BOB RAY SANDERS: Rejoice, for U.S. troops will be home for the holidays

By Bob Ray Sanders

Perhaps you don’t want to “rejoice” at the news that America’s nine-year involvement in a war is about to end.
After all, there is still a lot of pain to remember – too many lives lost; too much sorrow still lingering; too little understanding as to the real reason why the war was waged in the first place.
Maybe you truly believe that Iraq is the real frontline of the war against terrorism and that America’s military presence there must remain until that nebulous enemy is defeated. In other words, we should be there forever.
Whether or not you celebrate President Barack Obama’s announcement that “America’s war in Iraq will be over,” can’t you at least be glad that all U.S. troops will be out of there by year’s end?
Disregard the waffling politicians who are against anything this president says or does, and who have given mixed signals on the execution of this war since it began in 2003. Most of them have lost all credibility not just on the issue of foreign intervention, but on a whole host of issues facing the average American.
The Iraq war was divisive from the beginning. Many of us believed it should never have been fought; generals and politicos split over troop levels and operational strategies. Average citizens, in an attempt to show support for then President George W. Bush, rationalized the high costs in casualties and dollars.
Almost a trillion dollars have been spent on this conflict, which is insignificant compared to the more than 4,400 Americans who died and more than 30,000 injured – not to mention the tens of thousands of Iraqis killed.
Even the death toll had us fighting like children over whose war was worse. Some dismissed the “few thousand” who died in Iraq as nothing compared to the number (almost 50,000) killed in Vietnam or the 33,600 who perished during the Korean conflict.
None of those numbers, of course, comes close to the nearly 300,000 killed during World War II in which some single battles, in a matter of hours, resulted in more deaths than the nine years of fighting in Iraq.
We must not forget the Civil War – in which Americans fought Americans – where 184,594 were killed in action and at least twice that many died from diseases.
Let us not get caught up in this numbers game. War is hell. No matter how many died in any given war, it was too many.
That brings us back to Iraq, which is one of two major wars this country is fighting.
Bush signed a treaty in 2008 setting the timetable for full withdrawal of U.S. troops by Dec. 31, 2011, and Obama made that deadline part of his campaign for president. He is fulfilling that promise.
Both presidents, however, anticipated that some level of U.S. troops would remain in the country to help train Iraqi forces and to combat potential threats. But when Iraq’s parliament refused to grant immunity to American military personnel, the president had no choice but to order everyone home.
There will be a few military personnel assigned to the U.S. Embassy in the country, and no doubt many American contractors will remain.
Now some Republican leaders, including some running for president, suggest that full withdrawal from Iraq is a mistake. The country will fall into chaos, they say, and al-Qaida will develop another stronghold. Leaving provides an opening for Iran to meddle further in the political and social structures of the fragile nation.
As pointed out by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, about 40,000 U.S. troops will still be in the region, not counting those forces in Afghanistan.
This war, in which some troops have deployed three and four times, should have been over long ago. For anyone to suggest otherwise is ludicrous.
Our men and women from that war, as the president promised, will be home for the holidays. And for that, somebody ought to join me in rejoicing.
Bob Ray Sanders is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Readers may write to him at: 400 W. 7th Street, Fort Worth, Texas 76102, or via email at bobraystar-telegram.com.