy that will never tire of killing us, we would never have chosen a leader who has brought us to this tragic defeat.