Why the Mission Might Never Be "Accomplished" in Iraq


Ten years ago this week President George W. Bush gave his infamous "Mission Accomplished" speech, declaring an end to major operations in Iraq. Cool, I thought, as a Marine in the combat theater. Let’s go home. But my Reserve unit didn't go home right away. Most of the unit had been re-designated right before the war to do mortuary affairs (literally, collecting the bodies and belongings of their fallen brothers and sisters) and even though the war had ended, service members kept on dying so we stayed longer than we thought we'd have to. It was an ominous prelude to the next six years.

The next six years: two major battles in Fallujah, the Mahdi Army uprising, countless unreported or under-reported major operations in, among many other places, Al Anbar and Mosul, and of course the 2007 Surge which pacified the capital creating the relative "peace" we have today.

The final costs include thousands of dead combatants, tens of thousands of dead civilians, hundreds of billions of dollars, and – security? The question needs to be answered again (since the first time it really wasn't true): Was the mission really accomplished?  

I must admit, like most Americans, even though I served over there, I had kind of stopped paying attention. The animus and division that colored the tone of the debates about the war all the way from pre-invasion until after the surge just stressed out too much my already too-much-combat-stressed-out mind. And the debate wasn't a debate to me. It was my life.

I'm open to both sides of the argument, and know that, ultimately, I can only speak from my own experience like I recently did on NPR. I don't want to feel that the sacrifices of many of my fallen friends – my combat brothers – were a waste. But, without emotion and removing myself as much as I can from those experiences, I can totally understand how someone might believe the opposite. Sorry, bud, those lives were wasted, some might say. Though, usually I get much more hate-filled and tactless comments whenever I write or say something even remotely pro-war (see the comments from the NPR link).

So in effort to reassess the question – was the mission really accomplished? — I've reconnected to what's going on over there, and here's the headlines I've found: "Car bombs, shootings kill 23 across Iraq," "Sunni unrest revives fears of sectarian war in Iraq," and "Iraq pulls plug on TV networks." A younger and less progressive version of myself might've chocked all these headlines and revelations up as a concentrated effort by the mainstream media to lambast Bush and his policies. But Bush isn't president anymore. The war, by practical measures, really has been over for almost four years, and most Americans really don't care about our wars anymore (at least, not when it comes to for whom they vote). In this case, I think anyone can objectively agree, the news really is just simply the news, and it's just not looking that good. Other military writer colleagues I know, former embedded reporters even, had already given me similar reports and predicted it, too. They don't think Iraq will be a stable Democracy. They don't think the war will be worth it, — ultimately. But, perhaps, it's still too early to tell. Perhaps, as a man who's grown in my views, I've come to believe that maybe the war would only be a waste if we don't learn the most important lesson that we seem to keep forgetting: We really shouldn't keep being so eager to send our young men and women off to war.  Instead of waxing poetic on the past, perhaps this is new mission we should accomplish: Make our violent nation less feverish for war.