The New Blue President and The War in Iraq

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Donna Perdue

I sat in bed watching the Debate with Clinton/Obama in Hollywood Thursday night. I battled between it and the season premier of LOST on ABC but decided I can always catch the LOST rerun. I needed to see that last debate firsthand.

I must admit, I’m impressed with both candidates. I had logged into Politico.com during the debate and watched the comments people were sending in as they listened to the debate — ”conversation,” as some are calling it. Here’s what some wrote:

“Wow, I’m so impressed with Hillary’s opening statement. She is so confident and really soothing to listen to.” – Jane in Seattle.

“I’m really excited that these are the two we have to pick from. We can’t go wrong with either one.” – Jeff in Miami.

“Can anybody say Dream Team?” – Melvin in Albuquerque.

“I’m really excited that we have two choices to make history. Now I just have to make up my mind.” – Tamika in Los Angeles.

By now, we know how the primaries on Super Tuesday panned out. We thought history might have been made that night, but it appears those hopes were extremely premature. The primaries and caucuses in 22 states, which once looked likely to effectively settle the race, instead produced a near-equal delegate split…leaving a grind-it-out competition which may last through spring and well into the summer months. I’m in Ohio, so after Obama and Clinton rally up their troops after Saturday’s Louisiana primary and Nebraska/Washington caucuses, march on Washington, Maryland, Virginia and others, I just may have a say in who’s going to stop the war in Iraq. Our primary is in March.

As a 22-year Marine Corps veteran, I can tell you I’m concerned about our incoming president’s intent to respond to the economic situation we’re in, but I’m more concerned with his/her approach to the War in Iraq.

perdue_collage.jpgMy official last day in the Corps was May 19, 2007. It was a bittersweet day for me. Of the 22 years I served, 15½ were active duty and the remainder was reserve time…one weekend a month and two weeks or so each summer. I’ve served in Japan, California, Georgia, Indiana, Maryland, Louisiana, Missouri, Ohio, 11 African countries, and various parts of the Middle East. It has been an exciting, proud, and extremely fulfilling 22 years. Being a senior enlisted female, in a very complex way, I know I’ve seen more, heard more than many of our senior officers ever could. Rank has its privileges, but in many ways, it doesn’t.

Like all Americans who reflect back on September 11, 2001, I can pinpoint exactly where I was and what I was doing that fateful day. Tears always well up in my eyes when I think of how I felt watching the second plane collide into that tower. I’d missed the first one and had turned on the television to the urgence of a friend who’d called practically screaming on the phone, “Oh, my God, turn on the TV, we’ve been attacked!” he said.

Indeed, I thought we were at war. I was on “leave” (vacation) visiting my friend in South Carolina. I was supposed to fly home to Kansas City that morning. My plans were changed as air travel was halted by the FAA. My commanding officer told me to “get back as soon as [i].” Apparently, things were a bit crazy back at my headquarters.

I didn’t get back until five days later. The airports were quiet with security officers and dogs everywhere. Like most travelers that day, I was in a trance…just going through the motions. I remember sitting on the plane and praying. I called my then 11-year-old son and told him I was on my way. He asked if I was going to have to go to war. I said, “let’s talk about all that when I come home…You just relax, baby.” I truly didn’t know what to tell him.

Shortly after September 11, 2001 (on September 20), President Bush addressed a joint session of Congress (which was simulcast live to the world), and announced the new War on Terrorism. This announcement was accompanied by the widely criticized doctrine of ‘pre-emptive’ military action, later termed the Bush doctrine. Some Bush advisers favored an immediate invasion of Iraq, while others advocated building an international coalition and obtaining United Nations authorization. Bush eventually decided to seek U.N. authorization, while still holding out the possibility of invading unilaterally.

During the next 18 months, our nation saw its president in a positive, stoic light. He seemed calm and in control. He was, at times, motivating and confident. His approval ratings soared. Unfortunately, we’d attacked Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and searched every nook and cranny for the guilty Osama bin Ladin to no avail. Message upon taunting message kept appearing on the internet…Americans began to seethe with the need for revenge.

Then…the UK’s Joint Intelligence Committee compiled IRAQ’S WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION: The Assessment of the British Government (you can download/read it for yourself at http://www.pm.gov.uk/output/page271.asp )

According to British intelligence, Saddam Hussein attached great importance to possessing weapons of mass destruction which he regarded as the basis for Iraq’s regional power. It showed that he did not regard them only as weapons of last resort. Indeed he was ready to use them, including against his own population, and was determined to retain them, in breach of United Nations Security Council Resolutions.

This specific document motivated President Bush and his administration to rally Congress and the Senate to grant a resolution to allow him to go into Iraq with American investigators and dependent on our findings, wage war. In a major victory for the White House, the Senate voted 77-23, October 11, 2002, to authorize President Bush to attack Iraq if Saddam Hussein refused to give up weapons of mass destruction as required by U.N. resolutions.

Bottom line, the American people wanted whoever was responsible for 9/11. Hillary Clinton and 76 other senators gave us what we wanted. Somehow, during the next few months, Saddam Hussein was linked to that fateful day. With all this compelling evidence, we had to go to war.

Although not a Senator till 2004, Barack Obama admits he was against the war from day one, as was I. Indeed, I wanted to be sure Saddam had WMDs before we attacked. Otherwise, we had no reason to invade. But Congress and the Senate were faced with tough “you’re either with us or against us” arguments. The people of New York especially, wanted revenge for the deaths of their loved ones. In fact, most of America wanted us to attack. I can tell you, my fellow Marines were shaking their heads and fists, glaring at the television, hoping for that opportunity to make someone pay!

