The Iraq war is over.
Have you ever seen any film footage of the celebrations at the end of World War II? Of strangers hugging and kissing, of an entire country jubilant, throwing one huge party?
In recent days, the president has been giving some sober speeches about the end of the Iraq war after nine years of fighting. I have not heard of any spontaneous public celebrations. I have not seen huge banner headlines in the paper.
An eerie silence hangs of America. A war is over. Many died. Many more came home seriously hurt. Many families are suffering. But their pains are their own. They are not losses suffered by the nation because the war was not a war fought by America. It was a war conducted by the military, not by the nation. It was a war initiated by a small clique of men in the Executive.
Usually, wars have winners and losers. The President has not, as far as I can tell, said that we won this war. He talks about how we leave Iraq able to take care of itself, as a new sovereign nation. But there is no talk about winning. There are no explanations of why we fought in Iraq for nine years. The father of a soldier who died says: A war that you can just walk away from cannot have been very important.
We lost close to 4500 Americans in Iraq. Iraqi losses are huge and estimates differ widely. The President says that the US spent $1 trillion on this war. Others point out that if we count in the cost of caring for the veterans injured in Iraq, and of sending other veterans to school, and paying interest on the money we borrowed to pay for this war, the cost is closer to $3 trillions.
Ordinary citizens paid those costs. Congress was barely involved because they never got to decide whether we would go to war or not. They just passed yearly budgets to pay the bills. The war was the project of a small clique in the Executive—Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Cheney.
Citizens clearly were not involved. Before the war started, in February of 2003, 1 million Americans and somewhere between 15 and 30 million people around the world demonstrated against the war. Our government paid no attention.
Two years after the beginning of the war, 60% of the population thought that we had entered this war on faulty information. A majority of Americans wanted us to leave Iraq. The government paid no attention. Many Americans actively demonstrated their disagreement with this war. The government did not care.
Life in the US went on as before. We went to work, we came home to be with family and friends. We went shopping. Here and there, if a hometown soldier died, there was a story in the paper about our heroes. But for the rest, life continued as if nothing was happening.
What can we learn from all this? The government, especially the executive, is more distant from ordinary citizens than ever before. The government can send soldiers to fight abroad in a war that makes no clear sense, that has no clear enemies, that has no clear goals, a war that, in the end, we don't know whether we won or lost. The government can engage in military adventures that no one can quite understand. But it makes no difference to us.
No one raises their voice against the officials who started that war or who conducted it, often quite ineptly. There is no call for investigations, let alone indictments for those responsible. In the midst of a vigorous and much discussed presidential campaign, the war in Iraq, now ended, and the war in Afghanistan, still daily demanding its victims on all sides, is not a topic of conversation.
We elected the governments that conducted the war in Iraq. But they clearly are not considering themselves the representatives of the people. They are engaged in their own projects which we pay for but otherwise are not involved in. They will do what ever they want, for the sort of unintelligible and bizarre reasons that moved them to invade Iraq. They will not pay attention to citizens who disagree.
Future generations will look back on the Iraq war as a new low in the downward path of American democracy.