Oct 232011
Authors: Joe Vajgrt

When I woke up on Sunday morning, the first thing I heard was a story on NPR about how the body of deposed dictator Muammar Gadhafi was brought back to a commercial freezer at a shopping center in Misrata where it was put on public display.

Men, women and children lined up to view Gadhafi’s body, which was laid out on a mattress on the floor of an emptied-out vegetable freezer. The bodies of Gadhafi’s son Muatassim and his former defense minister Abu Bakr Younis were also put on display.

Bloodlust –– much like jealousy (or Crocs) –– doesn’t look good on anyone. But as disturbing as the imagery of families lining up to view Ghadafi’s corpse is, I can still empathize with the Libyan people.

After four decades under the rule of an oppressive dictator, it’s understandable that those who came to see Ghadafi’s body needed to see it with their own eyes to believe it, as well as provide a degree of closure after a bloody battle for independence.

I go back and forth on how I feel about U.S. involvement in Libya. My initial reaction was like that of many war-weary Americans who’ve had just about enough of military entanglements in the Middle East and Africa. How can we possibly justify yet another war when we have so many domestic issues to deal with?

The U.S. military is currently occupying or bombing Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Pakistan and Yemen, and has sent Special Forces to Uganda to fight rebels. With such a dizzying array of war, it’s hard for many Americans to come to terms with our involvement in Libya.

My opinion on the matter changed when I met and spoke with a few dozen Libyan students and Fort Collins residents last semester. They explained very clearly what they wanted and needed from U.S. and U.N. forces in their country in order to overthrow Gadhafi and take possession of his collection of Condolleeza Rice memorabilia (look it up).

Removing Gadhafi was the easy part of transition for Libyans. Now that far fewer bullets will be flying and less bombs dropped, the nation is tasked with building and implementing a new, stable form of government.

Speaking of super-complicated transitions away from dictatorships, the day after news of Gadhafi’s death came out, President Obama announced that all U.S. troops would be out of Iraq by the end of the year.

The nearly nine-year-long war in Iraq has brought the death of more than 4,400 U.S. troops and come at a cost of more than $700 billion. As awful as these numbers are, they pale in comparison to the conservative estimate of 103,000 civilians in Iraq who have been killed, not to mention the unquantifiable damage done to Iraq’s already fragile or non-existent infrastructure.

America has already withdrawn nearly 100,000 troops from Iraq, yet about 40,000 “non-combat” troops remain. U.S. and Iraqi officials have debated for months whether or not to honor the planned Dec. 31 deadline for troop withdrawal, which was set in 2008.

The concern is that the full withdrawal of U.S. forces could pose major security problems for Iraq.

U.S. officials prefer to leave a few thousand military trainers in the country past the troop
withdrawal deadline, but, as the Associated Press reported last Sunday, “Iraqi leaders have adamantly refused to give U.S. troops immunity from prosecution in Iraqi courts, and the Americans have refused to stay without it.”

Bringing home all of the troops from Iraq is helping Obama fulfill a promise he made as a candidate when he vowed to end the Iraq war. As a Senator in 2002, Obama also spoke out passionately against the war, though later admitted the United States had an “absolute obligation” to stay in the country as long as it took to achieve success.

Obama claims the end of the Iraq war should be viewed in the larger context of a smaller U.S. military presence around the world moving forward. “The tide of war is receding,” he said, also referring to the beginning of troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.

It doesn’t matter what your opinion is on whether or not we should have aided the Libyan rebels, and it doesn’t matter what you think about the war in Iraq. These wars are ending, the Iraqi and Libyan people now have control over the future direction of their respective countries and the U.S. can now shift its focus to domestic issues. All of these are cause for celebration.

I hope the Libyan and Iraqi people enjoy decades of peace and prosperity moving forward. Perhaps even more so, I hope Obama is right and that last week’s events truly do mark the beginning of a new era of less U.S. military intervention abroad.

Joe Vajgrt is a senior journalism major who believes in dropping food on hungry people, not bombs on poor people.. His column appears on Mondays in the Collegian. Feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

 Posted by at 5:07 pm

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