North Korea

North Korea
The always bombastic and unpredictable North Koreans go hysterical again. This time the country is prepared to "go to war" with South Korea because that country is playing loudspeakers directed at North Korean territory. A headline from a UK paper reads, "More than 50 North Korea submarines 'leave their bases' as war talks with South continue "

Thursday, December 15, 2011

US combat troop withdrawal from Iraq also signals immediate 9-11 era at an end

The worlds' headlines today are providing uniform coverage to the formal end of US combat presence in Iraq. While 15,000 to 17,000 American security-oriented contractors and trainers are still in the country, a sizable diplomatic corps along its Marine guard contingent, and a beefed up US military force now stationed just across the Iraqi border in Kuwait, the withdrawal is truly newsworthy.

US soldiers strike the colors at a ceremony in Baghdad

Iraqis have widely varied opinions on what the American war has accomplished. It certainly removed an oppressive ruler who had gassed his citizens, was notorious for savagery, and for playing ethnic, religious, and tribal groups off one another to the loss of them all. On the other hand, the sheer violence amidst the 2003 invasion and the ensuing violence brought about by the letting loose of old ethnic tensions, resulted about a five-year blood-letting no less traumatic than Saddam Hussein's actions had during his own rule. Now, even 8 years after the American-led invasion and occupation, fears remain over a return to widespread violence among factions, as well as what Iran - an historic enemy - may have in mind.

Many of the IED's used with deadly results during the 8 years in Iraq came from Iran

The US occupation of Iraq cost over $900 billion dollars in the 9 years of buildup and withdrawal. The US lost 4,484 military personnel since 2003 - the vast majority of the 4,802 coalition casualties, and another nearly 32,000 wounded. Americans and the whole world are left with the memories of searing events at Fallujah, distressing scenes from Abu Graib prison, a horror show of beheadings by Al-Qaeda in Iraq, hot debates between allies before the invasion, and at home, continuing posturing and preposterous debates within a polarized US Congress and political parties.

Crowds in restive Fallujah demonstrate with pleasure at the departure of American troops

If there must be one overarching characterization of the Iraq war, it must be that weapons of mass destruction were never found. As the respected former Secretary of Defense Donald Gates said (serving both Presidents George W Bush and Barack Obama), "The problem with this war for, I think, many Americans is that the premise on which we justified going to war proved not to be valid, that is Saddam having weapons of mass destruction. So when you start from that standpoint, then figuring out in retrospect how you deal with the war — even if the outcome is a good one from the standpoint of the United States — it will always be clouded by how it began."

After the occupation, US searchers found many secrets in Iraq, dozens of mass graves, this Cold War MIG 25 jet buried in the sand, but no stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction.

From that fundamental lapse (though never as clear as the manipulated Gulf of Tonkin incident that led to the major escalation of the Vietnam War), one can only imagine the different trajectory the conflict would have taken if major WMD stockpiles had been found. Would more allies have poured in to maintain security and order while rebuilding? Would Iran still have been emboldened to so directly involve itself by using Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs killed more servicemen and women than any other type of weapon)? Would the world itself have been shaken sufficiently, and thus taken more seriously the nuclear weapons buildup in North Korea, not to mention Iran's aspirations?

The huge new US Embassy in Iraq - a testimony to much bigger plans America once had ...

The "what if"s will remain, perhaps what has more clearly passed with the withdrawal from Iraq is a chapter in American history that could be termed the response to 9-11. Absent that event, it is hard to imagine any President gathering enough support from Congress or allies to pre-emptively invade another country. And while the war in Afghanistan continues, the direction of that war is to disengage with as favorable outcome as possible.

If we could consider the immediate post 9-11 chapter concluding, the next chapter may be emerging as a serious, if more covert array of actions against groups of extremists. The Obama administration's significantly expanded use of drones without hardly a peep of dissent by the media, those on the left, or his party base, is a prime example of what is the new "acceptable."

In any regard, as the US troop footprint in Iraq ended, it was left to the Obama administration to provide some healing language to the effort extended. US President Obama, a fierce critic of the war, spoke to troops returning home to their base in North Carolina and sought to pronounce a noble end to the fight. "The war in Iraq will soon belong to history, and your service belongs to the ages," he said, applauding their "extraordinary achievement."

US President Obama meets with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in the White House last week, pledging his support to the liberated Iraq

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, the most senior U.S. official at the formal closure ceremony in Baghdad told those who attended "that America’s role in Iraq is by no means over." He referred to a $6 billion effort being undertaken by the State Department to sustain U.S. influence ... “Challenges remain, but the U.S. will stand by the Iraqi people as they navigate those challenges to build a stronger and more prosperous nation,” he told the gathering.

Ending conflicts is a challenge and responsibility of rulers everywhere. General Eisenhower entered the White House in 1952 with the explicit promise to go to the Korean peninsula and end the Korean war. After bitter negotiations, he did bring about a truce in 1953 (leaving behind tens of thousands of troops along a demilitarized zone). President Nixon was elected in 1968 with a pledge to end the Vietnam War, but it took four years, and secret bombing campaigns before negotiations began and concluded in 1973. And, within two years, South Vietnam was over-run by the North.

Iraq with the opportunity to chart its own course in a very tough neighborhood

It will now remain to be seen whether Iraq on its own can move forward on a more constructive path, led for the first time by the Shia majority of the country. Prime Minister Maliki's immediate challenges are to further reconcile with the Sunni and Kurd populations, seek some sort of balance with its aggressive Iranian neighbor, rein in anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, and oh, rebuild a still crumbling infrastructure for the Iraqi people. If the outcome in South Korea is a possibility, which has become a strong, prosperous democracy, then perhaps the loss of so many lives in Iraq, both nationals and foreigners, will have been given a reason.

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