So the Army is clearing its combat presence and mission out of Baghdad, trying to keep the whole thing low key with no frills under cover of night. Good for the Army for having the sense not to try to celebrate anything. Democracy does not just spring up in this desert, even if you take it by storm as we did seven years ago.
But that's not what I'm thinking of as I feel a twinge of historical deja vu. No, I'm thinking back to the stark start of 1991-- remember. we went to war then, with troops moving in the other direction, from Kuwait toward Iraq. That was the first Gulf--or Bush--War. Nearly 20 years ago, we saw the first act of a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions.
The father acted more temperately than the son, in the manner of beginning and ending his military engagement, a model of diplomacy with a truly multinational force. But he left a door open, a job undone, a villain to be slain, for his headstrong namesake son, who rose to power in the manner of a king. Ironically, he proclaimed himself a big believer in democracy in Iraq, as opposed to say, our repressive ally Saudi Arabia.
Then he claimed there were weapons of mass destruction to be found there-- a bit rich in an ancient land whose real treasures, antiquities, we let be looted on the first day there. In the end, he got what he wanted, the strongman's head--at what price? Was it really worth destroying civil society and causing the deaths of uncounted civilians, not to mention our own "blood and treasure," as Condoleeza Rice put it pithily. The once-functional country was in shambles for years because Donald Rumsfeld's Pentagon dissed our State Department's expertise in rebuilding a society from scratch.
It's not at all clear that fragile Iraq is ready to stand on its own feet in a government we ruthlessly imposed. The Iraqi people are fearful of tomorrow. Here at home, we have a major recession to show for this costly seven-year war. The end in sight is bittersweet at best.
As we approach September 11th, it's worth reiterating that Iraq had nothing to do with the terrorist attacks. But the son parlayed the national grief and rage into a march to war, which he, along with his men, was probably planning to fight all along. The events of September 11, 2001 let slip the dogs of war. In March 2003, the second act of the tragedy unfolded, a family score settled with shattering consequences.
And now comes the voice of Gen. David Petraeus rising from the smoke, publicly contradicting the president on his timeline to withdraw from Afghanistan. (Isn't that insubordination?) As the fates would have it, Petraeus saved the Iraqi adventure with a "surge." Journalists and lawmakers act like he walks on water.
The postlude to our history play: President Petraeus?