Every day when I wake up, I feel Ramadi, Iraq.
I feel it in my back; I feel it in my knee; I feel it in my neck. I feel it when I think about my friends I lost there.
It is important for veterans who fought to have the belief that they were acting for something greater than themselves, to believe the sacrifice was worth it.
Sometimes, our politicians make this difficult.
[sharequote align="center"]I feel Ramadi, Iraq. I feel it when I think about my friends I lost there.[/sharequote]
As part of his 2008 campaign, Barack Obama promised to withdraw from Iraq by mid-2010.
“My first day in office I will bring the Joint Chiefs of Staff in, and I will give them a new mission,” he said. “And that is to end this war, responsibly, deliberately, but decisively. And I have seen no information that contradicts the notion that we can bring our troops out safely at a pace of one to two brigades per month. And again, that pace translates into having our combat troops out in 16 months time.”
Unfortunately the need to fulfill that promise and please his political base in the 2012 campaign overrode questions of precisely how we were going to leave Iraq.
President George W. Bush had also laid plans to withdraw, but those plans had involved leaving behind a substantial number of troops as a residual force. Beginning in 2008 the U.S. was operating within Iraq under a “Status of Forces Agreement,” which would make our stabilizing residual forces official invited guests in Iraq.
Unofficially, we ran Iraq. We cleaned up its messes, fought its terrorists, and eased its internal tensions. We kept the various sects and tribes from killing each other. By 2008, the insurgency had been effec tively suppressed. Monthly U.S. combat casualties were down to single digits in six of the seven months before Obama took office. The “Anbar Awakening” had taken place in the fall of 2006 in the Anbar Province. Local tribes had joined with Iraqi security forces to expel Al Qaeda.
A residual U.S. force—even a very modest one—could have prevented the collapse of our hard-won achievements in Iraq. This is not only because U.S. troops would have played a direct military role against the jihadists of the Islamic State when they moved in from Syria. It is also because U.S. forces had served as a politically stabilizing element within the country.
The proper way to leave Iraq was to do so without squandering those gains—without creating a massive power vacuum. It was not an easy proposition, but a necessary one. It would have involved leaving a residual force behind under a new Status of Forces Agreement. This had been Bush’s plan.
At Riverside National Cemetery, National Guard Sgt. Eric Hille, 33, of Murrieta sits at the grave of his friend Sgt. Eric Holke, who was killed by an improvised explosive device while the two were on a mission together in Iraq in 2007. Now an engineer with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, Hille walked 13 miles in full military gear to honor his fallen comrade Sunday. (PHOTOGRAPH BY: Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
It had been Obama’s plan as well. It’s just that he lacked the will to see it through. It wasn’t important enough for him to raise much of a fuss when his main goal was simply to leave and keep his campaign promise.
That’s a serious accusation. It implies extreme cynicism on Obama’s part. But it’s true. And don’t take my word for it.
“We had leverage. We could, for instance, have threatened to withdraw reconstruction aid to Iraq if [Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri] al-Maliki would not support some sort of continued U.S. military presence . . .. I privately and publicly advocated for a residual force that could provide training and security for Iraq’s military.... But the President’s team at the White House pushed back, and the differences occasionally became heated.... The White House was so eager to rid itself of Iraq that it was willing to withdraw rather than lock in arrangements that would preserve our influence and interests.”
There is plenty of political blame to go around. But, the decision to go to war in Iraq was supported by the majority of both Democrats and Republicans, never mind the current facts known about the decision a decade later. Nation building and occupation have many gaping fallacies, but if our nation commits to something, commits our brave men and women to harms way we must have leaders with backbone, as they do, to see it through. When the whistle blows, the game is on. They must do what is best for America and her interests, rather than what is best for a political campaign.
Those who sacrificed invaluable time from their youth in Ramadi, remember it all too well, dusty, bloody, and fierce. Those few will never forget the sites, sounds, smells, and those lost there.
As many of us watch the current dichotomy of the Obama administration repeating talking points of the insignificance of “minor setbacks” and as one city after another, like Ramadi, fall to savages in Iraq, we are left demoralized and, at times angry, with a feeling that our sacrifices were for nothing. We know, as senior officials do, that airstrikes alone are not enough to turn the tide. We need a real plan and leadership committed to seeing a job through.
Aren't some things more important then politics?
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