On February 15, 2003, a month before the actual invasion, there were many worldwide protests against the Iraq war, including a rally of 3 million people in Rome, which is listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the largest ever anti-war rally. According to French academic Dominique Reynié, between January 3 and April 12, 2003, 36 million people across the globe took part in almost 3,000 protests against the Iraq war.

We invaded Iraq March 18, 2003. The objectives of the invasion, according to U.S. President George W. Bush and U.K. former Prime Minister Tony Blair were “to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), to end Saddam Hussein’s support for terrorism, and to free the Iraqi people.” Bush said the actual trigger was Iraq’s failure to take a “final opportunity” to disarm itself of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons that U.S. and coalition officials called an immediate and intolerable threat to world peace.

No longer on active duty, I was a Marine reservist that particular day. Standing among my civilian co-workers, I remember hearing the announcement on the radio. Understanding completely what that entailed, I looked at two of the older men standing with me and said, “I hope and pray they find weapons of mass destruction!” It’s all I said as I walked outside, looked up at the American flag flapping in the wind and wept silently.

I didn’t feel good about our president’s saber-rattling antics. He was often on the news posing with Marines, sailors, airmen, and soldiers in various locations throughout the world…pumping them up about what they were about to do. I didn’t like that we were willing to put so much trust in a document which has since been deemed to have been partially, if not all, fabricated by angry people anxious to make someone pay.

Countless searches proved fruitless and we learned soon enough that Saddam Hussein had presented a good bluff — I think he really had to — knowing the threat of neighboring Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Turkey. While he did torture thousands of people and heartlessly directed the killing of millions of others, that was not, according to our nation’s policy, reason enough to go to war. If it was, wouldn’t we also be in Rwanda, Sudan, Ethiopia, and elsewhere in the world to end similar methodical genocides.

Here we are, February 2008, still in Iraq, billions of dollars deep into debt and no end in sight. Republicans would have us stay there with a surging show of force until the Iraqis are a true democracy. The thing to remember is the Iraqis don’t really know what that means. All they see are our uniforms and guns, our tanks and planes, our Humvees and our helicopters. How frightening it must be to not know the fate of your nation, to not know when the occupation will end, to not understand why radical Muslims don’t want to see your country independent, to watch as the world debates your future.

Our troops sleep in tents, insulated “containers” or captured palaces. They carry M-16s and 9-mm pistols, wear bullet-proof vests and helmets, and work long, high-tempo hours…rebuilding another country. Some die because they are not wanted there. Some die because radicals want to make a statement. Some die just because our purpose is misunderstood.

Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton want to bring our troops home. Although they both have different timelines, both will move to get our combat forces out within the first year of their presidency. The fact is there are no good options left in this war. There are no options that do not carry significant risks. And so the question is not whether there is some magic formula for success, or guarantee against failure, in Iraq. Rather, the question is what strategies, imperfect though they may be, are most likely to achieve the best outcome in Iraq, one that will ultimately put us on a more effective course to deal with international terrorism, nuclear proliferation, and other critical threats to our security.

Both Clinton and Obama know that only through a phased redeployment can we send a clear message to the Iraqi factions that the U.S. is not going to hold together this country indefinitely – that it will be up to them to form a viable government that can effectively run and secure Iraq.

However, Clinton said that when she’s President she would announce to the Iraqi people that our policy will include a gradual and substantial reduction in U.S. forces. She would then work with our military commanders to map out the best plan for such redeployment and determine precise levels and dates. When possible, this would be done in consultation with the Iraqi government – but it should not depend on Iraqi approval. She believes our strategy should be to couple this phased redeployment with a more effective plan that puts the Iraqi security forces in the lead, intensifies and focuses our efforts to train those forces, and expands the numbers of our personnel – especially Special Forces and Marines – who are deployed with the Iraqi as unit advisers.

Smartly, Obama insists that any U.S. strategy must address the problem of sectarian militias in Iraq. In the absence of a genuine commitment on the part of all of the factions in Iraq to deal with this issue, it is doubtful that a unified Iraqi government can function for long, and it is doubtful that U.S. forces, no matter how large, can prevent an escalation of widespread sectarian killing. To convince the various factions to embark on the admittedly difficult task of disarming their militias, Obama believes the Iraqi government must also make headway on reforming the institutions that support the military and the police. This is a smart observation.

Both Democratic candidates are on the right track to ending the war and bringing the troops home.

The Republican candidates really don’t have an option (even if they wanted to side with the more than 68% of Americans who are against the war); they must support Bush’s war. Saying you don’t support the troops if you don’t fund the war is RIDICULOUS! They know it! Change is inevitable once Bush and his administration are out of the White House! Our troops will come home; their medical needs (physical and emotional) will be addressed, and their sacrifices honored.

donna-perdue.gifThere is no doubt in my mind that based on the Iraq War alone, Hillary would do the better job. She would bring our troops home, slowly — not hastilyand she would do it Presidentially! We will not be ashamed; we will not have reason to hang our heads! The world will respect us again and the Iraqis will have a better place to call home!

Now, it’s up to voters to decide who will bring our troops home and make history…our first Woman President or our first Black President. Honestly, either way, we will make history and our country will be all the better for it!

Semper Fidelis!

Published by the LA Progressive on February 9, 2008
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