The United States has concluded major combat operations in Iraq. After seven years of war, it is important to remember the good accomplished by these efforts. The rhetorical interpretation of the war in many respects overwhelmed the facts on the ground. For the first five years of combat operations, a tremendous global effort was directed by our educated elite to mislead the public about the good accomplished among the 27 million human beings trapped in the inhumane spectacle of Saddam Hussein's governance. Several major accomplishments should be recorded in the midst of this vast misinformation regime that unfortunately seeks to lodge morality in the selective, myopic vision of the anti-war movement:
1. Removing from political power one of the world's most notorious genocidaires: Saddam Hussein
Saddam Hussein conducted the deadliest war (the Iran/Iraq war) since World War II, killing more than a million people. The war killed tens of thousands of teenage boys and hundreds of thousands of civilians. Saddam Hussein created some of the world's largest ecological disasters, including the massive gulf oil spill that exponentially dwarfs other fodder for alarmists such as the BP Gulf spill. Saddam Hussein conducted genocidal policies against ethnic minorities such as the Kurds of northern Iraq. He distinguished himself by using weapons of mass destruction on women and children at Halabja. These were among the more than 300,000 Kurds he killed in an internationally ignored policy of genocide.
The details of his brutal reign were vividly accounted for in 2002 by noted genocide author (and Obama advisor) Samantha Power. Her account of global genocide severely chastised the global ambivalence to this usage of weapons of mass destruction against civilians. The bipartisan U.S. congressional authorization for force against Saddam Hussein repeatedly referenced these humanitarian violations rooted in this obscene usage of chemical weapons. Saddam Hussein was finally removed from power in 2003, put on trial in Iraq by Iraqis, and put to death by Iraqis for his crimes against Iraqi civilians. His removal brought to an end to these various genocidal policies and has rendered northern Iraq one of the nation's most supportive regions with regard to the American military operations that so profoundly benefited their daily livelihoods.
2. Restoring the viability of American military power as a global tool
Osama bin Laden rightly described the United States in the 1990s as a global "paper tiger" unwilling to risk more than the few men lost in Mogadishu. He was, at that point, empirically correct. He suggested to Muslim listeners that they should prefer the "strong horse" of al-Qaeda, which would eagerly sacrifice so many more lives for bin Laden's hideous agenda. After thousands of American combat deaths and a vicious propaganda war against American military might, not only did the American force in Iraq refuse to withdraw, but in 2007, the force was escalated in what has become the new American model for responding to insurgencies.
Prior to Iraq, rivals to American power knew that mere dozens of American soldiers needed to be killed in order to ignite the allegedly moral antiwar movement to tip America's public sphere toward withdrawal. Such withdrawals would then allow for ensuing genocide and eliminationism, as seen in places such as Cambodia. That rhetorical order now lies shattered at the feet of an American president "surging" in Afghanistan and who said in his speech accepting a Nobel Peace Prize that war does solve problems. As a result, global tyrants do not have a currently reliable calculus for continuing with their inhumane practices.
3. Building a bulwark in the Middle East against al-Qaeda
Al-Qaeda and Shia radicals have engineered a public relations disaster of mammoth proportions within the nation-state of Iraq. Iraqis "hate" al-Qaeda. Public opinion polls of Iraqis show that more than 90% of Iraqis disapprove of al-Qaeda. More than 80% strongly disapprove. The brutal daily regimen of slaughtering mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, infants, children, and the disabled -- the preponderance of victims being Muslim -- has enraged the Iraqi consciousness. The bombings of marketplaces, mosques, police stations, schools and, any other locale of civilian gatherings has left an unbleachable stain on the rhetorical brand of al-Qaeda. Iraqis are not the fools that antiwar paternalists have taken them to be. Iraqis see who dress in uniform to distinguish themselves from civilians, and they see who dress as women to walk into civilian centers and author their "deaths as texts" with help from the blood of innocents. There will likely be no more enduring public on the question of squashing and removing the viral consciousness of al-Qaeda from the global public sphere. The Iraqis will be stalwarts on the vivid question of terrorism as a political tool.
4. Demonstrating the viability of democracy in the Middle East
By 2005, Iraq was able to conduct three national elections and adopt a constitution. This happened while the constitution of the European Union failed to pass. Naysayers said the Iraqis would not be able to secure election sites to carry off any of these democratic functions. However, they carried off three such events, and all of them were better-attended than any recent American election. Despite vile attacks on polling centers (that in one instance loaded a disabled man full of explosives into a van carrying voters), the experiment in democracy proceeded with enthusiasm. The purple fingers of Iraqis were brandished with pride alongside bright smiles.
The optimistic defiance was a sharp, inspiring contrast to the blood-soaked streets sought by the rejectionists. The democracy has notable regional effects. Kuwait, which had its democracy propelled after the first invasion of Iraq, recently witnessed the surprising rise of female political candidates to office. The right of women to vote is years later bearing the fruit of women in power. Iran's totalitarianism has been internally racked by the green movement inspired by greater expectations of democracy and openness patent in their Iraqi neighbor.
Lincoln rightly observed at Gettysburg the importance of realizing that these soldiers have not died in vain. This American idealism still rings true today. The more than four thousand American lives given as our most precious expenditure should be remembered for the good they did -- not for themselves, not for their nation, not for the people of Iraq, but for the entire human family that has suffered too many Saddam Husseins and too much public ambivalence falsely portrayed as proper moral restraint. American combat operations in Iraq did a great good, and we would do well to forever observe these great facts and so many more.
Ben Voth is an associate professor of Communication, Chair of Corporate Communications and Public Affairs, and Director of Debate at Southern Methodist University.
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