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Thank the Troops? How About Apologizing Instead?

TroopsSometimes I wonder whether the profuse thanks that many Americans shower on the troops shouldn’t instead be an apology. After all, I think it’s a fair assumption that those who do the thanking were not among those who opposed the U.S. government’s invasions and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, as libertarians did. Instead, my bet is that most of the thankers were among the most ardent supporters of those military actions.

Let’s focus on Iraq. Let’s look at the situation from the perspective of an individual soldier, especially one who is now permanently disabled or disfigured. Was it worth it? To answer that question, we need to examine exactly what was accomplished in Iraq.

Last Saturday, the New York Times published an article entitled, “Flow of Arms to Syria Through Iraq Persists, to U.S. Dismay.” The article pointed out how the Iraqi government continues to permit Iranian airplanes to fly over Iraq in order to deliver weapons to the Assad regime in Syria. That’s the dictatorial regime that the U.S. government is trying to oust from power.

Needless to say, U.S. officials are extremely unhappy with the Iraqi government. According to the Times, “To the disappointment of the Obama administration, American efforts to persuade the Iraqis to randomly inspect the flights have been largely unsuccessful.”

So, let’s see: Doesn’t this mean that American soldiers sacrificed their lives and limbs in order to bring a regime into power in Iraq that is more closely aligned with Iran, an archenemy of the U.S. government, than it is with the U.S. government?

Of course, people might say that the goal of the Iraq invasion was simply to bring a sovereign and independent regime into power, a goal that that has obviously been accomplished given Iraq’s refusal to comply with U.S. requests to inspect those Iranian airplanes.

But isn’t that being a bit naïve? Isn’t the purpose of every U.S. regime change operation to install a regime that is loyal to the U.S. government? After all, the U.S. government never targets dictatorships that are loyal and submissive to the U.S. government, such as those in Bahrain, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia. It targets those dictatorships that are recalcitrant and independent of U.S. government control.

Anyway, if bringing into power sovereign and independent regimes was the goal, would that truly be worth the lives and limbs of U.S. soldiers? When people thank the troops for their service in Iraq, are they really expressing gratitude for their bringing into existence a regime that is now closely aligned with Iran?

Moreover, I think it’s important to bear in mind the type of regime that now rules Iraq. It is a crooked, corrupt dictatorial regime that kills, maims, tortures, and incarcerates people without due process of law. Isn’t that what Saddam Hussein did? When people thank the troops, are they expressing gratitude for their having replaced one brutal dictatorial regime in Iraq with another?

What about the “keeping us safe” rationale? It’s hard to see how the invasion of Iraq has made us safer than we were before the invasion. After all, neither the Iraqi government nor the Iraqi people ever attacked the United States or even threatened to do so. Iraq had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks.

That means that all the Iraqi people who were killed, tortured, abused, and maimed during the invasion and occupation of their country were innocent of having taken any aggressive actions against the United States.

Instead, it was the U.S. government, specifically through its military forces, that was the aggressor in Iraq. It was the attacker in the conflict while Iraq was the defender. At worst, the Iraqi people were guilty of resisting the invasion and occupation of their land by a foreign aggressor, something that many Americans would do if the United States were invaded and occupied by a foreign aggressor.

One would think that when a much more powerful military force aggresses against a weaker country and kills and maims hundreds of thousands of innocent people in the process and destroys much of the country, that’s the type of thing that engenders anger and hatred, not peace and love, against the aggressor. Such being the case, how does that make Americans safer? Don’t the survivors of those who have been killed have the incentive for revenge? Don’t the maimed have reason to retaliate? Don’t people who have lost their homes to bombs and missiles have reason to never forget it.

It’s not a coincidence that while Iranian officials feel safe to travel around Iraq, not so with U.S. officials. In fact, not one single U.S. official has taken his family to Iraq for vacation since 2003. When President Obama flies into the country, which is rare, it’s done as a day visit—he never spends the night there. President Bush doesn’t dare show his face in Iraq, not even for a few hours, much less for an extended visit. At the risk of belaboring the obvious, that’s because it’s not safe.

The discomforting truth is that U.S. soldiers killed, died, maimed, and destroyed in Iraq for nothing. Wouldn’t it be more appropriate for Americans to apologize to the troops than to thank them for their service?

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.

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