Oct 262011
Authors: Jesse Benn

I wonder where that “Mission Accomplished” banner is now –– is it sitting in a closet somewhere, collecting dust, waiting to be auctioned off on eBay to some collector? Or did they just throw it out in sheer embarrassment?

You couldn’t have smacked the grin off his face as Bush walked across the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln in his little flight suit, standing in front of his banner, declaring an end to major combat operations in Iraq.

And he wasn’t the only one who got a kick out of it, the media gushed.

“Well, that was probably the coolest presidential image since Bill Pullman played the jet fighter pilot in the movie ’Independence Day’,” Joe Klein said on CBS’ “Meet the Nation.”

Chris Matthews got even more excited than the thrill he would eventually feel up his leg for Obama, calling Bush a “hero” and even discussing with Gordon Liddy how Bush’s package looked.

“[H]e’s wearing his parachute harness, you know –– and I’ve worn those because I parachute –– and it makes the best of his manly characteristic,” Liddy said.

Even Keith Olbermann, who would go on to incessantly remind us of the number of days since Bush declared an end to combat operations in Iraq, at the time, called the landing, “a great moment.”

That was May 2003.

Now, over the course of eight years, thousands of U.S. lives, tens of thousands of U.S. casualties and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives later, that banner could almost be put to legitimate use.

I say “almost” because to have accomplished the mission I would have to know what it was in the first place –– perhaps a “Mission Finished” banner would be more appropriate.

If you can remember back to the start, the war was supposed to be about WMDs, and we knew right where they were, too. Just ask Colin Powell.

But, to top that off, “Saddam supports terrorists, 9/11, 9/11, Saddam Hussein, bin Laden, 9/11 ––– so we need to invade Iraq,” the Bush administration told us. (I’m paraphrasing, of course.)

Pretty quickly the military found what the U.N. inspectors knew all along: Iraq had no WMDs. Sorry, please try again.

The transition of reasoning was seamless. Bush, an experienced snake oil salesman, planned for the inevitable failure of his WMD story –– if only he’d spent that time planning for the reconstruction of a post-Saddam Iraq.

But as things fell increasingly apart, the reason we were there seemed to matter less and less. Soon, it didn’t matter if we had a reason to be there in the first place; we were just there.
I remember watching the “Shock and Awe” campaign, feeling guilty for the enjoyment I took in it, fully aware people were dying as I watched, yet I couldn’t look away.

Saddam fell easily, too easily, but then came the hard part –– rebuilding a country decimated from decades of dictatorship, war, sanctions and now, more war.

First, it was just looting and minor anarchy as Saddam’s Baath Party was disbanded. But then words and phrases like “insurgency” and “improvised explosive device” started to fill our vocabulary as things in Iraq disintegrated. Peculiar and obscure names of towns and villages like Ramadi and Fallujah took on a whole new meaning, especially for the soldiers fighting in them.

After 2007, a combination of factors, but particularly arming Sunni militias, the surge, and a calculated ceasefire called by Al-Sadr, U.S. casualties went down and Iraq found some stability.

So here we are a couple more years later with Obama announcing a full troop withdrawal. (Not that he wanted to. He did everything he possibly could to break that campaign promise and extend our military presence in Iraq. But what a shock: Iraqis didn’t want us there.) And so the mission is finally accomplished, or at least finished.

And as all of our troops leave Iraq, we should be cautious in how we frame it. It isn’t with fanfare and waving banners, it’s with a hope and prayer. And if the soon-to-be again sovereign nation somehow finds a path through the difficult road ahead, it will be more in spite of, than thanks to, the U.S.

_Jesse Benn is a senior political science major. His column appears Thursdays in the Collegian. He can be reached at letters@collegian.com. _

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