There was a time when Americans could boast of never having lost a war, but such a boast would ring hollow in the wake of a string of U.S. defeats broken only by a victory in the 1990/1991 Gulf War. Americans may not have won the War of 1812, but neither did they lose it. And while they may not, as often claimed, have won the First World War—they did tip the balance in favour of the Allies and played a pivotal role in the final two years of that conflict—they certainly were on the winning side.
Since the Second World War, however, America’s war record has been spotty. Did they win in Korea in the 1950s? Not really—that war ended pretty much in a stalemate. The Vietnam War ended in a miserable defeat for the Americans. The Afghan war, which began on October 7, 2001, is still not settled, and many claim it will end as the Iraq War has with the Americans “claiming” victory and pulling out their troops.
Which takes us to the recent withdrawal of U.S. military personal from Iraq and President Barack Obama’s pronouncement at Andrews Air Force Base that the war is over. Of course, President George W. Bush famously claimed victory in Iraq on the deck of the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln way back in 2003—in the twenty-first century’s most unfortunate display of braggadocio by a world leader.
Might President Obama’s claim of victory be just as premature as was President Bush’s? I fear it might.
As journalist Michael Harris recently wrote, “By every rational measure, the war in Iraq was an abject failure.” I will add that it was also a miserable, avoidable, mistake in the first place. According to Harris, the butcher’s bill included:
Forty-five hundred dead soldiers on the American side, another 30,000 wounded. On the Iraqi side, somewhere between 650,000 and 1,000,000 civilian and combatant deaths, depending on whether you believe the prestigious British polling agency Opinion Research Business or the Lancet Report.
There is more to come. President Obama had barely declared victory when Iraq’s Shia-dominated government started going after its rivals, starting with Iraq’s Sunni Vice-President. And last Thursday, opening salvos in a civil war between the minority Sunni—former rulers—and the governing Shia majority were fired: 16 bomb blasts in Baghdad (72 people killed, 217 injured).
Iraq’s Vice-President Tariq al-Hashemi has taken refuge in the semi-independent Iraqi region of Kurdistan. Iraq’s Kurds have rejected Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s authority over them. They are mostly Sunni Muslims, like the Sunni Arabs whom Hashemi represents—while Maliki, like most Arabic-speakers in Iraq, is Shia.
In short, the “Iraq War” may be over, but war rages on in Iraq.
I close with these prophetic words from Michael Harris, “the true political legacy of the Iraq War will [now] unfold—a bloody battle for supremacy between the fighters of the Sunni Awakening and the Shia majority with its new taste for power and its longstanding ties to Iran.”
© 2011 Russell G. Campbell