Commentary: Iraq shows limits to U.S. powers

The Myrtle Beach SunJanuary 8, 2012 

A few days after the final U.S. troops trekked across the Iraqi dessert and into Kuwait to end an almost 9-year-old war, an arrest warrant was issued for Sunni Vice President Tariq al Hashimi, which, according to various reports, means a potential major fracture of that fledgling government.

Sens. Lindsey Graham and John McCain, upon hearing the news, urged the Obama administration to reopen talks with the Iraqi government so we could send thousands of U.S. troops back into the country.

“This crisis has been precipitated in large measure by the failure and unwillingness of the Obama Administration to reach an agreement with the Iraqi government for a residual presence of U.S. forces in Iraq, thereby depriving Iraq of the stabilizing influence of the U.S. military and diminishing the ability of the United States to support Iraq,” the men wrote in a joint statement early last week.

“If Iraq slides back into sectarian violence, the consequences will be catastrophic for the Iraqi people and U.S. interests in the Middle East, and a clear victory for al Qaeda and Iran,” they said. I disagree. I’m glad we are no longer in Iraq and I don’t want us to go back.

That doesn’t mean I don’t want that country to succeed.

It means that if the almost nine-year-long adventure in Iraq has taught us anything, it is that there are limits to our power, that we can’t dictate to others how they will live or govern themselves.

We sacrificed almost 4,500 soldiers, had another 33,000 leave with severe, visible wounds – countless others with invisible scars – and more than 100,000 Iraqi civilians and almost a trillion dollars (and counting) of American taxpayer money.

Some of those sacrifices touched us here. Ron and Wanda Phillips of Conway continue to mourn their son, as do the families of Army Spc. Curtis Applegate and Ross E. Parsons, men who made it home after tours in Iraq but weren’t the same after experiencing hell on earth. Applegate killed himself and Parsons died in a car wreck.

There is no need to re-litigate the war’s purpose, though in their message, Graham and McCain mentioned the gains secured after the 2007 surge of troops. They failed to mention the colossal blunder about supposed large caches of weapons of mass destruction that still haven’t been found and erroneous connections between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein.

What we learned from Iraq (and Libya earlier this year) is that we have the ability to depose dictators and give oppressed people the opportunity to steer their own ships, to determine their own futures, but we don’t have the ability to force them to do it our way, or without a mess or bloodshed.

Had we remembered our own history, we would have known that. The United States of America was forged out of blood and sacrifice and false start after false start, ugly political games and backsliding.

Even after roughly eight decades of trying, we still had to fight a civil war – followed by almost a century of unrest.

The problem with trying to spread democracy is that eventually the people we help get to make their own decisions, whether we agree or not, whether they appreciate our sacrifices or not, whether their democracy looks anything like the democracy we envisioned.

Now it’s the Iraqi people’s turn.

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