In one respect, Iraq War has had positive outcome

May 24, 2009

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WMD, fedayeen, as many as 1 million civilians dead, Blackwater, media manipulation, Abu Ghraib, al-Zarqawi, spider holes, Green Zone, Fallujah, Valerie Plame, world reputation, RPG, Downing Street Memo, 4,296 American soldiers killed, suicide bombers, Mission Accomplished, Sunni Triangle, flying shoes, Lynndie England, purple fingers, transitional government, Sadr City and $1.9 trillion in overall costs.

So, was it worth it?

No one who wasn't an early critic of the Iraq war has much business being critical now. But the nagging question remains: In the wake of Sept. 11, 2001, what if the United States had done - nothing?

Politically, of course, this was never an option. We would have appeared weak, soft and impotent. But would that appearance have been worse than all the calamity that has evolved since? Was simply saving face worth this incredible and costly mess?


I can't answer that question. I have a hard time convincing myself that after the towers fell, we conceivably could have stood silently by, with out fists at our sides. And I do think there is something to the notion that fighting "them," "over there," may have indeed prevented follow-up attacks on U.S. soil.

But flailing out wildly, blinded by revenge, has an immature, schoolyard taste to it, that in some ways appears weaker than just taking an enemy's best shot and standing tall and strong, without the need to act out.

In the days following 9/11, we had the whole world on our side. How rapidly did that good will evaporate, along with American lives and treasure? And the theory that the war prevented more terrorist attacks is just that, a theory. We'll never know the truth.

On this Memorial Day weekend, two things stand out. One, these difficult questions should be asked before going into any war, not after. Even if we don't, can't, know the answers, we need to ask. Responses to any event, no matter how horrific, must be reasoned responses. Had we taken time to think about what could happen, worst case - which it appears this was - our actions might have been wiser, and more measured.

Seasoned military leaders frequently calculate the worst possible outcome, and then add 10 percent. The American public and our elected leaders should do the same, and this is a dark lesson we should carry ever forward.

The second element of this war is more positive, particularly as we reflect on what Memorial Day is, or should be, all about.

Apparently we didn't learn much from Vietnam, but we did learn this: We should never project our feelings about a war onto the men and women who fight the wars.

In Vietnam, soldiers became the bad guys, as much as the policy makers who sent them half way around the world under dubious circumstances.

Soldiers are heroes, whether we believe in the cause they are fighting for or not. They do not get to choose which orders to follow and which to ignore. In Iraq, we finally made that distinction.

Any soldier abroad who might be reading this should know that despite the fact that the war has gone on for six years, seldom a day goes by that we are not reminded in some way of the troops and their sacrifices.

No one has forgotten them, which is really rather remarkable in this era of Twitteresque attention spans. The news isn't always good, the issues are not always clear. But we have been able to separate out the background noise and remain firm in our convictions that the men and women serving under nasty, stressful conditions are serving us. And our appreciation is strong.

The government - which over the past six years has shown its appreciation in any inexpensive way it can - has been customarily late to the party. While publicly trumpeting their heroism, it treated many veterans shabbily in private, as evidenced by the deplorable conditions at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

These conditions were exposed by The Washington Post - a newspaper. Newspapers were not famous for having soldiers' backs during Vietnam, so this is indicative of Americans' changing attitude toward our troops.

May it last. May we tell our soldiers in this unpopular war that we love them. May we tell soldiers who fought in past unpopular wars that we were wrong. And may all of them be blessed.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2324, or by e-mail at Tune in to the Rowland Rant video at, on or on Antietam Cable's WCL-TV Channel 30 evenings at 6:30. New episodes are released every Wednesday.

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