The War We Abandoned

Article excerpt

Byline: Peter Beinart

The U.S. started the bloodshed in Iraq. Time to own it.

Want to know why the world so often distrusts America? Because we're a nation of amnesiacs. Our leaders get all hyped up about the need to remake some country halfway across the world, a country whose political pathologies, we are told, violate American values and menace American security. The American press joins in, the American people get dragged along, and next thing you know, American missiles are raining down on the place.

The tyrants flee; some other folks take over, and they seem like a big improvement at first. Then the locals grow unhappy with our presence; they begin killing U.S. soldiers in attacks that shock Americans and prompt an angry debate about getting out, which America eventually does. And then it's done. The curtain goes down, the show is over, and barely anybody in America pays any attention to country X anymore. Public conversation, in fact, quickly moves on to countries Y and Z, where evil rulers or civil strife may or may not pose an intolerable threat to American values and American security. Of all the tools used to conduct American foreign policy, perhaps none is as pervasive as the Etch a Sketch.

So it was that last week terrorists killed more than 100 people in Iraq--a country that obsessed us just a few years ago--and barely anyone in America seemed to notice. The Obama adminstration issued a one-sentence statement. Prominent Republicans didn't even do that. Neither Sean Hannity nor Bill O'Reilly mentioned it on their TV programs. The New Republic, which supported the war during my time as editor, didn't mention the attacks either. The Weekly Standard, to its credit, did, noting that "whatever one thinks of the war in Iraq, the simple fact of the matter is that without some U.S. combat forces on the ground America has no ability to fight AQI [al Qaeda in Iraq] and affiliated groups directly." All of which may well be true. But the opening clause--"whatever one thinks of the war in Iraq"--is oddly agnostic for a magazine that campaigned relentlessly for Saddam Hussein's overthrow between 1997 and 2003.

So why should we still care about Iraq? First, because although al Qaeda terrorists detonated this week's bombs, it was our invasion that created the chaos that has allowed them sanctuary; the blood is partly on our hands. Hours after the bombs hit, President Obama addressed the National Convention of Veterans of Foreign Wars, where he bragged that "I pledged to end the war in Iraq honorably, and that's what we've done . …