Today is a great day for America, and a day of infamy. Do you want the good news or the bad news first?
The good news is that today is the beginning of the end of the Iraq War. This war has been going on for so long, and has mostly faded into the back of people's minds. This is especially true these days as people are more concerned with the economy than anything else. But let's not forget how this war started.
The Iraq War became a certainty on 9/11/2001. On that day, just hours after terrorists from Saudi Arabia killed 2,974 Americans, the US government began preparing to attack Iraq. There was only one problem. Iraq was not involved in 9/11. The US is an ally of Saudi Arabia, where the terrorists has come from, so nothing could be done there. All that could be done was to go after the leader of the al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, and he was in Afghanistan. Luckily plans for attacking Afghanistan had been drawn up before 9/11. Those plans did not involve any US troops, just air support and special forces. It only took a few months to topple the Afghani government, and install drug traffickers to run Afghanistan. Given such a plan, it was not surprising that bin Laden was not found in Afghanistan.
With that little detail out of the way, it was time to move on to Iraq. But how to justify the war? We all got to learn a new term: Weapons of Mass Destructions or, in militaryspeak: WMDs. The US government produced all kinds of propaganda about Iraq and WMDs. Everything from yellowcake uranium to aluminum tubes were used to convince Americans that Iraq had The Bomb and was going to give it to terrorists who would use it on America.
And Americans believed it. Why? Are we all that stupid? Was the propaganda that good? Well maybe, but the real reason is that we wanted to believe it. We had malice in our hearts and wanted vengeance. The "victory" in Afghanistan had not satisfied this bloodlust. Maybe if we had caught bin Laden and let the NYPD beat him to death with nightsticks on primetime television (tape delayed for the west coast of course) then we would have been satiated and a little more likely to call BS when the "facts" about Iraq were presented. Who knows.
So the war began... It was definitely a more satisfying war for television views. We got Shock and Awe. We got to see huge numbers of troops marching through the desert. We got to see the statue of Saddam Hussein toppled and the American flag raised. We got to see our leader declare victory on an aircraft carrier. Good stuff. Great television.
Meanwhile there were massive casualties, but they were not the kind we cared about. They were not American casualties. They were not even Iraqi military casualties. No, the Iraqi military was virtually non-existent after years of economic sanctions against Iraq. The casualties were Iraqi civilians. Most agree that were tens of thousands, with some estimating hundreds of thousands of Iraqi citizens killed as a result of the war. It does not matter what the exact number is. It could have been millions of Iraqis killed, and it was still not newsworthy in the US.
However, not too long after victory was declared, the US started suffering casualties. There was a civil war going on, created by the vacuum of power left behind when the US overthrew the Iraqi government. US troops were prime targets, as Iraqi militants knew that the best way to get the US to leave their country was to kill US troops.Soldiers being killed by road side bombs is newsworthy in the US as it turns out.
The situation only got worse in Iraq, until finally in February of 2007, the US increased troop levels to support policing of Iraqi streets. Many folks, including John McCain, had been saying this was needed and should have been done before victory had been declared. After more than six months of this, the violence had only increased. In August of 2007, religious bloodshed caused the leader of one of the chief combatants, Mugtada al-Sadr, to call for a cease fire. In September of 2007, the US government claimed that violence was down by 50% and took full credit for this.
In 2008, as part of his campaign for President,Barack Obama promised to withdraw from Iraq. This was viewed as a weakness in his campaign. During debates analysts would claim that Obama was a little weak on foreign policy, but strong on the economy. The economy won out, and Obama is President. Today he announced a plan to withdraw the bulk of US forces by 2010. This is pragmatically about as fast as is possible. It's not easy to move 100,000+ troops and all of their supporting infrastructure and equipment.
This post ran long, so you'll have to wait for the bad news...