For the Army and Marines who lost 4,500 dead and more than 30,000 wounded, many of them amputees, the second-longest war in U.S. history is over. America is coming home from Iraq.
On May 1, 2003, on the carrier Abraham Lincoln, the huge banner behind President George W. Bush proclaimed, "Mission Accomplished!"
That was eight years ago. And so, was the mission accomplished?
Two-thirds of all Americans have concluded the war was not worth it.
And reading the description of Iraq from the editorial page of the pro-war Washington Post, who can answer yes?
"Al-Qaida continues to carry out terrorist attacks. Iranian-sponsored militias still operate, and a power struggle between Kurdish-ruled northern Iraq and Mr. Maliki's government goes on. More Iraqis worry that, after the U.S. troops depart this month, the sectarian bloodletting that ravaged the country between 2002 and 2007 will resume."
And not all the Americans are really coming home.
Some 16,000 will remain in the huge fortress that houses the U.S. embassy and in fortified consulates in Basra, Irbil and Kirkuk. All four sites will be self-sufficient, so U.S. personnel can stay clear of what The Wall Street Journal calls "the perilous security situation on Iraq's city streets."
In each diplomatic post, the State Department employees will be outnumbered by private security contractors, 5,000 of whom will provide for their protection and secure travel.
U.S. Ambassador James Jeffrey warns of the dangers that await U.S. diplomats who venture outside the compounds: "If we move out into the Iraqi economy, out into the Iraqi society in any significant way, it will be much harder to protect our people."
NBC reported this week that two five-vehicle convoys loaded with Blackwater security types were necessary to escort two U.S. teachers to a meeting in a Bagdad hotel.
What kind of victory did we win if, eight years after we ousted Saddam Hussein and helped install a democratic government, Americans in Iraq should fear for their lives?
Did we win the "hearts and minds" of the Iraqi people when they are burning American flags in Fallujah to celebrate our departure? Why was no parade held, so Iraqis could cheer departing Americans for having liberated them from the tyranny of Saddam?
What did we accomplish if hatred of America is so widespread our diplomats live in constant peril?
Neooconservative Fred Kagan writes that people who think all will be well after America leaves believe in a mirage.
The Obama administration lacks a vision and a strategy, and the regime in Baghdad lacks the assured capability of securing U.S. "core interests" in Iraq, he writes. Among these are ensuring that the state does not collapse, that civil war does not break out, that Iranian influence does not surge, that al-Qaida or Iranian militias do not establish sanctuaries.
Moreover, writes Kagan, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is "unwinding the multi-ethnic cross-sectarian Iraqi political settlement."
To Kagan, an enthusiast of the war, everything vital that we won in almost nine years of fighting is at risk.
But if we have no assurance that the disasters he lists will not occur, perhaps within months of our departure, what kind of victory is this?
What did we accomplish with a war whose costs in blood, Iraqi as well as American, and treasure were so high?
"We are leaving behind a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq, with a representative government that was elected by its people," President Obama told the troops at Fort Bragg.
The Kurds are cutting deals with U.S. oil companies that Baghdad refuses to recognize, seeking to incorporate Kirkuk, and edging toward independence, which would cross a red line not only in Baghdad but Ankara.
Muslim pogroms have uprooted half the Christians, and half of these Christians have fled the country, many to Syria.
Maliki is moving against the Sunni Awakening warriors whom Gen. David Petraeus persuaded to fight al-Qaida in return for their being brought into the army.
The Sunnis sees themselves as dispossessed and marginalized in a country they have historically dominated. Al-Qaida continues to launch terror attacks on civilians to reignite sectarian war. And as the Americans head down the highway to Kuwait, Iran works to displace America as the dominant foreign influence in Baghdad.
That we were deceived into believing Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction ready to use, and that he was the man behind 9/11 -- that we were lied into war -- is established fact.
But, equally astonishing, though Bush & Co. planned this war from Sept. 11, 2001, if not before, no one seems to have thought it through before launching it. For as John McCain said yesterday, as of 2007, "the war was nearly lost."
Yet the disaster that may still befall us in Iraq has not in the least inhibited the war hawks who, even now, are advancing identical arguments for a new war, on Iran, a country three times the size of Iraq.