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October 28, 2011

Leaving Iraq, Finally

Roy Meachum

President Barack Obama announced last week a total pullout of American military forces from Iraq; our allies, by and large, have pulled up stakes. National, state and community surveys demonstrated that more than three-of-four participants agreed. The one-quarter missing was divided between the “I-don’t-knows” and those fiercely opposed to the withdrawal.


More than 4,000 young Americans, both female and male, lost their futures. The argument that equal numbers may have lost their lives through accidents and fatal illnesses never made sense to me. The numbers of the maimed and crippled reached into the tens of thousands.


When George W. Bush and Richard Cheney played the drums, the soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen had no choice. They were obliged to ship into the Middle East. Grandson Christopher Meachum was among the “lucky.” He dropped all connections to his father and family on his safe return. But, to be fair, maybe service in Iraq had nothing to do with Chris’s severance of ties.


The official tally sheet bills one trillion dollars to taxpayers, but that count includes chiefly the military costs; the additional hundreds of billions spent for reconstruction, rehabilitation and training costs by state and other federal agencies don’t go into the final tally. The accepted rough estimate runs to $3 trillion.


The laissez faire philosophy that ruled the Bush 43 era is blamed for the present recession, the worst since the Great Depression; statics show a larger public support for the Occupy Wall Street protestors than for the Tea Party movement that dominates the Republican presidential debates.


Still, I find no personal consolation for the prices exacted from the community where I’ve lived for almost 29 years. One example:


Opposing the Baghdad invasion cost me the American Legion. I have a lifetime membership, because of my nearly seven years in the Army; I may be among the few Frederick residents who visited the original post, in Paris. When Pushkin takes me out for daily strolls I sometimes proudly brandish a polo shirt emblazoned with the Legion seal, given by a former local commander.


Before my published position on the war in Iraq, I would drop in occasionally for a drink or dinner at the Francis Scott Key Post 11 building on Taney Avenue. The friendly attitude toward me vanished abruptly. With a professional background in narrations and announcing, volunteering for the annual Legion oratory contest received no answer. There was never a chance to tell about the gold medals I won at Holy Cross. Dead silence, even though I had acquaintance with the then-current commander. Since the popular tide has turned against military forces in the Middle East, I’ve not received a call or gesture indicating my position was correct.


The U.S. presence in the former Mesopotamia simply affirmed the anti-American prejudice prompted by Washington’s constant interference in the region, backing Israel. The resentment became evident to me in 1967; I went to the Egyptian embassy in Parioli to pick up a visa for Cairo offered by the Nile country’s U.N. press section.


Instead of a welcoming tea or coffee, I was treated to bombast from the counsel general. Not at all quietly, I heard Israel’s triumph in the recent Six-day War must be blamed on fighters and bombers from the U.S. Air Force’s Wheelus field in Libya. Egyptians told me they were ashamed to be seen in public in the world. When President Anwar Sadat fought for national pride, President Richard Nixon’s stripping planes, tanks and other supplies from the American occupation in Germany confirmed the anti-U.S. hatred in the region.


Invading Iraq was never justified; two of the reasons dried up days after Baghdad was seized. But the macho stream among the males in our population cried for no “retreat” from a place that we should not have been in the first place.


In the end, Iraq “disinvited” NATO troops, insisting they face local justice instead of courts martial. U.S. taxpayers’ money was swindled in extortion schemes. Only generals, admirals and ambitious officers fought against what they called “retreat.” The current anti-Islamic bigotry smells like my childhood’s segregation days when African Americans were literally treated as dirt under white people’s shoes.


In England’s Winchester Cathedral there is an expensive stain window bought by a now-forgotten Royal Rifles’ lieutenant, who was slain in some corner of Africa, also now forgotten. The United States of America was born with the hope of not reproducing Great Britain’s failure to respect other people’s rights.


By any measure, Iraq and Afghanistan were huge mistakes.


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